The Browns secondary will have a challenging test in Week 16. They will travel to Houston to play one of the best passing offenses in the NFL, as the Texans boast the fifth-best passing offense by average yards. This will be the Browns defensive backs hardest matchup since they faced the 49ers offense in Week 6.
The Browns are currently 7-1 at home and 2-4 away from Cleveland Browns Stadium. Against the Texans on Dec. 24, they will face an offense that averages 253.4 net passing yards per game and that averages 8.0 yards per carry. The Texans also average 328.4 passing yards at home.
"Just starting with C.J. (Stroud) I mean, unbelievable," CB Greg Newsome II said. "He's not just the best rookie quarterback, he's one of the best quarterbacks already in his early NFL career."
What the Texans do very well is not throw interceptions. They have committed only six interceptions this season, the best in the league. Their starting quarterback this season has been rookie C.J. Stroud. In 13 games this season, he has thrown 3,631 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions.
However, there is some uncertainty at quarterback for the Texans, as Stroud is in concussion protocol. He did not practice on Wednesday. If he has to miss Sunday's game, it will be his second consecutive game that he's missed after not playing in Week 15 against the Titans.
Even if the Texans are without Stroud, they will still pose a challenge for any opposing team. In Week 15, veteran QB Case Keenum replaced Stroud and completed 23 of 36 passes, throwing for 229 yards, a touchdown and an interception. This helped the Texans secure a victory against the Titans, winning 19-16 in overtime.
TE David Njoku had another key offensive performance for the Browns in Week 15, as he caught a 2-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone to put the Browns on the board. He also had two catches over 30 yards in the fourth quarter to move the Browns downfield and set them up for the game-winning field goal. Njoku finished the game with 10 receptions for 104 yards and one touchdown.
Keenum is a veteran quarterback who has had big years throwing the ball and leading teams. In 2018 he threw for 3,890 yards with the Broncos. In 2017, he threw for 3,547 passing yards and led the Vikings to the NFC championship.
"We prepare for all of their quarterbacks," HC Kevin Stefanski said. "I think you have to do that in this league. So, we'll monitor that like everybody else does. But you have to prepare for all their guys. And the truth is all their guys can beat you. Case comes in last week, starts and wins. That's what he does. He's played a lot of football games in his career, started a lot of football games in his career and has won."
What makes the Texans passing offense lethal is their playmakers. WR Nico Collins has 1,004 receiving yards in only 12 games played this season. They also have WR Noah Brown, who moved to the WR2 once WR Tank Dell was ruled out for the season after breaking his left fibula on Dec. 2.
They also have veteran TE Dalton Schultz, who can be dangerous in the passing game. Last week, he caught four passes for 58 yards. This season, he has caught 44 passes for 513 yards.
Even though the Texans have a good passing offense, the Browns defensive backs have never backed down from a challenge. This season, opponents have lost a league-low -157.0 EPA on pass plays against the Browns defense. This is the third lowest by a defense in a season since 2016.
NFL's Next Gen Stats states three Browns players are in the top five in coverage success. CB Martin Emerson Jr. ranks number one in the league with a 67.7 percent coverage success rate. Both Newsome and CB Denzel Ward have a 66.7 percent success rate, putting them in a tie for second.
The Browns defense has the lowest completion percentage over expected rate, indicating how many more or fewer passes a quarterback completes. This season, the Browns defense has a 6.0 percent CPOE, 1.6 percent lower than the next closest defense.
"Seeing all three of us on the list Next Gen put out felt good," Emerson said. "I don't feel like we get the recognition that we should. We have been the number one defense since Week 1. But looking forward to this week, we have extra motivation since we are 2-4 on the road. We want to fix that and show we can play on the road."