As coach Kevin Stefanski sat down for his video call with local reporters and began his opening statement following the Browns’ win over the Houston Texans, he knew who he needed to give plenty of credit to first.
Plenty of units and players were worthy of praise following the 10-7 win, which was played under rainy, gusty wind conditions that forced a 35-minute delay before kickoff, but one Browns group was never rattled no matter the circumstances: the defense.
The Browns certainly would’ve had a tougher time finding a win without the defense’s high level of play against one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. The Texans boasted plenty of weapons capable of making big plays, but in the end, they were held to seven points.
Stefanski needed to thank them first.
“For our defense to play and hold them the way we did … It was not going to be easy,” Stefanski said. “I thought our defense did a really nice job today and forced some punts.”
As the Browns prepped throughout the week, players and coaches offered plenty of praise toward quarterback Deshaun Watson, who’s emerged as one of the league’s most dynamic players in his four NFL seasons and mixes tremendous arm strength and accuracy with an elite ability to maneuver in the pocket, escape sacks and make big throws.
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Watson was the biggest reason why the Texans entered Cleveland with the sixth-best passing offense in the NFL. His pairing with receivers Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks, among other targets, gave the Texans one of the most explosive units in the league.
But the Browns were certainly up for the challenge. Houston was limited to only 243 total yards Sunday, and the Browns held Watson and his deep group of receivers to a season-low 153 passing yards. The Texans went 7-for-14 on third downs, and the hype about their explosive playmaking abilities rarely shined against the Browns’ heavy pass rush and steady play from the secondary.
“We had a lot of good blitzes, and we were able to get some pressure on (Watson) and caused him to throw some errant balls,” defensive end Cheap Myles Garrett Jersey said. “It’s a testament to great play-calling and guys just rushing the passer well.”
Garrett made arguably the biggest defensive play of the game in the second quarter.
The defense’s energy level was low after the Texans had used 13 plays to drive 69 yards to the Browns’ 2-yard line, but the Browns stepped up to make a stop on third-and-goal and force Houston to make a game-changing decision.
The Texans were going to go for it. So the Browns defenders huddled closely at the line of scrimmage and awaited the snap. When Watson received the ball, Garrett already had a clear path to make a tackle. Watson had nowhere to go, and Garrett wrapped his arms around his waist and thrusted him backward for a loss of 2 yards.
And most importantly, the zero points remained in the Texans’ column of the scoreboard. The Browns jubilantly leaped off the field to celebrate, and any scoring result on the play would’ve made a major impact on the game’s final results.
“I knew they weren’t going to drop back and pass with such a dynamic quarterback like Deshaun,” Garrett said. “I just took two steps and tried to bait him upfield, and I knew he was going to try to run behind me, so I just took it.”
The Browns defense has plenty of other reasons to celebrate, too. After allowing 30 or more points in five games so far this season, the unit has allowed just 23 combined points in its last two games. Sure, both games contained windy, rainy and, at times, hail-like conditions that affected offensive game plans and trajectories of the football when it was in the air, but the Browns have always wanted to use those conditions to their advantage.
On Sunday, the defense certainly did that, and more. The Texans rushing attack was limited to 90 yards, and Houston didn’t even score its first touchdown until the 55th minute.
One more interesting fact: The Browns didn’t force a turnover Sunday. That’s important to note because in each of Cleveland’s five wins this season, the defense forced at least one turnover that almost always proved crucial to the final result. The Browns were previously 0-2 in games without a turnover.
“We are always going to be looking to take the ball away, and then there are moments where they do not present themselves or the offense does a great job,” Stefanski said. “Credit to them in that we were not able to get one, but the ability to get off the field on third and fourth down is just so big.”
The Texans will likely stand as one of the best offenses the Browns will face all season, but the defense didn’t flinch. They shut down a Pro Bowl quarterback and have played their best football in the last two games.
Stefanski knows the unit is truly starting to click. The Browns will certainly attempt to keep that going as they look to compete for a playoff spot, and they deserve ample praise after Sunday’s dominant display.
Stefanski made sure to give it to them.
“They battled,” Stefanski said. “I thought our defense really, really strained today.”