How much has the Browns offense grown?
We're about to find out.
The new and improved version of the Browns offense is about to play an elite defense. Baker Mayfield has enjoyed shredding the banged-up Falcons and Bengals the last two weeks, but he's also excited to prove his potency against the one of the league's best.
"Anytime you get to play against a team like this, you want to rise to the occasion," Mayfield said. "Like I said the past couple of weeks, it does not matter who we are playing. We have to do our job, but obviously this week we are playing better competition. Doing our job is even that much more important."
Maybe Mayfield's right. Maybe it's just a coincidence that the Browns' offense played its best games against two of the league's lowest-ranked defenses. Maybe the Browns could've scored on anyone the last two weeks. But Mayfield can't say that for sure until the offense proves it can produce similar results against better competition.
That's where the Houston Texans — owners of a top-five scoring defense, a top-six sack total and a run defense that holds opposing running backs to 74 rushing yards per game — come in. The Browns have executed pristinely during their two-game winning streak. But the best defenses thin the line between success and failure.
"You have to be very smart when you are getting the ball out quick," Mayfield said. "Seeing leverage, being decisive and having our guys be precise in their routes. The timing has to be there even more so than usual. It (takes) all of the little things when you are playing guys like this to get the ball out in the right places."
The game will feel faster Sunday. Mayfield's awareness of J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney will speed up his internal clock, forcing him to make faster decisions when distributing the ball.
Offensive guard Joel Bitonio said the hard part about blocking players like Watt, Clowney and Whitney Mercilus is the freedom they're given. Bitonio said the Texans pass rushers don't always stay true to their assigned gap because they (and their coaches) feel they can make the play no matter where it goes. That freedom is only given to elite players, Bitonio said, players like Watt and Aaron Donald. And for the Texans to give that freedom to multiple players illustrates the challenge that lies ahead.
"This is the best group we will have faced probably overall all year," Bitonio said. "They are a talented group. It is definitely going to be a good test for us."