By Jay Betsill
Houston Texans vs. Cleveland Browns
Sunday – November 16 – 12:00 pm
FirstEnergy Stadium – Cleveland
When the Houston Texans (4-5) visit the Cleveland Browns (6-3) at FirstEnergy Stadium, it will be a battle of Tom Brady’s back-ups as the Browns’ Brian Hoyer preceded the Texans’ Ryan Mallett in New England including the 2011 season when both signal callers were on the Patriots roster. This is the latest in the season that the Browns have led their division since 1994, when current Patriots coach Bill Belichick was the head coach in Cleveland and prior to the franchise moving to Baltimore to become the Ravens.
“There’s no prize for being 6-3,” said Browns head coach Mike Pettine, whose team has not been to the playoffs since 2002. “The only thing that’s done for us is our games are meaningful now. You still have to have the ability to put that one in a box and move onto the next one.”
With their Week 10 bye now over, the Texans have sat starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in favor of Mallett in hopes to spark the offense. Mallett will be without the AFC’s leading rusher Arian Foster, who is out after suffering a groin injury in the 31-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 2. Alfred Blue, the rookie sixth round pick, will get the start in Foster’s place with Foster’s former back-up Ben Tate now being a member of the Browns. Blue has 234 yards in the first nine games of his career, while Foster has powered his way to 822 this season.
“I think my football IQ is probably my biggest asset,” Mallett told HoustonTexans.com. “You can always improve. You can never be complacent.”
While Mallett’s performance will be important to the Texans’ success, the defense led by this week’s ESPN The Magazine cover man J.J. Watt and the likely return of linebackers Brian Cushing and Jadeveon Clowney will be the key to a Houston road win.
“Everybody has to be in the right spot,” Texans defensive coordinator (and former Browns head coach) Romeo Crennel said. “Gap control, making sure that you don’t let the ball outside and then if you do all of that, you still have to tackle. We have to be good tacklers. Everybody has to play a part.”
Although this should be a close game, the loss of Arian Foster for the Texans will be the difference in a Cleveland 24-17 win.