‘Brady Backup Bowl’ Hoyer’s Browns host Mallett’s Texans

(SportsNetwork.com) – It’s more than 900 miles from the place he became a
collegiate standout and more than 600 miles from where he was drafted – but as
it turns out, the Ryan Mallett Era will officially begin at FirstEnergy
Stadium in Cleveland.

Now a fourth-year pro with precisely one completed pass to his name, Mallett
will become an NFL starter this week when he takes the reins of the Houston
Texans’ offense against the host Browns.

Mallett lost a yard on a single carry this season while serving as an
understudy to Ryan Fitzpatrick through Houston’s first nine games, but was
named the starter for the rest of the season by coach Bill O’Brien as the team
emerged from its Week 10 bye. The former University of Arkansas star had spent
his initial three seasons as Tom Brady’s caddy after the New England Patriots
drafted him in 2010.

He was acquired by the Texans for a draft pick in August.

“I’ve been waiting four years for this,” Mallett said. “Now it’s my time to
have an opportunity to show what I can do.”

Fitzpatrick had failed to reach 300 passing yards in a single game this season
and Houston is 28th among 32 teams with a per-game passing average of 209.7.
Still, the Texans already have twice the wins this year (four) than they’d
managed in 2013 (two) while being led at various times by Matt Schaub, Case
Keenum and T.J. Yates – none of whom are still on the roster.

And wide receiver Andre Johnson, who had six 100-yard games last season but
none this year, doesn’t pretend that the cure to all Houston’s ills – the team
has lost four of five since a 3-1 start – is a regime change under center.

“Whoever is at quarterback, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “We all have to go
out and do our jobs. It’s not just going to be about him. It’s going to be
about all of us. All of us need to step our game up and go out and play the
way we know how to play.”

The Texans were beaten at home, 31-21, by Philadelphia in their last game
before the week off.

Running back Arian Foster, who leads the AFC with 822 yards, left that game
with a groin injury but is expected back to meet the Browns. Assuming he
plays, he’ll be matched for the first time with former Houston understudy Ben
Tate, who’s now in Cleveland.

Tate ran for a team-high 771 yards last season while Foster was limited to
eight games by injury, and he began his stint with the Browns as the premier
back, but now shares time with Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. All three had
rushing touchdowns in Cleveland’s 24-3 defeat of Cincinnati in Week 10.

“We’re winning,” Tate said. “We’re 6-3 and in first place, that’s all that
really matters.”

The Browns will start their own former Brady backup at quarterback in the form
of Brian Hoyer, who’s been clinically efficient this season while throwing
interceptions at a low rate (1.5 percent of his passes) that’s surpassed by
only Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer.

He and Mallett were teammates in New England in 2011.

The Texans defense that will line up against him is in various levels of
disarray thanks to a rash of injuries. Cornerback Kareem Jackson is not
expected to play with a knee problem, though his fellow cornerback, Johnathan
Joseph, has cleared concussion protocol and is eligible to return. Linebacker
Brian Cushing has missed two games with a knee injury and rookie Jadeveon
Clowney also had a knee injury before missing the Philadelphia game due to

Cleveland’s presence in first place is its latest in any one season in 20

It hasn’t seen the playoffs since 2002 and has lost at least 11 games in each
of the last six years. A win Sunday would provide a four-game winning streak
for the first time since 2009.

“There are no awards. There’s no prize for being 6-3,” coach Mike Pettine
said. “The only thing that’s done for us is our games are meaningful now. You
still have to have the ability to put that one in a box and move onto the next

The 21-point defeat of the Bengals was Cincinnati’s first regular-season home
loss since December 2012 and saw the Browns limit the hosts to 165 total yards
while forcing four turnovers. Cleveland allowed 79 yards passing – its fewest
since 2011 – and its run defense has yielded 91.7 yards in the last three
victories after being gashed for 155.5 in the season’s first six games.

“You have to be able to handle success,” Browns linebacker Paul Kruger said.
“Coach Pettine has done a better job than any coach I’ve even been around
helping us understand that and making an emphasis on it, knowing how to handle
a loss and bounce back and know how to handle a win – not overreact.”


Will the Kid Be All Right?

Needless to say, all eyes will be on the strong-armed Mallett’s starting
debut, particularly those of an opportunistic Cleveland defense. The Browns
are second in the league with 13 interceptions and seventh overall with 17
takeaways. Mallett has thrown just four NFL passes – all with New England in
2012 – and was intercepted once.

Where’s 99?

While the Cleveland defense pays attention to Mallett, the offense will surely
be focused on Houston defensive star J.J. Watt, who’s already amassed a
season’s worth of stats through nine games. Watt has 8 1/2 sacks, seven pass
deflections, 11 tackles for loss and 29 quarterback hits. And he’s become the
first defensive lineman to score three touchdowns since William Perry in 1985.


As impressive as the Browns looked in dismantling the Bengals, one need glance
no farther back than Week 7 to discover reason for caution. Back then, coming
off a 21-point rout of Pittsburgh, Cleveland was the toast of the Sunday
preview shows – and then lost, 24-6, at winless Jacksonville.

If Mallett is as good as many think he is, the Texans have plenty of reasons
to believe a road win is within reach.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Texans 21, Browns 20