Cleveland Browns Scouting Report: Houston Texans

Non-competitive losing, pathetic offensive football, sparring with local media and fan apathy have turned up the heat on first-year Houston Texans coach Lovie Smith. (Getty Images)

Non-competitive losing, pathetic offensive football, sparring with local media and fan apathy have turned up the heat on first-year Houston Texans coach Lovie Smith. (Getty Images)

Cleveland Browns scouting report: Houston Texans

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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is an analyst on the Cleveland Browns for and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.

Browns v. Houston Texans

Sunday, 1 p.m., in NRG Stadium, Houston, TX

Record: 1-9-1.

Last game: Lost to Miami Dolphins, 30-15, Nov. 27, in Miami, FL.

Coach: Lovie Smith, 1-9-1, first year; 90-96-1 overall.

Series record: Texans lead, 7-5.

Last meeting: Browns won, 31-21, Sept. 19, 2021, in Cleveland.

League rankings: Offense is 32nd overall (29th rushing, 27th passing), defense is 29th overall (32nd rushing, 17th passing) and turnover differential is minus-4.

Things to watch

1. Historically bad offensive football has laid a huge blanket of apathy over the Texans franchise. The Texans are 30th in scoring, 32nd in offensive yards, 29th in rushing and 27th in passing. Second-year quarterback Davis Mills was benched with a pathetic 78.1 passer rating for journeyman Kyle Allen and once-promising rookie running back Dameon Pierce has hit a wall. All of which has turned up the heat on coach Lovie Smith and coordinator Pep Hamilton.

2. The offense isn’t totally bereft of talent. The offensive line features two No. 1 picks (left tackle Laremy Tunsil and left guard Kenyon Green. Pierce, a fourth-round draft pick from Florida, eclipsed 130 rushing yards against the Eagles and Chargers, and 90+ three times, but has been stymied for 16 yards on 15 attempts his last two games. Six-time 1,000-yard receiver Brandin Cooks is still a threat. But Mills’ abrupt decline from a promising rookie season has the Texans pondering coaching changes and a quarterback search with the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft.

3. Smith’s defense has less talent than the offense, but it has been much more respectable – except against the run. Still, that unit seemingly came alive in holding the Dolphins to 66 rushing yards and a 2.5 average. Smith’s tried-and-true Cover 2 defense limits explosive pass plays by keeping everything in front of it. Three rookies start on defense, but two of them may miss with injuries – cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (hamstring) and linebacker Christin Harris (shoulder). Defensive end Jerry Hughes, 33, is the leader sacker with eight.

Did you know … ?

1Deshaun Watson’s return to Houston after demanding a trade in 2020 and then being sued by more than two dozen massage therapists for sexual misconduct is expected to be greeted more with apathy than protest. The lead attorney for the accusers, Tony Buzbee, is planning to host 10 of Watson’s accusers at the game in a stadium suite. "They thought it important to make clear that they are still here and that they matter,” Buzbee said to ESPN.

2. The Texans are expected to choose their quarterback of the future with their top pick, currently No. 1 overall in the 2023 draft. They already are researching Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud. They also own the Browns’ No. 1 pick, currently No. 11 overall, and the Browns’ third-round pick as a result of the Watson trade in March. The final installment of that mega-deal sends Houston the Browns’ No. 1 and No. 4 picks in 2024.

3. The Texans are leery of firing Smith after one season because they fired David Culley after only one season. But if they continue to be non-competitive, the Texans may have no choice. Smith recently has sparred with local Houston media and fan apathy has reached the point where visiting teams have attracted more fans to NRG Stadium than the Texans. GM Nick Caserio can turn his team’s public relations 180 degrees by hiring popular former Texan linebacker DeMeco Ryans as head coach and drafting Young from Alabama. Ryans, defensive coordinator of the 49ers, will be a top candidate for any head coach opening after this season.

4. Former Browns QB Josh McCown once was seen as a future Texans coach and was finalist for the job last year, but that sentiment changed with the departure of controversial Texans executive vice president Jack Easterby in October. McCown, who could eventually wind up as a coach in the NFL, coached his son in high school this year.

5. Receiver Brandin Cooks was stripped of his captaincy after he Tweeted disparaging remarks about the organization after not getting his wish to be traded to the Cowboys earlier this month. In the three games since, Cooks has 12 receptions for 166 yards and two touchdowns.

Small world: Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton (2016), offensive line coach George Warhop (2009-13), and assistant offensive line coach Hal Hunter Jr. (2016) coached for the Browns … Linebacker Christian Kirksey (2014-19), defensive back Tavierre Thomas (2018-20), offensive tackle Justin McCray (2019), safety Eric Murray (2019), safety M.J. Stewart (2020-21) and receiver Davion Davis (2021) played for the Browns … General Manager Nick Caserio is from Lyndhurst and attended John Carroll … Pass game coordinator/receivers coach Ben McDaniels is from Canton … Tight end Mason Schrenk is from Medina.