The Browns defense arrived at NRG Stadium and played a dominant game against the Texans, holding Houston's offense scoreless through the first three quarters. While the Browns offense was the main attraction of Sunday's game, the defense also put up an impressive performance on the road, marking one of their best games of the season so far.
The Browns defense didn't allow the Texans offense to score a point through three quarters. It wasn't until 6:11 left in the game when the Texans scored a touchdown against the Browns' backups.
When the Browns and Texans starters were in, Cleveland's defense dominated Houston's offense. The Texans were held to 101 receiving yards and 63 rushing yards. The longest pass completed was 12 yards, and the longest run was 17 yards.
According to Next Gen Stats, DE Za'Darius Smith average separation rate from the Texans quarterbacks was 3.37 yards. The average in the NFL is 4.54 yards. Smith recorded the highest number of quarterback hurries, with a total of four. He led the Browns in sacks with two, resulting in a total loss of 23 yards for the Texans.
"He's been waiting on these moments," DE Myles Garrett said. "He's been real close and still playing at a dominant level. When you continue to rush like him, treat the game with respect, and come into work every day, those things are going to come to you."
The Browns celebrate after a win over the Houston Texans on December 24, 2023 at NRG Stadium
The Browns defense held RB Devin Singletary to 44 rushing yards on nine attempts after he had 121 yards in Week 15 against the Titans. WR Noah Brown was held to three catches for 38 yards after having 10 catches for 86 yards last week.
QB Case Keenum didn't have a chance against the Browns defense. He was forced into committing two interceptions and was sacked three times. He finished the day completing 11 passes for 62 yards and finished with a passer rating of 31.6.
"A couple of takeaways – Za'Darius had a couple of sacks, which I thought was outstanding," HC Kevin Stefanski said. "We harassed the quarterback. I thought our defense was really good."
However, the Browns slipped after putting their bench in the fourth quarter after they seemed to build a comfortable lead.
Starting from 8:06 to 4:15 left in the fourth quarter, the Texans – with Davis Mills at quarterback – scored two touchdowns against the Browns. Mills led the Texans down the field on a 10-play, 61-yard touchdown drive. Then, after the Texans recovered the on-side kick, Mills led the Texans on a nine-play 53-yard touchdown drive.
When the Browns starters came back into the game with 2:06 left in the game, they held Mills to 30 passing yards and made a fourth down stop.
"I was thinking about the short week we have," Stefanski said about pulling his starters out. "Obviously, it didn't work out, but I felt like I could take some reps off those guys. We have to finish better, and I am disappointed with that. But at the end of the day, we took care of business."
The Browns have been performing exceptionally well this season in limiting their opponents to just 260.3 yards per game. They continued that trend on Sunday by limiting the Texans to 250 total yards, which is the eighth-fewest yards allowed in Browns history. It's also the lowest number of yards allowed by the team since 1957, and the lowest in any season that lasted for more than 12 games. Notably, their average of 260.3 yards allowed per game is the lowest in the NFL since the 2009 Jets allowed 252.3.
The Browns finished the game against the Texans with 11 pass deflections, three sacks, a forced fumble, two interceptions and five tackles for a loss. The Browns proved they can win on the road, which is crucial as they may not get a home game in the playoffs.