Game Plan Breakdown: Houston Texans Offense vs Cleveland Browns Defense

As the Houston Texans head to Cleveland to take on the Browns, I've done my best to construct a rough game plan that can improve our odds of winning. If you missed part one, I highlighted the Texans defense versus the Browns offense which is going to be a tough task to handle.

In this article, I'll look at the other side of the ball and break down what Tim Kelly, Tyrod Taylor and co. can do to put some points on the board, let's dive in.

1. Run it up

The Texans want to run the ball and will run the ball whether they are quite efficient or not, so let's start here. The Browns boast a strong defensive line, headlined by Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney on the edges.

Garrett needs no explanation and Clowney - still not finishing sacks - has always defended the run at a Pro Bowl level and nothing has changed. Furthermore, defensive tackle Malik Jackson is still playing at an above-average starter level and former Seahawks second-round pick, Malik McDowell looks to be finally living up to his billing.

The Browns finished top-10 in run defense in 2020, purely in terms of volume and were also 19th in run defense DVOA. This was before adding Clowney, Jackson and McDowell, thus they are projected to be an even better unit. We saw that come to fruition versus the Chiefs, who rushed 23 times for 73 yards at just 3.2 yards per carry, despite a revamped offensive line and seeing light-boxes.

I bring all of this up to say that I think the Texans will struggle a bit to run the ball. We averaged 3.9 yards per carry versus the Jaguars, who have an inferior run defense to the Browns. In addition, last week the Browns played in a lot of 2-high shells with just 6 defenders in the box so that they could stop the Chiefs' deadly passing game. They may play to our strengths and look to stack the box more often as they will be less worried about Tyrod Taylor picking them apart than they were with Patrick Mahomes.

However, this article is all about what the Texans CAN do to improve their chances at winning and executing their blocking schemes will be step one. Take this play below as an example of how they can mitigate Garrett and Clowney's disruptive tendencies.

What's most important here for our game plan versus the Browns is that Laremy Tunsil leaves left defensive end, Josh Allen, on purpose and goes to double team the defensive tackle with Tytus Howard. Josh Allen is left unblocked for a second until Max Scharping pulls and keeps him out of the play. I know it may sound crazy to leave Garrett or Clowney unblocked, but that deception will force them to be on top of their mental game, one of the few things that could slow them down.

Another way the Texans can boost their run game is to get Phillip Lindsay to the edge of the defense more often. David Culley says he wants to ride the hot hand when it comes to our running back committee and that led to Mark Ingram receiving 26 carries versus the Jaguars and Lindsay getting just eight.

Lindsay's long speed is something that no other Texans' running back possesses and could spark the chunk plays we'll need to move the ball. We saw flashes of how effective he could be and I believe we can execute blocking for him much better.

On this play, we motion Brandin Cooks across the field to shift the Jaguars defense to their left, while the run is going to their right. We leave the defensive end (91) unblocked yet again and try to get right tackle Geron Christian (72) to the 2nd level and block LB #54. He fails to do so and that LB is the one to make the tackle on Lindsay. Cannon might be in better game shape now and can play the full game, or Charlie Heck could make the start as he returns from COVID protocol. Either way, making that block can really spring this run.

Furthermore, Center Justin Britt (68) also fails to make a block at the 2nd level and WR Chris Conley (18) doesn't sustain his block versus CB #27 for long enough. Making those 2nd level blocks versus LBs and DBs will turn 5 yard runs into 10 yards, 20 yards or more.

Another thing the Texans can do to boost their run game is personnel-based - they should look to call up TE Antony Auclair to the 53-man roster again, as he was pivotal in the run game and was a far better blocker than TE Jordan Akins. Watch him work with right tackle Christian on the double team versus defensive tackle/end Taven Bryan (93) and turn him inside, allowing Mark Ingram to pick up the 9 yard gain.

