After a two-game winning streak at home, the Cleveland Browns travel to Houston this Sunday to take on the 8-6 Houston Texans. Currently, the Texans are just on the outside looking in as they are just one seed out of the playoff picture.
The Browns, on the other hand, are currently 9-5 and are looking to hold on to their spot as the fifth seed. A win here would be huge for their hopes and would give them even more confidence since the win would come against another playoff contender. Below are 3 key matchups that will make or break the Browns in Week 16.
3. Jerome Ford vs Texans Defense
Joe Flacco has been on fire for the Cleveland Browns the past three weeks but what gets lost in all this is the Browns running game went from bad to worse. Since the comeback win over Baltimore in week 10, the Browns haven't been able to rush for over 150 yards in a game.
This week, they enter into an unfavorable matchup against the NFL’s sixth-ranked rush defense, a defense that's allowing the second-lowest yards per carry in the league at 3.4. Of course, an offense will go with what works but since taking over as the starting quarterback, Joe Flacco has thrown 44 or more times in each of his three games. You have to have balance in your offense to have consistent success.
2. Geron Christian vs Jonathan Greenard
Geron Christian was originally a practice squad player who got his first start in Week 10 in Baltimore and while he hasn’t been great, he hasn’t been a liability either. After a tough matchup last week vs the Bears, Christian faces another top pass rusher in Greenard.
The Houston edge rusher has been lethal when getting after the passer over the past three weeks, racking up 13 pressures, 5.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. In the same span, Christian gave up 14 pressures and one sack.
While Joe Flacco has been great when blitzed, his completion percentage drops from 62% to 47.4% when under pressure. For the Browns to have enough time to push the ball downfield, they will need to provide Flacco with max protection concepts, bringing in a tight end or running back to help with protection.
1. Nico Collins vs the Browns secondary
The biggest storyline with the Texans this week is the report that QB CJ Stroud is still in concussion protocol and will miss a second straight game. This now adds to a significant offensive injured list as Tank Dell is out for the year with a fractured fibula and fellow wideout Noah Brown has been limited in practice this week and is currently questionable for Sunday with a knee injury.
That leaves their number 1 WR Nico Collins. Collins is looking to play his first game since injuring his calf against the Jets two weeks ago. The two weeks before his injured he accumulated 16 catches for 195 yards and 2 TDs. Cleveland has to make another wide receiver beat them as backup QB Case Keenum will look Collins' way for a bulk of targets on Sunday.
It’s worth noting Collin’s 6-foot-4 frame creates a mismatch among defenders and the last time the Browns faced a receiver of his size was Broncos Courtland Sutton, which didn’t end well. Cleveland does have their No. 1 cornerback Denzel Ward healthy, as well as Martin Emerson, who is a big-bodied corner who excels in man coverage. The worry comes past the cornerback group though, as starting safety Juan Thornhill is out for Sunday's game with the calf injury that has plagued him for most of the season.