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Texans Fall Short in Cleveland: Top 10 Observations

Injuries and bad timing leads to frustrating loss to Browns

Last week, the 0-17 talk for the Houston Texans ended. On Sunday, the 17-0 talk also was silenced. 

The Texans looked strong during the team's first road game against the Cleveland Browns. A 14-14 tie at the half provide momentum for David Culley's roster as they exited the tunnel for the second half. 

Unfortunately, they were down a critical piece of the offense for the final 30 minutes. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor suffered a hamstring injury, forcing rookie Davis Mills to start.

In the end, the Browns pulled away late with the 31-21 victory. 

Of course, not everything was all that bad, right? 

READ MORE: Injuries Hamstring Texans in Painful Loss at Browns

For the Texans (1-1) to march into FirstEnergy Stadium and contend with a team that many consider to be an AFC favorite in Cleveland (1-1) might be more telling on what Houston's upside is. Baker Mayfield couldn't find his rhythm until the injuries kept piling up. 

In the end, Houston continues to look better than advertised.

Let's take a look at back at 10 key observations Sunday afternoon before preparing for a short week against the Carolina Panthers. 

1. Special teams struggles: All-Pro kick returner Andre Roberts' main job is to add value on special teams. Instead, his costly error in the first quarter allowed the Browns to tack on an easy touchdown. 

Roberts fumbled a punt following a four-play drive from the Browns. Linebacker Sione Takitaki was in the right place to fall right on the ball, giving Cleveland the ball at Houston's 35. Four plays later, fullback Andy Janovich punched in a 1-yard touchdown.

2. Taylor looks efficient under center: Just before leaving the game, Taylor was in control. The Browns replaced nine defensive starters this season, and it showed up big during the first half. 

Taylor finished 10 of 11 passing for 125 yards and a touchdown. When plays were broken, he improvised with his legs, recording another 13 yards on the ground for a score. 

Houston was efficient with Taylor commanding the offense. The Texans scored 14 points and only punted twice in the first half.

WATCH: Texans Rookie QB Davis Mills Throws First NFL Touchdown

3. Nico Collins' frame could be trouble as new WR No.2 : Although he left early with a shoulder injury, Collins' lone catch proved what his role will be moving forward. The third-round wide is receiver going to be go-to weapon, similar to the role of former All-Pro target DeAndre Hopkins. 

During the first quarter, Taylor found Collins on a slant pattern for a 32-yard gain. Browns cornerback Denzel Ward was playing the edge and gave the rookie a cushion. It backfired as it took a tackle from behind to stop him from finding the end zone. 

With a short week ahead, it's hard to tell if Collins will play. If he does, perhaps it once again will be a mismatch for the Panthers' secondary. 

4. Phillip Lindsay more than just a "running back": The Texans carry five backs on the active roster. Mark Ingram is the bruiser, David Johnson is the pass-catcher and Rex Burkhead adds value on special teams. 

What is Lindsay? Maybe the best of everything? 

Lindsay's 22-yard touchdown reception was a product of great vision and even better blocking. Downfield, Houston was able to provide enough angles for the fourth-year running back to cut back in multiple directions to find the end zone. 

Of course, it was Lindsay's eyes that did most of the work. He waltzed in for his second score and breathed life into the Texans' offense. 

5. A new record of takeaways: Surely with an added game to the schedule Houston was going to finish with more than three interceptions in 2021, right? After all, the team lead the NFL in the preseason with 10 takeaways in three games. 

A majority of them came against second-team offenses, but defensive coordinator Lovie Smith made sure to keep his motto alive and well: win with takeaways.

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It showed Sunday in Cleveland. 

Safety Justin Reid perfectly timed a pass intended for rookie wide receiver Anthony Schwartz in the second quarter. The receiver gave up on the ball, allowing Reid to run right past him and return it 24 yards into Cleveland territory. 

Last week, Houston was able to match their 2020 total with three takeaways against rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Now surpassing the number, the next step will be to finish with double-digit interceptions by the season's end. 

READ MORE: Texans Lose Nico in Cleveland

6. Culley did what?: Perhaps first-year coaching jitters would be easier to understand if Culley wasn't a 27-year vet in the NFL. His call in the second quarter to punt just was flat-out weird. 

Browns defensive end Takk McKinnley was flagged for being offsides on a third-and-15 call. If Houston would have accepted the penalty, it would have been third-and-10, giving them a second chance after failing to convert with Brandin Cooks on a 13-yard reception. 

Instead, Culley elected to decline the penalty, leading to to a fourth-and-2 and a punt from Cam Johnston. 

C'mon coach, you're better than that. Or are you?

7. Mills' TD was flawless: It's all about building chemistry for rookie Davis Mills and his targets. On the 2-yard touchdown pass to Cooks, nearly everything went right for Houston. 

On top of two great throws, Houston was awarded an extra 27 yards on a pass interference call from Browns rookie cornerback Greg Newsome. The Texans also converted all four times on third down and ate up over eight minutes of the clock in time of possession.

Moving the ball, controlling the clock and scoring? Seems like a huge win for the rookie's confidence. 

8. RBs Hunt and Chubb came as advertised: Culley told reporters this week that Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt could very well be the best tandem running back duo in the NFL. 

In Sunday's game, they did nothing to to deter that hyperbole.

It didn't matter if No. 27 or No. 24 lined up in the backfield. Houston had zero answers trying to contain either. Combined, the two ran for 146 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown. 

Hunt averaged 3.6 yards, but picked up three first downs. Chubb broke away for a 26-yard touchdown to give Cleveland a 31-24 lead. 

READ MORE: Houston Texans WR Danny Amendola: Quick Study, Fast Start

9. Injuries galore: Let's count how many injuries occurred on the day, shall we?  Taylor (hamstring) was the biggest, but Collins (shoulder) also limited the passing attack. Danny Amendola (hamstring) didn't play the second half and Reid (knee) left before the end of the game. 

Three of those names were critical to Houston's win over Jacksonville last week. On a short week, it doesn't look promising they'll be playing Thursday night. 

10. Deshaun Watson return?: Now with Taylor likely out for Thursday night, attention immediately turned back to the quarterback position and the possibility of a familiar option.. 

Following the game, Culley was asked if Deshaun Watson would be active for Thursday's game.

"We'll have to wait and see," Culley said. 

Even if Watson were to be activated for the game, there's no telling if he would start. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback has not participated in practice and remains a healthy scratch each week on the roster. 

Watson continues to ask for a trade from the organization. He still is facing 22 civil counts of sexual misconduct and sexual assault. Should he even be activated, the NFL could step in and place him in the Commissioner's Exempt List before taking a snap. 

Houston considered trading Watson to the Panthers this offseason. It feels like they have a better shot making that deal happen before the former first-round and franchise quarterback takes a snap for the Texans again, let alone on a short week. 

CONTINUE READING: Tyrod Taylor Time Out; Deshaun Watson Sits; What Next For Houston Texans At QB?