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Documenting the Defense

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Browns D prepares for several tricky matchups vs. Texans

The Browns have faced quality offenses all season, and that won’t change Sunday

Joe Woods' job as the Browns' defensive coordinator hasn't gotten any easier over the last month of 2020.

In nearly every game this season, Woods has done all he could to prepare Cleveland's defense for battle against some of the best offenses in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals, two recent opponents, are top 10 in the league in passing yards per game, while the Las Vegas Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens all owned a deep brass of playmakers capable of exposing a defense.

Next up for Woods: the Houston Texans, who have one of the most prolific NFL quarterbacks in Deshaun Watson and the sixth-best passing attack in the league.

The theme won't change for the Browns defense Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium. Another talented offense awaits them, and Woods has plenty of difficult matchups to prepare for.

"It's really like the same thing every week," Woods said. "It's just the nature of playing in the NFL. Week to week, it's always about matchups. When you look at the quarterback position to the wide receiver position, they really have some matchups that create some problems."

The top priorities will center on stopping Watson, a four-year veteran who is seventh in the league with 2,376 passing yards and has 17 touchdowns and five interceptions. Watson's passing talents are as strong as any quarterback in the league, but his legs are just as proficient  — Watson can elude pressure, make throws on the run and create big plays by keeping the ball and zig-zagging around the defenders.

Watson provides big challenges for each level of the Browns' defense, and the massive amount of preparation needed to stop him has kept Woods up at night — literally.

"I haven't slept much this week," Woods said with a smile. "He's dangerous. Very dangerous. When you look at them, they're doing a nice job in their scheme. They've put themselves in a position to take advantage of his talents. And when you do everything right, you still have to chase him down, which creates another problem."

Even if the Browns are able to eliminate Watson's rushing threat, they still must put plenty of attention on his receivers, too. Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks have been among the most productive receiving combos in the league in recent weeks —  Fuller has caught a touchdown in each of the last six games, while Cooks has found the end zone three times in the last four games. 

Both receivers are capable of catching the deep ball or breaking away for a big run, and last week was a prime example. Watson connected with Cooks for a 57-yard touchdown while Fuller caught a 77-yard play to the end zone.

The Texans will certainly look for more deep ball opportunities this weekend, and the Browns must be up for the challenge.

"I see speed. I see big plays," coach Kevin Stefanski said Wednesday. "I just think there is big play potential with those guys because of just flat speed."

The Browns will likely have to stop a familiar face in the Texans' backfield, too. Running back Duke Johnson, who played with the Browns from 2015-18, will play his first game in Cleveland since joining the Texans in 2019 and could handle a large chunk of rushing duties if starting running back David Johnson, who suffered a concussion last Sunday, remains sidelined.

Johnson, the backup, made 16 carries for 41 yards last week after Johnson, the starter, exited the game. The Browns might have a reunion with their former running back, and their current running back expects Johnson to come in with a little extra motivation if he's given the majority of carries.

"We talk every now and then," running back Nick Chubb said. "I think he will definitely have something to prove."

The Week 10 preparations for the Browns defense won't feel any easier this week, but after a Week 9 bye and plenty of time to prepare, Woods feels as though his unit will be ready for all of the challenging players the Texans have on the other end of the ball.

Watson, Fuller, Cooks, Johnson — Woods needs his guys to be ready for all of them.

"You always look at the matchups," Woods said. "We are going to have to do a good job in coverage, really triggering on the ball and doing a good job when we are matched up and staying on top."

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