CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Browns look to avoid an 0-6 start for the second straight year and third time since 1999 Sunday in Houston against the Texans.
Kevin Hogan, who becomes starting QB No. 28 since 1999, makes his first NFL start after Browns head coach Hue Jackson benched rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer despite pledging to stick with him through the good and bad this season.
Here’s what we’re watching for Sunday afternoon.
– Hogan’s Heroics? – Desperate for a win, Jackson turns to Hogan to get them in the win column Sunday. With Kizer only able to produce 46 points – 7 scoring drives – in 48 possessions this season Jackson is hoping that the success Hogan has had in 3 relief appearances will translate into a faster start and win. Hogan, who has put points on the board in 5 of the 10 drives he’s led, has guided the Browns to a TD in each of his first 3 possessions when he has come on with drives of 5 plays, 83 yards; 12 plays, 63 yards and 10 plays, 73 yards whereas Kizer had gone his 5 opening possessions – the fourth being a 4-and-out.
– Deshaun, not DeShone – Deshaun Watson has won 2 of his 4 starts for the Texans since taking over as the starting QB and he’s put up spectacular numbers – 62.1 completion percentage for 1,072 yards, 12 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 179 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns rushing and a rating of 100.7. His 12 TDs are second in the league while Kizer has struggled and completed just 50.9 percent of his passes for 851 yards with a league-worst 9 interceptions and just 3 TD tosses which has landed him on the bench. Carson Wentz threw 3 touchdowns in his NFL debut against the Browns after the Eagles traded up with Cleveland for the No. 2 pick in 2016. After Cleveland traded down from 12 with the Texans in April, will Watson embarrass the Browns in similar fashion Sunday?
– More Myles – Myles Garrett only played 19 snaps in his NFL regular season debut last announced his presence with authority by recording 2 sacks – including first sack coming on his first official snap. Garrett’s playing time in the second half last week was limited after his right ankle tightened up and became sore. The team is trying to play this smart and not push Garrett too much as to cause the injury to worsen but if they can find a way to keep him warm and prevent the ankle from tightening up in the second half it would go a long way into helping them stay in the game.
– Full strength – For the first time this season defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will have all of his starters on the field and available with the return of backer Jamie Collins, who missed 3 weeks with a concussion, this week. Tight ends have been a problem defensively this season for the Browns but with a full compliment of players at his disposal, maybe that’s the solution Williams had been waiting for. Cleveland is ranked fifth in overall defense – yards allowed per game – and fifth against the run – holding opponents to yard per game but they are ranked 25th allowing 24.8 points per game.
– Double trouble – Williams’ defense will have their hands full trying to slow down Texans receivers Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins. Fuller has 6 catches for 92 yards and 4 touchdowns this season while Hopkins has hauled in 35 balls for 363 yards and 5 touchdowns.
– Get a lead, again – While the Browns were able to end their lead-less streak at 18 quarters last week, it was short lived. They remain the only team in the league to not hold an advantage at the end of a quarter this season. If they can’t win, maybe they could at least lead after the first, second or third quarters. Baby steps.
– Blown opportunity blues – Nine times this season the Browns have reached their opponent’s 30 and failed to get any points. The drives have resulted in 5 turnovers, 2 missed field goals and 2 turnovers on downs. That’s how you start a season 0-5.
– Straighten it out – Zane Gonzalez was drafted in the seventh round because he was last year’s Lou Groza award winner as college football’s best kicker. The Browns hope he starts kicking like Groza and not Roberto Aguayo. Gonzalez has missed his last 3 attempts this season – 48, 52 and 39 while connecting from 24 and 38 yards.
– The Browns have already had 3 winnable games – Indianapolis, Cincinnati and the NY Jets – and blown them all. Sunday is the fourth opportunity after the Texans lost J.J. Watt (broken leg) and Whitney Mercilus (torn pectoral muscle) last week against the Chiefs for the season. Sure Houston still has Jadeveon Clowney, who has 3 sacks ocmbined over the last 3 games and totaled 22 tackles for loss since 2016, but the loss of Watt and Mercilous can not be overstated enough. Once again, opportunity knocks.