Mayfield, Cleveland face big test with Houston’s pass rush
HOUSTON (AP) — The Cleveland Browns have done a great job of protecting Baker Mayfield recently, and have the longest active streak in the NFL by not allowing a sack in 125 snaps.
Things will get more difficult for the Browns (4-6-1) on Sunday when they visit the Houston Texans (8-3) and their defense led by pass-rushing stars J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. Watt is tied for second in the NFL with 11 1/2 sacks and has 19 quarterback hits, and Clowney has seven sacks and 15 quarterback hits.
“I have a job to do and that’s my job to go out there and hopefully end that streak,” Watt said. “They’ve obviously been doing a good job. It’s going to be a good battle.”
Mayfield, who hasn’t been sacked in two games, said he’s watched Watt play since the quarterback was in high school and knows he’ll have to account for him and Clowney on every play.
“I have to get it out very quick,” Mayfield said. “They have two of the best defensive ends in the league. That is not discrediting any of the other guys, but they are talented. The emphasis has to be on getting the ball out, which we have been trying to do these past weeks. We have to keep doing it.”
The Texans know the key to stretching their franchise-record winning streak to nine games will be slowing down Mayfield, the top overall pick in this year’s draft. Mayfield has 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions in eight starts this season and is coming off a season-best four touchdown performance in Cleveland’s 35-20 win at Cincinnati last week.
“Baker’s a winner,” Houston coach Bill O’Brien said. “He’s a competitor, very accurate, has a great instinct for the game, excellent ability to keep plays alive. I can just tell you we hold him in very high regard.”
While Houston attempts to contain Mayfield, the Browns will try and limit the Texans’ young quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is also coming off a good game. Watson threw two touchdown passes and ran for a career-high 70 yards and a score in a 34-17 win over Tennessee on Monday.
Cleveland interim coach Gregg Williams has been impressed with Watson’s improvement in his second season after playing just seven games as a rookie before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
“I think the game’s slowing down for him,” Williams said. “You can see that he’s more relaxed. He never did show any stress or panic, but you can see he’s more comfortable in what he’s doing … you can see as the season’s gone on, each week he’s more and more comfortable with how he’s playing physically (and) mentally.”
Some things to look for when the Browns visit the Texans:
The Texans are averaging the fourth-most yards rushing a game in the NFL after running for a franchise-record 281 yards on Monday night. Lamar Miller led the way with 162 yards rushing and a 97-yard touchdown against the Titans. The 27-year-old Miller is having a solid season after being slowed by minor injuries last year. He has three 100-yard rushing games after not rushing for more than 75 yards in a game last season.
“(Miller) is hitting the hole and he is hitting it fast and violent, and he is breaking arm tackles,” Browns linebacker Joe Schobert said. “There are linebackers and D-line are in the holes and just trying to reach out trying to bring him down. He is running through it, and you see he has the speed to take it all the way to the house like we saw the other day.”
Cleveland’s win at Cincinnati last week snapped a 25-game road losing streak and was its first victory away from Cleveland since Oct. 11, 2015. Now the Browns will try to win consecutive road games in a season for the first time since they beat San Francisco and Pittsburgh on Sept. 21 and Oct. 5, 2003.
While the Browns have been terrible on the road, they haven’t been much better at home. Sunday’s victory marked the first time they’d won two straight games overall since 2014, when they won three in a row.
Once foes, Watson and Mayfield are now friends.
The quarterbacks will have an on-field reunion Sunday, meeting for the first time since the 2016 Orange Bowl when Watson led Clemson to a 37-17 win over Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners. Watson and Mayfield are part of the NFL’s next wave of star quarterbacks, and the pair already shares a mutual respect.
“He’s going to have a bright future, a bright career, win a lot of games, win championships and do a lot of things for himself and that organization,” Watson said of Mayfield. “I’m a big Baker fan and everything that he has been doing for a long time. It’s going to be very exciting to see him pregame and compete against him. I’ll talk to him later this week and probably jersey swap with him.”
The Browns passed on a chance to draft Watson in 2017. But if they had taken him, Mayfield would be elsewhere. As he develops, Cleveland’s rookie QB has been impressed with what Watson has already accomplished.
“Deshaun is an incredible quarterback, incredible athlete, a great leader,” Mayfield said. “He’s been playing at a very high level. He’s a huge reason why they’ve won eight in a row. It’s always great to play great competition. You always look forward to that.”