Lovie Smith, Texans expecting best of Deshaun Watson

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(SportsRadio 610) - After having not played a meaningful down of football in exactly 700 days, Deshaun Watson will make his return to the field Sunday afternoon at NRG Stadium following an 11-game suspension.

Watson’s final game as a Houston Texan was Jan. 3, 2021, the 2020 season finale against the Tennessee Titans. Watson passed for 365 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-38 losing effort.

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As former Texans great J.J. Watt and Watson walked off of the field toward the tunnel, the three-time defensive player of the year apologized to Watson for failing to do more as a team.

The Texans finished 4-12.

It was a season in which the Texans squandered statistically Watson’s best year as a quarterback in the NFL.

Now, nearly two years removed from that final walk into the tunnel as a Texan, Watson will emerge from it as a member of the Cleveland Browns (4-7) Sunday afternoon.

Exactly what he’ll look like remains to be seen, though in minimal reps during the preseason, Watson was just 1-5 passing for seven yards in three series of action.

Aside from adding Watson to the mix as he takes over the reigns from Jacoby Brissett, the Browns have plenty of other offensive weapons that are helping them keep slim playoff hopes alive.

“I know they’re adding Deshaun (Watson) to the mix offensively, but without him, their offense has really put up yardage,” Smith said. “They have an excellent running back (Nick Chubb). One of the top running backs in our game. They have at least one number one receiver. A good tight end. A good offensive line, so that will be a challenge."

It’s been the case all season long, the biggest challenge will be slowing the run game down.

For a team that has allowed a league worst 169.5 rush yards per game, going up against one of the leagues best run games, such as the Browns, which average a league best 128.5 rush yards per game, by all indications it sets up to be a long day for the Texans.

As an offense, without Watson, the Browns lead the NFL in yards from scrimmage, averaging 392 yards per game this season.

On the flip side, the Texans (1-9-1) allow the fourth most on average at 398.8 per game.

Smith said that the duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the backfield, particularly their speed element, is more than enough of a challenge for his defense this weekend without worry about what Watson can do through the air.

“They’re hard to tackle also, and that’s what makes this offense and that’s why we can’t get into this trap of now all of a sudden they are a team that’s going to pass it 50 times,” Smith said. “I just don’t believe that’s what they’ll do. I think they’ll continue to do what they believe in offensively. That’s continuing to give the ball to those two guys.”

While the Texans run defense has remained porous all season, they’ve also been tested quite a bit in recent weeks through the air.

As much as rookie safety Jalen Pitre has struggled with tackling this season, missing the second most among defensive backs with 12, teams are looking to throw on him more as well.

Pitre has allowed 237 receiving yards since week nine. That’s tied for the second-most in the league among defensive backs during that stretch.

The Texans are expecting to be without rookie corner Derek Stingley Jr. once again this week, who is recovering from a hamstring injury.

Truth be told, they should be expecting to get hit from all angles. Watson isn’t likely to hand the ball off 35 times Sunday, despite how tempting that might be for head coach Kevin Stefanski, he’s got to knock some rust off of a guy that hasn’t played real football in nearly two years.

The vulnerabilities defensively at this point are vast and the Texans have shown no sign of improvement, rather regression in a number of areas.

On the other side of the ball, as far as regression goes, none is maybe more glaring than the offensive line.

The Texans' struggles offensively have been well documented, and as Smith likes to say, it figures to be "tough duty" once more given the recent run of dominance from defensive end Myles Garrett.

The former Aggie has tallied seven sacks in his last six games, leading a defense that forced Tom Brady and the Bucs off of the field after a three-and-out, 46% of the time last week in their 23-17 come-from-behind overtime victory.

The Texans meanwhile, have allowed 33 sacks in the season, including 20 sacks within the last five games.

In the last two games, with two different quarterbacks, the Texans ended up with similar results after the first 30 minutes of play.

The Texans, in weeks 11 and 12 combined, have been shutout 50-0 in the first half, outshined in total yards 536-30.

Nevertheless, Kyle Allen is anticipating a better start from himself and the offense as it would be difficult to do much worse.

“Throughout the season, early in games it’s been tough for the offense, so we’ve got to find a way to execute early, find a way to get on the board, let our defense play with a lead,” Allen said. “We put our defense in tough situations all year.”

Shaun Bijani has spent the last 16 years covering the Houston sports scene for SportsRadio 610. Follow him on Twitter @ShaunBijani.

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