The Houston Texans just keep winning, handling a scrappy Cleveland team on Sunday for their ninth straight win. With the Colts on tap, the Browns were a test of this Texans team’s maturity, to avoid a letdown at home against an inferior opponent. The Texans passed with flying colors, through great defense and just enough offense to handle their business and keep the streak going.
Offensively, the Texans had no trouble moving the ball against the Browns’ defense. Houston racked up 187 yards rushing and 197 through the air. The issue was finishing, as the offense went 1-2 in the red zone, relying on the leg of Ka'imi Fairbarn, who was five for five in field goals. Fairbarn accounted for 17 of the Texans’ 29 points. While great for Fairbarn's confidence, the Texans need to be better at finishing with touchdowns when they are moving the ball so well.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson had his second straight game without a turnover, but got sacked four times by holding the ball too long. Toward the end of the third quarter, the Texans got a bit of a scare when Watson went to a knee and the trainers came to check on him. Adam Wexler tweeted that Watson was fiddling with his cleats. Watson soon showed that he was just fine, running well in the fourth quarter.
Watson has an issue with his right foot as 3rdQ ends. He's been fiddling with the end of his "new" cleats, now taking a knee with athletic trainer. But walking down the field to start the 4thQ.— Adam Wexler (@KPRC2AdamW) December 2, 2018
Dear Deshaun: If your new cleats are not comfortable, please put Dr. Scholls insoles inside them, before sending everyone in Houston into a mass panic. Watson was not the only medical concern for the Texans, as tackle Kendall Lamm, guard Zach Fulton, linebacker Brennan Scarlett, and cornerback Johnathan Joseph left the game with injuries. Of the four, Joseph appears to be on track to suit up against Indianapolis, while the others are yet to be determined.
On the subject of injuries, wide receiver KeKe Coutee was inactive due to a hamstring injury. A player’s best attribute in the NFL is availability, and Coutee so far is turning into another Will Fuller: a guy with tremendous playmaking ability who can’t consistently stay on the field. If Coutee and Fuller can’t find a way to be more dependable, then the Texans can add wide receiver to the list of needs the team already has.
Re the Browns, I was very impressed with quarterback Baker Mayfield. Sure, he did his best 2013 Matt Schaub impression, with a pick-6 and three interceptions on the day, but he also had some positive plays. Using his athleticism and making incredible throws on the run, Mayfield was able to do some damage against the great Texans’ defense, registering 397 yards and a touchdown. Even more impressive for a rookie, Mayfield made quick decisions, getting rid of the ball quickly, which negated any pressure from the Texans. Today wasn't a great day for the Browns; however, their current team has plenty of upside.
Race for First in the AFC
The good news is that the Texans won and the Colts lost, meaning Houston is even closer to popping the bubbly on another AFC South crown. The bad news is that both the Patriots and Chiefs won, keeping the Texans as the number three seed for now.
The Patriots’ final four games are at Miami and Pittsburgh, then at home against the Bills and Jets. New England has the inside track on the number one or two seed, because they defeated both the Texans and Chiefs.
The Chiefs will wrap up the season with home games against the Ravens and Chargers, a road game at Seattle, then a home wrap-up against the Raiders.
The Texans will face the Colts at home before going on the road to play the Jets and Eagles, finishing the year at NRG against the Jaguars.
Realistically, for the Texans to nab one of the top seeds, they need to win out and hope the Patriots lose at least once. The Chiefs will be facing three teams needing wins for their postseason hopes. Following the Kareem Hunt incident and struggling with their porous defense, it is not out the realm of possibility that the Chiefs could lose two and maybe even three of their remaining games.
Most importantly, the Texans need to avoid any catastrophic injury, handle their business, and just keep winning.