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Will Texans' Run Game Work on the Road?

A 160-yard rushing outing against the Jaguars shows that Houston should trust the run game on the road

HOUSTON -- When a team carries five running backs on the active roster, the expectation is to run the football. The Houston Texans certainly are living up to that standard after Week 1. 

In last week's 37-21 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, new head coach David Culley's team ran 75 total plays — 41 rushing, 34 passing. Running back Mark Ingram saw a bulk of the carries (28) and led the charge with 85 yards and a touchdown. 

In an obvious rebuilding year without star quarterback Deshaun Watson, Culley's goals aren't necessarily tied to the win-loss record but rather how the team can improve on a weekly basis. Houston finished second among all teams in points scored for Week 1, and tallied nearly 450 yards of offense.

So far, so good.

But that came against the Jaguars, a team also rebuilding with hopeful franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Try having similar success against the Cleveland Browns, one of the top clubs in the AFC. 

The Texans get their shot Sunday afternoon. 

Culley praised coordinators Tim Kelly (offense) and Lovie Smith (defense) for their execution in the 16-point victory over Houston's divisional rival. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor was spotty early, but once he found his rhythm it was lights out for the Jaguars' secondary. 

Taylor finished 21 of 33 passing for 289 yards and two touchdowns. The offense didn't commit a turnover and finished the first half with just one penalty. 

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A slow start from Taylor won't work in FirstEnergy Stadium Sunday. Talent wise, the Browns could be considered a top three club in the NFL after free agency and the NFL Draft. 

Against a better secondary, Culley understands that Houston can't afford poor throws off the snap. 

"That very first pass that we threw could have very easily been an interception," Culley said Wednesday. "It could have had a bearing on the ball game." 

Winning the turnover battle is also essential for Houston to remain in games. It created three interceptions against the No. 1 overall draft pick, with each takeaway resulting in points on the ensuing drive. 

Part of the reason for limited turnovers? A emphasis on the run. If the passing attack struggles, trust the run. Should the Browns secondary blanket Houston's receivers, trust the run. 

When all else fails, you can guess what to trust, right? 

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Offensively, Houston could feel as if it could stand a chance should it capitalize early. The Browns have nine new defensive starters, including two rookies in cornerback Greg Newsome II and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. 

Of course, the Browns also feature pass-rushing extraordinaire Myles Garrett and former Texans No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney coming off the edge each snap.  

"They've got a defensive end there that's a pretty good player in this league," Culley said of Garrett. 

Stability when rushing also comes on the offensive line. Last week, right tackle Charlie Heck was out after testing positive for COVID-19. Veteran Marcus Cannon was limited following his return from a knee injury. Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil is still getting over his bout with COVID during the preseason. 

At points, second-team players were starting against Jacksonville's front seven. That didn't stop Houston from grounding out 160 yards on the way to their first win of the season, while also controlling the time of possession (35:04-24:56). 

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Culley said that this week, the plan would be to run the ball more to the left with hopefully a healthier offensive line. 

"We just went the other way. We were more successful doing that," Culley said. "Basically, we'll continue to do that but obviously, we want to be able to go both ways and go wherever we need to go to be successful." 

After two years with the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North, Culley knows what to expect from the Browns' offense. He believes the combination of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt might be the best combo in an NFL backfield today. 

He'd be on the right track after Week 1. Against Kansas City, the two combined for 106 yard and three touchdowns. They each averaged 5.5 yards per play. 

Taylor is still building a familiarity with his receivers. The offensive line has not been at full-strength since the start of training camp. The run game remains a constant and a stable part of the Texans' game plan. 

Houston will need to come up with a more balanced approach moving into midseason, but if something isn't broke, no reason to fix it. The Texans are easing Taylor back into QB1 duty and trusting the ground-and-pound attack. 

If the Browns' defensive line swallows up a five-man rushing approach, all bets are off for Houston's outcome on the road. 

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