The Texans’ overhauled offensive line is facing an urgent task: preventing Cleveland Browns pass rushers Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney from holding impromptu team meetings in their backfield.
Protecting quarterback Tyrod Taylor against the disruptive moves of Garrett, a dominant former top overall pick of the draft from Texas A&M who had a dozen sacks last season, and Clowney, the Texans’ former top overall pick from South Carolina, is atop the Texans’ priority list.
Taylor is a mobile quarterback who was sacked just once during a 37-21 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars and hit six times while passing for 291 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 40 yards on four carries.
“I think that’s a very dynamic duo,” said Taylor, who played for the Browns in 2018 before signing with the Los Angeles Chargers. “I spent a year with Myles. I understand the type of player he is, and I’ve played against Clowney and understand the type of player he is as well, too. So having those two guys, they’re trying to be the first one to the quarterback, obviously. So for us, this week we’re definitely going to have to handle those two in pass protection.”
When Clowney played for the Texans, durability concerns and a contract dispute ultimately led to former coach and general manager Bill O’Brien trading him to the Seattle Seahawks two years ago.
Since that trade, Clowney has continued to deal with nagging injuries. He had three sacks and 13 quarterback hits in 2019 with Seattle, but had zero sacks and six quarterback hits in eight games and eight starts last season for the Tennessee Titans while playing for Mike Vrabel, his former position coach.
“Yes, he’s as disruptive as ever,” Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said of Clowney. “From the moment he got here, he was a guy you had to know where he was every single snap, or he has the ability to wreck every play. So that hasn’t changed. It didn’t change last year when he was at Tennessee.
“We didn’t see him when he was out in Seattle, but getting ready for him these past two seasons brings back a lot of memories of him on the field, and you still see the playmaking ability that he has. He’s still sudden, he’s still strong, he’s still explosive. He’s a guy we’re going to have to take care of here if we’re going to have a good game on Sunday.”
Garrett had one sack and three quarterback hits in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. He has 43 ½ career sacks and 86 quarterback hits. Garrett is extremely physically gifted. At a sculpted 6-foot-4, 272 pounds, Garrett has posted a 41-inch vertical leap.
“They’re both very talented,” Kelly said. “They have similar traits. The fact that they’re both very, very long, play with good length, they have really good explosion and athleticism. Playing styles are a little bit different, but they’re both very dangerous off the edge.”
Taylor, 32, isn’t an easy quarterback to corral, though. He’s only been sacked 16 times in the past four seasons, including this year.
“He has been doing it for a long time,” Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods told Cleveland reporters. “He probably does not get enough credit. He is a very good quarterback. I think he creates a lot of problems because of his mobility. He is not as tall as Mahomes, but he is still mobile in the pocket. We definitely have to have a good rush plan to keep him in the pocket and not let him extend plays."
Clowney had three tackles and no quarterback hits in the loss to Kansas City and former MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the opening game of the season.
“I think the whole operation and how the guys performed will get better,” Woods said. “Long story short, he did some good things, but I know he can play better.”
Clowney may have a bit of extra motivational fuel playing against his old team.
“I did not ask,” Woods said. “He did not say anything, but I am sure he probably does. He is very explosive. Slippery on blocks. Very strong. You saw that show up on Sunday.”
Signed to a one-year, $8 million contract, Clowney had one tackle for a loss against the Texans last season in the Titans’ overtime victory.
Clowney underwent microfracture knee surgery as a rookie. He played five seasons for the Texans and had a combined 18 ½ career sacks, 37 tackles for losses and 42 quarterback hits in 2017 and 2018 before being named the Texans’ franchise player then traded to Seattle.
Texans Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil will primarily be squaring up against Clowney, but Garrett does rush from both the left and right side of the line of scrimmage.
“They’re great players,” Tunsil said. “We have to come with our hard hats on and work. It’s going to be a battle for sure. In the game plan, we’re mixing up some things to get those boys off track. The main thing is stick to our game plan and be
“I love the battle. Let’s do it, man. You’ve got to compete, and I think that’s the best thing about being in the NFL, you see great pass rushers every week. Got to be ready to compete.”
The goal is simple: keep Taylor standing in the pocket.
“Man, we got to do it each and every week,” Tunsil said. “That’s our goal. I think that’s our offensive line goal, to keep the quarterback clean and untouched.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 years and has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128