The final thing the Texans can do to maximize their run game is to utilize the screen game as an extension of their run game. This will serve three purposes; first, it gives Tyrod easy completions to get in rhythm and mimic the 3-4-5 yard gains we would otherwise get on the ground. Second, it allows us to get the ball into our playmaker's hands to get YAC and potentially bigger gains. Third, it will slow down the Browns vaunted pass rush by forcing them to play less aggressive as they must worry about getting too far up field and being out of position to defend a screen.

This screen pass to RB Rex Burkhead shows exactly what will happen if the defensive ends get too aggressive. Watch how RT Christian uses DE #91 momentum against him, and throws him towards the QB, eliminating any potential for stopping the screen.

Furthermore, once the defensive ends become wary of the threat of the screen, it will slow down their rush as they must think about an alternative play call and know that they can't just fly upfield. We see that effect Josh Allen (41), who doesn't even attempt to rush versus Tunsil and drops in coverage instead.

The screen pass only gained four yards because Allen played it well, but that would be more than the Texans averaged rushing the ball last week AND forces Allen to think twice about teeing off the next time the Texans want to drop back and throw the ball deeper *hint hint, foreshadowing*

2. Play-Action and attack Linebackers

The second key for the Texans' offense is to use the threat of the run game to attack downfield off of play-action. I believe they could've exposed the Jaguars' pass defense even more if they targeted their LBs over the middle of the field.

The Texans only attempted to attack the short-middle area of the field off play-action once all game versus the Jaguars and were very successful. Out of pistol formation, there is a lot of misdirection going on which opens up an easy throw.

First is the run fake to Lindsay with tight end Pharaoh Brown crossing the formation and faking a split zone look. Brandin Cooks also motions behind Taylor into the backfield in a crescent moon shape. All of this eye candy manipulates the Jags' LBs, with Myles Jack (44) going to cover Cooks and the other two defenders in the box looking lost. This opens up the "glance" route to Conley (18) right in between 54 and 32.

This same concept will be useful versus the Browns, and the Chiefs already showed us the way. The Browns start in a 1-high shell with four second-level defenders in the area the Chiefs want to attack.

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Thus, the Chiefs motion Tyreek Hill (10) out wide which forces the Browns to audible into a 2-high shell and specifically moves Safety Ronnie Harrison out of the second level and into the third level.

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This opens up space for TE Travis Kelce on the glance route behind the LBs and in front of the safeties. The final cherry on top is the run fake which drags LB Mack Wilson (51) down towards the line-of-scrimmage and gives Mahomes an easy throw.

The Texans don't need a Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill or Patrick Mahomes to execute that same concept. They ran a nearly identical version versus the Jags with Chris Conley, Brandin Cooks and Tyrod Taylor - there's no reason they shouldn't try it more often.

If there is any weak link on the Browns' defense, it would be their LBs. Force them to defend horizontally and vertically by running the ball and using play-action which will also stretch these LB's mental bandwidth and force them to make the right decision on a play.

3. Deep Throws vs Single-High

The third key for the Texans offense is a specific one, and it's to try to get some explosive plays when the Browns play with a single safety deep. The Jaguars played with one deep safety - either Cover 3 or Cover 1 - for majority of the game and Tyrod and Cooks were able to take advantage.

I don't expect to replicate those first two plays often versus the Browns because, whispers *they were a bit lucky* and the Browns will frequently play with two safeties deep, rather than just one. In 2020, according to Sharp Stats, the Browns were top 5 in snaps played with two safeties deep and that pattern continued versus the Chiefs in Week One.

I believe the Browns played with two safeties deep even more than usual because the Chiefs are the best in the league in attacking deep. Thus, the Texans could see slightly more single high safety coverages as the Browns bring one of their safeties (likely Ronnie Harrison) into the box to stuff the run since they are likely less scared of our deep passing game.

I could be wrong in my belief, but either way, the Texans should not look to force the deep ball when the Browns play with two deep safeties, however, they should have audibles ready for when the Browns occasionally give them a single deep safety look. One concept I'll be watching for is our patented Yankee concept, which we've been killing teams on since Will Fuller was drafted.

