For more than 50 minutes, the Browns were the better team at Arrowhead Stadium in the season opener against the Chiefs, but it's a 60-minute game in the NFL, and the Browns ultimately fell short, 33-29. They will look to put together a complete 60-minute performance against the visiting Houston Texans, who won their season opener, 37-21, over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Browns will be playing in front of a full FirstEnergy Stadium for the first time since 2019, and I can't wait to feel the energy of the fans as they go crazy at the home opener. This game will be all about righting the ship at home in Week 2, just as the Browns did in 2020.
Let's take a look at three keys to a Browns win in this week's Winning Mix.
1. Raw Power Running Game
In the Browns' 2020 win over the Houston Texans, the team leaned heavily on the dynamic backfield duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. In that game, both Chubb and Hunt received 19 carries and rushed for more than 100 yards apiece. Chubb led the way with 126 yards and a touchdown and could have had a second had he not stepped out of bounds at the 1-yard line on a game-clinching run. Hunt picked up 104 yards rushing and added another 28 receiving on that stormy day a year ago. Let's see more of the same in this matchup on Sunday.
After all, the Browns run game is in mid-season form after racking up 153 yards and four touchdowns on a stout 5.9 yards per carry in Week 1 against the Chiefs. Chubb led the way with 15 carries for 83 yards and two touchdowns, while Hunt added 33 yards and a score on his six rushes. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the duo tally significantly more than the 21 carries they received in Week 1, and they will be a huge part of what the Browns do if they're to secure a critical win Sunday. Running behind a dominant offensive line like the one that the Browns possess is always a good idea, and testing the Texans run defense makes a lot of sense. The Jags averaged 5 yards per carry against Houston in Week 1, but the game script forced them away from the rushing attack. The Browns would love to get out to a fast start, as they did in Kansas City with three touchdowns on their first three possessions, and then turn the game over to Chubb and Hunt.
Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Houston Texans
2. Limit the Big Plays to Brandin Cooks
Tyreek Hill is the premier vertical threat in the NFL, and while the Browns held him in check for the majority of the season opener, he did get behind the defense for a back-breaking 75-yard touchdown on a heave from Patrick Mahomes. Other than that one broken-play bomb, the Browns did a great job of keeping Hill on front of them. On his other 10 receptions, Hill was limited to 12.2 yards per catch, which is an excellent number.
This week the Browns will have to contend with another excellent vertical receiver in Brandin Cooks. Cooks led the Texans in receiving in 2020 with 1,150 yards and six touchdowns while averaging a robust 14.2 yards per catch. In that season, he was one of only seven receivers in the NFL to accumulate more than 400 yards receiving (408) on passes of more than 20-plus yards in the air. In Week 1, he led the Texans with five catches for 132 yards, which is a ridiculous 26.4 yards per catch. Cooks caught all three of his vertical targets for 116 yards against Jacksonville, and he was joined by Hill as the only receivers in the league to produce more than 100 yards on vertical throws in Week 1. The Browns are extremely talented on defense. If they can eliminate big plays and force the Texans to matriculate the ball down the field, they could have a dominant defensive performance.
3. Sack Masters
The Browns were able to generate pressure on 44.4 percent of the Chiefs' pass plays in Week 1 and netted two total sacks. The 28 total pressures were the seventh-most in the NFL, but the two sacks were tied for 14th with seven other teams. The Jaguars were able to produce pressure on 42.5 percent of their rushes against the Texans in Week 1 but netted only one sack. The Browns should be able to get around Tyrod Taylor and harass him all day in the passing game, but finishing the job with sacks would create huge plays for the defense and put the Texans offense in a bind. Houston running backs ran for only 3.2 yards per carry in Week 1, so the Browns should be able to put the Texans into some obvious passing situations. Now, they must get home, produce sacks or hurried throws and be mindful of Taylor's scrambling ability, as he ran for 40 yards on his only scramble against the Jags. With a rocking FirstEnergy Stadium forcing the Texans into some silent counts, the Browns' pass rush — led by Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney, Malik Jackson, Malik McDowell and Takkarist McKinley — should be able to make some majorly impactful plays that lead to a Browns win.
Remember when Garrett really got things going in Week 2 of 2020 with a strip-sack of Joe Burrow? I do, and I would love to see an encore against Taylor and the Texans on Sunday.