Texans’ defense worn down by Browns’ punishing running game

CLEVELAND – Nick Chubb kept powering through the Texans’ arm tackles, aggressively pushing forward and searching for a pathway until he reached his final destination.

Ultimately, the Cleveland Browns’ punishing running game left dents all over the Texans’ upgraded defense Sunday during a 31-21 comeback victory at FirstEnergy Stadium as they rushed for 156 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries.

Chubb rushed for 95 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries, averaging 8.6 yards per run as Kareem Hunt gained another 51 yards and quarterback Baker Mayfield and fullback Andy Janovich both rushed for red-zone touchdowns. A 14-7 halftime lead was erased as the Browns took control, outscoring the Texans 10-0 in the third quarter after Texans starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor injured his hamstring and was replaced after halftime by rookie Davis Mills.

“In the second half, I just think we got worn down a little bit,” Texans coach David Culley said. “We’ve just got to get better. There were times where we probably weren’t in our gaps and we needed to be in our gaps. They ended up getting some big plays on us. Another thing was the missed tackles. We had a chance to make some plays for some losses. Their backs are pretty good players, and they made plays.”

Houston Texans v Cleveland Browns

Photo: Getty Images

The Texans allowed 79 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the first half, but the second half was when Chubb inflicted more significant damage in a manner reminiscent of last season’s 10-7 victory when he iced the game with a 59-yard run in the fourth quarter. This time, Chubb’s 26-yard touchdown run with5:52remaining put the game out of reach for good after the Texans had closed the gap to 24-21 on Mills’ touchdown pass to wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

“It was a great call, and it was well-blocked,” Chubb said of his touchdown run. “I don’t think I got touched on the play. It was well-blocked everywhere and well-executed by everyone, so I was able to ice the game.

“I felt good going into the fourth quarter. I think we did a good job the whole game of pounding them even though things were not quite opening up for us at first. We did a good job leaning on them and our offensive line kept pressing their defenders. That’s when it opened up for us in the fourth quarter.”

The Texans benched starting inside linebacker Zach Cunningham for the first quarter for disciplinary reasons, according to Culley. Kamu Grugier-Hill started in his place and had nine tackles, three for losses, one sack and one forced fumble.

Despite the setback, Grugier-Hill is encouraged by the 1-1 Texans’ outlook.

“At the end of the day, we have to tackle better,” Grugier-Hill said. “I felt encouraged. You can feel it in this team we got something special. We’ve got to fix some things, but I know we’ll bounce back. I think some guys, including me obviously, started jumping out of the gap and just do too much.”

Too much wasn’t enough against Chubb and Hunt, arguably the top running back tandem in the NFL.

“They run hard,” Grugier-Hill said. “I mean, they are not going to go down on the first contact. They are not going to go down easy. We got to do better tackling.”

Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.

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