When the Texans get around midfield - between our 40-yard line and the opponents' 40-yard line - look for them to call "Yankee". They dialed it up versus the Jags and just didn't have the pass protection to hit on it.

The concept involves a deep post by Nico Collins (12) and a deep crossing route by Cooks (10). It looks to put the single high safety in a conflict of assignment as they can only choose one WR to provide help towards. On this play, the safety helps towards Collins, who easily dusts CJ Henderson (23) on the post and this leaves Cooks wide open over the middle of the field for a potentially huge gain.

The fun part of this play is that the Texans can easily audible to it out of their beloved pistol formation - which they played 32% of the time in Week one, ranking 2nd in the NFL behind the Ravens.

The Texans also ran 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TEs) on this play which was their 2nd most popular personnel in Week one, playing it on 21/73 of the snaps (29%). From this exact same formation and personnel, they can establish the run as they desire, force defenses to bring a defender down into the box and then when the time is right, take the kill shot.

The Browns defense was predicated upon forcing the Chiefs to take a "death by a thousand paper-cuts" approach but not every team is built to do that, the Texans passing offense certainly is not.

To stay efficient and put up the points they'll need to win this game, we'll need a few explosive plays and executing Yankee concepts versus the few single high safety looks that we'll get, will be an X-factor.

Stray Thoughts

Last week, Tim Kelly expertly called numerous "rub routes" to defeat the Jaguars man coverage game plan. If you'd like a detailed explanation of how we did so and got two touchdowns from those concepts, check out my video breakdown here. While these rub routes are excellent at defeating man coverage, the Browns play a zone-heavy defense and rub routes will simply not be as effective due to different spacing and responsibilities of zone defenders.

Thus, it will be pivotal for Kelly and quarterback Tyrod Taylor to identify the Browns' coverage tendencies and have pre and post-snap plans to defeat certain coverages. Dialing up play calls that have a Cover 2 beater on one side of the offensive formation and a Cover 3 beater on the other side, would be an outstanding way to ensure Tyrod has multiple options to go to, no matter what coverage the Browns roll to after the snap.

A lot of pressure will be placed on Tyrod's shoulders to read the defense and make decisive throws into the holes of the Browns' coverage schemes. Furthermore, we're likely going to need more of Tyrod's ability to defeat pressure with his legs - scrambling around the field to extend the play or rushing for the first down is difficult to game plan for on the Browns' behalf (could force them to run a QB spy).

Patrick Mahomes regularly did this last week versus the Browns, whether it was maneuvering within the pocket or scrambling outside of it, he even rushed for a touchdown in the red zone.

Tyrod is no Mahomes, that's not what I'm trying to say at all, however, his legs do possess a similar level of unpredictable danger that keeps defenses on their toes.

Finally, while the Browns aren't a super blitz heavy team, they will send pressure on 3rd and long situations. If the Texans are not able to run the rock and stay ahead of the sticks, they will be forced to convert in these disadvantageous situations.

Looking at a Browns' blitz design versus the Chiefs, they send five defenders and drop five in man coverage with one safety deep. The weak spot here is LB Anthony Walker (4) who fakes a blitz which delays his ability to cover RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (25) who runs a simple swing route into the flat. Walker was placed on injured reserve, so whoever replaces him would be a good target to attack with David Johnson or Rex Burkhead.

The Jaguars blitzed us 17 times and Tyrod finished 9/17 for 170 yards, only being sacked once. He'll need to have even better success versus the Browns and capitalizing on the aggressive nature of blitzes, could lead to the explosive plays we'll need to put up the points necessary to win this game.

That'll do it for the Texans offensive keys to the game. I think they'll need to score around 24 points to steal the victory and I think reaching that goal is more attainable than holding the Browns to less than that mark.

It's likely that the Texans will need to pass the ball a lot more than they'd like and winning this game could come down to a "shootout". I'm not predicting we get the W, but the level of competitiveness in this game will tell us a whole lot about the rest of the season. Let's go Texans!