Published October 19, 2017
The goal is the same for both teams, but the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans have entirely different motives heading into their game Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
The Texans, tied for first place in the AFC South with Houston and Jacksonville at 3-3, are trying to keep pace with their division rivals if not separate themselves from the Texans and Jaguars.
"They're all important," Texans coach Mike Mularkey said Wednesday. "That's the thing. This is a week-to-week league. This is an important game. Our players know that."
The Browns (0-6) are just trying to win so they won't have that dark "0-for" cloud following them across the Atlantic Ocean when they play the Minnesota Vikings in London on Oct. 29. The Browns have won just one of their last 26 games.
"It does get frustrating, but the men in our locker room are committed to getting better," Browns coach Hue Jackson said. "We'll stay focused, and I'm confident we'll achieve the results that we want because of the character of the men on the team and in our organization.
"I think we all get that. We have serious work to do. We're not going to run from that. We just have to put our heads down, keep working, stay together and hold each other accountable to get better."
The game will pit one of the best rushing attacks in the league against one of the better run defenses. The Titans are averaging 132 yards per game on the ground -- sixth best in the league. The Browns' run defense also ranks sixth.
The Browns have given up four rushing touchdowns. The Titans have nine rushing touchdowns by five different players.
The one-two punch of Derrick Henry and Demarco Murray has produced 318 and 313 rushing yards, respectively, and two touchdowns on the ground apiece. Quarterback Marcus Mariota has rushed for three.
"You have to defend all 11 guys out there," Jackson said. "Their blockers are good. They pull. They have a lot of different schemes. They do a lot of different things. It's not just line up and play power football.
"They're all over the place offensively, which is good. They've created different running lanes for their runners, as well as the quarterback."
Focus will be on both quarterbacks for different reasons. Mariota is playing his second game since returning from a hamstring injury. He was not mobile in Tennessee's 36-22 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night, but should be moving better by Sunday.
DeShone Kizer is back as the Browns' starting quarterback after being benched last week when Cleveland played in Houston. Different quarterback, same result when Kevin Hogan threw three interceptions, so Jackson is going back to Kizer, the rookie from Notre Dame chosen with the 52nd pick of the April draft.
Kizer threw nine interceptions and lost two fumbles through the first five games.
"When you're on the sideline, you get to feel the momentum of the game a little more than when you're out there," Kizer said. "You get to see the reactions of everyone. From the fans to the coaching staff, to the defense, you get to see all the different parts that move along throughout a game.
"For me, it really showed last week the importance of making sure that the ball is just simply out of harm's way and what positive plays can do for the team."
Mularkey said Mariota has no restrictions in practice this week. The third-year quarterback had most of his success throwing from the pocket against the Colts.
Mariota's ability, or inability, to run from trouble could have a huge bearing in the game because Browns rookie defensive lineman Myles Garrett is expected to take a full load this week.
Garrett played 19 snaps in Week 5 after missing the first four games with an ankle injury. He played 33 snaps last week. He leads the Browns with three sacks.
"He's a disruptive player, somebody that can come off the ball and create havoc and do a lot of different things," Mariota said Wednesday. "We're going to have our hands full. I think he's a great player and somebody that can change the outcome of a game."
Jabrill Peppers (toe), linebacker James Burgess (knee) and left tackle Joe Thomas (rest) did not practice with the Browns on Wednesday.
Safety Johnathan Cyprien (hamstring), linebacker Derrick Morgan (abdomen), linebacker Brian Orakpo (not injury related), wide receiver Corey Davis (hamstring) and running back Demarco Murray (hamstring) did not practice with the Titans.
Cleveland has won four of the last seven games with Tennessee, but the Titans won 28-26 in Nashville last season.