BEREA — One defensive end is back to wreaking havoc in the NFL and the other never left, but together they could make life miserable for Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield on Sunday in Houston.

J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney lead a monstrous defense that ranks eighth overall in the NFL (seventh against the run, 11th against the pass and fourth in scoring).

Just as notable is their sack totals.

Watt (6-foot-5, 288 pounds), who sat for 11 games last season with a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg, has 11.5 sacks and Clowney, (6-5, 255 pounds), who is in the final year of his rookie deal, has seven.

“He has worked very hard to come back from those injuries, and he is really affecting the game on each and every snap,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said of Watt. “He is playing at a really high level.

“He has [11.5] sacks, but he has a lot of different things that he does that you do not always see in the stat sheet and his ability — whether it is in the running game or passing game — to really affect the game. I think he is doing a great job.”

And Clowney?

“Clowney plays very hard. He has done an excellent job for us. Our front is hard to deal with,” O’Brien said.

It’s not a stretch to say that the Texans' defense is the reason for their club-record, eight-game winning streak. The Browns' offensive line understands just how much work will be in front of them at 1 p.m. Sunday at NRG Stadium. Left guard Joel Bitonio said the Texans are the best group they’ve faced all year.

“They can do it in the run. They can do it in the pass,” he said.

But they present a particular challenge.

“The tough thing about them is with Watt, Clowney and [outside linebacker Whitney] Mercilus and their big guys inside, a lot of them kind of have free rein to do what they want,” Bitonio said.

That’s the advantage Watt, a notorious freelancer, gives them.

Browns coach Gregg Williams cites a litany of skills Watt possesses, such as power and quickness.

“Then on top of that, what separates the really premier players is their instincts. There are times I am sure he can’t tell you why he knew what was getting ready to happen,” Williams said.

With that type of instinct and superior effort from Clowney and other Texans, Mayfield, who’s elevated his play in the prior three weeks, will be tested.

The Browns are 2-1 in the past three and Mayfield has completed 65-of-88 attempts (73.8 percent) for 771 yards, with nine touchdowns and one interception for a 129.5 rating. But those numbers came against three of the softer defenses in the NFL — the Kansas City Chief (currently ranked 30th), Atlanta Falcons (28th) and Cincinnati Bengals (32nd).

“You have to be very smart when you are getting the ball out quick of seeing leverage, being decisive and having our guys be precise in their routes,” Mayfield said of facing the Texans. “The timing has to be there even more so than usual. It is all of the little things when you are playing guys like this and getting the ball out in the right places.”

The Browns will also have to rely on the continued standout play of tackles Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard. Mayfield hasn’t been sacked the past two games and the line allowed just two against the Chiefs.

What’s clear on the Browns' side is that no one is wilting from this particular challenge.

“You play the game on Sunday at 1 o’clock, and we have guys that are going to go down and compete,” offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens said. “Lay it out there on the line and see where we come up at the end. We are not going to back down from anybody. We are going to go down with a good plan, and we are going to see if we can go down and execute it.”

George M. Thomas can be reached at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com.  Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.