Instead of Deshaun Watson, the Browns will see Tyrod Taylor at quarterback for the Houston Texans on Sunday. The former Brown is with his fourth team in five seasons. (USA Today)
Cleveland Browns scouting report: Houston Texans
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is an analyst on the Cleveland Browns for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.
Browns v. Houston Texans
Sunday, 1 p.m., in FirstEnergy Stadium
Last game: Defeated Jaguars, 37-21, Sept. 12 in Houston.
Coach: David Culley, 1-0, first year.
Series record: Texans lead, 7-4.
Last meeting: Browns won, 10-7, Nov. 15, in Cleveland.
League rankings: Offense is third overall (fourth rushing, 11th passing), defense is 14th overall (11th rushing, 25th passing) and turnover differential is plus-3.
Things to watch
1. John Carroll University alum and former Bill Belichick personnel chief Nick Caserio undertook the challenge as new Texans GM of rebuilding an organization that hit rock bottom after mortgaging the future under former coaching czar Bill O’Brien. Caserio’s job was made tougher when franchise QB Deshaun Watson demanded a trade and then became virtually untradeable when he was charged with 22 civil lawsuits over alleged sexual misconduct. As investigations by Houston police, FBI and the NFL continue, Caserio’s resolute demands in trade compensation resulted in Watson sitting out while receiving the $10.54 million due him per his Texans contract. The seemingly bleak situation brightened considerably when the Texans gashed Urban Meyer’s Jaguars in Game 1. Suddenly, it looks like Caserio’s plan may work.
2. Caserio brought 53 new players to camp and kept 32 on his in-season roster. Most are veterans on one-year contracts who were meticulously selected to build the foundation of a new culture. An important part of the culture-building is new coach David Culley, a first-time head coach at the age of 65 whose best attributes will vanquish the bad attributes of former coach O’Brien. The Texans expect to get a lot younger next year when they replenish their draft arsenal through the eventual trade of Watson, which will happen before the 2022 draft.
3. Culley will follow the traditional shortcut to respectability – a fairly conservative run-oriented offense and the Cover-2 defense that coordinator Lovie Smith learned under Tony Dungy in their years together with Tampa Bay. The Texans were 31st in rushing offense last year and 32nd in rushing defense. So addressing those deficiencies were the major priorities in the first season of the Caserio-Culley era. They ran the ball 41 times in their opening victory over the Jaguars.
4. Caserio put a premium on special teams. The only veteran addition to receive a multi-year contract was punter Cameron Johnston, a free agent from the Eagles. They’ve had to change kickers after Kai’imi Fairbairn suffered a pulled muscle prior to the team’s last preseason game and was placed on injured reserve. The new kicker is Joey Slye, formerly of Carolina, who was 7 for 7 on field goals and PATs in Game 1 and booted all eight of his kickoffs out of the end zone.
Did you know … ?
1. Tyrod Taylor is the Texans starting quarterback with Watson in limbo. The Texans are Taylor’s fourth team in five years. He was with Buffalo in 2017, the Browns in 2018, the Chargers in 2019-20 and now the Texans.
2. In Taylor’s previous two NFL stops, he ceded the starting job to first-round picks Baker Mayfield with the Browns and Justin Herbert with the Chargers. Inevitably, he will do the same this year and give way to Davis Mills, Houston’s third-round draft pick from Stanford. Mills has classic size, a big arm, and scored 36 on the Wunderlic test, but only had 11 starts in his Stanford career. At some point this year the Texans have to give Mills a chance to evaluate whether they need to pursue a quarterback high in the 2022 draft.
3. Taylor is one of eight former Browns on the Texans’ roster. The others are offensive lineman Justin McCray (injured reserver), tight end Pharaoh Brown, defensive tackle Vincent Taylor, linebacker Christian Kirksey, cornerback Terrence Mitchell, safety Eric Murray, and cornerback Tavierre Thomas.
4. There has been a lot of unsourced reporting on what exactly the Texans are asking for in a trade for Watson. My best source says the price always has been three No. 1s and two No. 2s, spread over multiple years. No team will meet that demand until Watson’s future is determined through the legal process. The Texans are hoping for clarity prior to the 2022 draft.
Small world: Offensive line coach James Campen was Browns assistant head coach/offensive line in 2019 … Caserio grew up in Lyndhurst and played quarterback at John Carroll 1995-98 and earned a degree in finance … Pass game coordinator/QB coach Pep Hamilton was assistant head coach/QB coach under Hue Jackson in 2016 … Defensive end Whitney Mercilus is a native of Akron … Special teams coordinator Frank Ross is a native of Youngstown and played wide receiver at John Carroll and later coached quarterbacks and special teams there.