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Keys to the Game

Keys to the Game: How the Browns can beat the Texans in Week 16 

Browns look to turn around their road record with a win over the Texans

Keys Week 16

The Browns will travel for two of their final three regular season games, starting with their Week 16 matchup against the Texans. They have dealt with their fair share of struggles on the road — especially on the defensive side of the ball — and are 2-4 on the road this season.

Yet, they have a chance to turn that perception around and continue their playoff push.

"And that's another step that we need to take as a team and as a defense—is winning on the road," DC Jim Schwartz said. "It's hard when you get December and you get to January, and games mean a lot. Winning on the road means an awful lot. And we haven't always played our best on the road, and we've learned some lessons and hopefully that will pay off for us now as we mature, and we sort of learn how to deal with it and what's at stake."

So, let's take a look at three keys to Sunday's game.

Defend against QB Case Keenum

The Browns will see a familiar face on the other side of the ball at quarterback on Sunday, as QB Case Keenum is set to start at quarterback for the second consecutive game. Keenum played in nine total games for the Browns in during the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

The Texans ruled rookie QB C.J. Stroud out for Sunday's game as he continues to go through the concussion protocol. Stroud did not practice throughout the week.

During Week 15, Keenum led the Texans to a 19-16 overtime win over the Titans. He completed 23 of 36 passes for 229 yards, one touchdown and one interception. It was his first game of the 2023 season.

"Case Keenum has been around for a long time, has all the experience in the league," DC Jim Schwartz said. "A true vet that has seen everything. Very accurate passer. He does it a little bit different than C.J. Stroud but led them to a win last week. And when it's all said and done, head coaches and quarterbacks are judged on wins and Case Keenum is a winner. So, we're going to have to play our very best against him. Our guys know him a little bit, some of his strengths and his weaknesses. So again, whatever the Texans do at quarterback, you know, we're prepared."

How the Browns offensive line battles against the Texans front four

The Browns received some good news in terms of the health of their offensive line, as C Ethan Pocic was not included on the injury report heading into Sunday's game, and G Joel Bitonio returned to practice on Friday after dealing with a back injury. Bitonio was officially listed as questionable, as they will monitor his response heading into Sunday's game.

As their offensive line prepares for the Texans, Bitonio said their defense begins with their front four. Bitonio said that the Texans' front four is similar cut to the 49ers defense.

The Texans defense has a total of 38 sacks this season, with DE Jonathan Greenard leading the team with 12.5 sacks on the season. He also has 52 total tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 22 quarterback hits. On the inside, DT Maliek Collins has five sacks on the season, as well as 35 total tackles, six tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hits.

"I think their front four is kind of the strength their team and they rotate," Bitonio said. "They're kind of similar to us. They let the front four go. They're athletic, they're powerful guys. They rush the passer well and it kind of lets their back end play a little bit more aggressively and stuff, but they do a good job."

Continue to build off success in the passing game

In the last two games, QB Joe Flacco has thrown for over 300 passing yards, and spread the ball around to at least eight pass catchers. OC Alex Van Pelt said that when they spread the ball around to multiple pass catchers, it makes opposing defenses have to play the whole field.

The Browns could look to continue that momentum in Week 16 against the Texans, as their pass defense allows an average of 239.1 passing yards per game, which is eighth worst in the league. They have given up a total of 3,635 passing yards this season and allow 7.7 yards per attempt. However, they've allowed the least amount of passing touchdowns this season with 14 and have 12 total interceptions.

The Browns have also been using the play action as an effective tool in their offense with Flacco at the helm. Even as the Browns run game has struggled in recent weeks, the play-action pass has allowed the Browns to find open pass catchers and continue offensive drives.

"We take pride in our ability to ball handle and fake as well with our line and our backs and our quarterback is really good at it," Van Pelt said. "It's a point of emphasis for us to make our play actions look like real runs. Really until a team tries to stop your run with the middle field open, it takes away some of those play actions, but they continue to close the middle of the field and give us opportunities in the play action game, which was good."

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