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Houston Texans vs. Cleveland Browns

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Game: Houston Texans (5-5) vs. Cleveland Browns (6-4)
Where: Cleveland Browns Stadium (Cleveland, OH)
When: 1:00 PM EST
Announcers: Gus Johnson & Steve Tasker (CBS)

This game really makes for an intriguing match-up because it signifies that the tides may finally be turning for the two most recently established franchises in the modern-day NFL. The Browns have one postseason appearance, but overall they have not been a team to be reckoned with since returning to the league. And, ironically, the only time the Texans were close to finishing a season with a .500 record, the Browns upset them in the season finale. Now, both teams are fighting for the AFC's final wildcard spot past the halfway point of the season. The Browns had a crazy finish on Phil Dawson's 51-yard field goal last week at the end of regulation, but all that matters in the end is that the Browns stayed ahead of the pack of most of the wildcard hopefuls with a win. Every week will be a fight for the Browns though, including this week against the 5-5 Texans.

Considering the Browns are actually in a playoff race, I'm going to highlight a couple of other games to watch today. These games will have the most significant impact on the Browns' wildcard chances (also assume that in every term in which I am speaking that the Browns have won):

Buffalo Bills (5-5) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-3): There are benefits to how either side of this game turns out. The Bills are looking for a win to stay competitive in the playoff race after falling to the Patriots. The Jaguars currently hold the top wildcard spot, but a loss by them would give the Browns an extra opportunity at obtaining a postseason berth. With Marshawn Lynch out and the Jaguars playing very well under David Garrard though, you can bank on the Jaguars coming away with a win.

Tennessee Titans (6-4) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (3-7): The Bengals have not had things go their way this season, but they are still like the Browns in a way. With all of the threats they have in the passing game, they have the potential to be an offensive juggernaut still. The Titans currently hold the second wildcard spot, and they only hold the tie over the Browns due to a better strength of schedule. This is the big one: if the Titans lose to the Bengals, even if the Browns lose, the Browns will likely move into the sixth playoff seed due to us having a stronger conference record percentage. In this game, with the Titans losing two in a row, you can bank on the Bengals delivering to help out the Browns.

Now, let's preview the showdown between the Browns and the Texans...

OFFENSE

Category Texans Browns
Points Scored 22.6 (11th) 28.8 (3rd)
Passing 257.9 (60th) 242.8 (10th)
Rushing 92.5 (23rd) 103.8 (17th)
Total Offense (yards) 350.4 (8th) 346.6 (12th)

DEFENSE

Category Texans Browns
Points Scored 23.6 (24th) 29.4 (32nd)
Passing 211.1 (15th) 269.5 (31st)
Rushing 116.5 (21st) 136.8 (28th)
Total Defense (yards) 327.6 (18th) 406.3 (32nd)
- Quarterback
Derek Anderson and Matt Schaub -- the two quarterbacks that'll be featured in this game -- share the same agent. Prior to the season starting, I'm sure the agent for both quarterbacks was thrilled at the new contract and starting opportunity that Schaub was set to receive from the Texans. While Schaub struggled at times without Andre Johnson available, he has been a much better option than David Carr overall. The agent probably had no clue that Derek Anderson would be the guy receiving more press this late in the season though, as I just got finished listening to Rod Woodson of the NFL Network state that besides Tom Brady, Derek Anderson would be his MVP of the league. Both quarterbacks have similar builds, but Anderson has more weapons (Winslow and Edwards) than Schaub (Johnson) to quicken his maturation process.
- Running Back
I expected an answer from Jamal Lewis last week against the Baltimore Ravens and he more than delivered with 90+ yards rushing and one touchdown. The Texans rank below average at defending the run, meaning this will be the best opportunity since facing the Rams that Lewis will have to run the football. I'm hoping that since the heavy blitzing teams, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, are out of the way, that the Browns will activate Jerome Harrison again and get him a series or two in the second half. The Texans started off the season with Ahman Green at running back, but he's out again this week with an injury. Ron Dayne will get the start, but he's only averaging a mere 3.6 yards-per-carry. Don't expect Dayne to carry the load the whole game though; former Browns running back Adimchinobi Echemandu could see some action in backup duty. It's not too good when a former Browns seventh-round running back is your backup running back.
- Receiver
I hate to sound like I'm beating a dead horse when I constantly say that Andre Johnson makes a world of a difference for the Texans, but if I don't stress in then I'm not taking into consideration just how important he is. "A 73 yard TD catch is going to fire up everyone on the sideline, including the defense. It's also going to reduce the 'we-have-to-be-perfect' pressure that a defense feels when its offense hasn't put any points on the board, which in turn could allow the defense to get bolder with its play-calling," stated Tim McHale of Battle Red Blog this week in regards to how Johnson even helps out the defensive side of the ball (side note: former Browns receiver André Davis is the team's slot receiver). The Browns' offense can't really afford to "help out" the defense; they need to score just to have a chance at keeping pace with the amount of points given out. Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards create a two-for-one option in comparison to Johnson still, and that makes for a Browns advantage.
- Offensive Line
Shoring up the offensive line after Seth McKinney was placed on the injured reserve took another step in the right direction last week after the Browns were sacked just once by the Ravens' defense and Jamal Lewis nearly passed the 100-yard rushing mark against them on the road. However, the unit still needs to cut down on the false start penalties that are piling up on the road (thankfully we're at home this week). The Texans have been far better this season at keeping their quarterbacks on their feet. After David Carr was a sack puppet for several years with the team, Texans quarterbacks are only being sacked about 1.4 times per game. The issue still exists with running the football, but that may also have to do with the lack of continuity at the position.
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Defensive Line
As McHale also pointed out, despite the often debated selection of Mario Williams, "we've seen flashes (most recently against New Orleans last week) of what he can do; it's just a matter of him putting the total package together." Some players turn into busts, but that doesn't appear to be the case with Williams, who has five sacks this season and wrecked havoc with a forced fumble last week. Add him with the drafting of defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, who is "rare DT who can rush the passer AND stop the run", and you've got yourself the type of defensive line in the makings that we as Browns fans would be coveting. I was happy at the efforts by veterans Robaire Smith and Orpheus Roye last week, but I'm wondering what will happen if Ethan Kelley remains unavailable to play. Shaun Smith is banged up a little still too, which means we may see Louis Leonard bumped up to a starting role.

- Linebacker
Williams was the Texans' first-round pick last season, but linebacker DeMeco Ryans was the defensive player of the year in the second round. He has continued his pace this season, again leading his team in tackles while anchoring the young defense. Other than Ryans though, Morlon Greenwood and Danny Clark are far from the type of pass rushers and run stoppers that Bart Scott and Terrell Suggs are. The last time I called for a sack from Kamerion Wimbley, he executed it against the Miami Dolphins. Call if another hunch, but I'm calling for Wimbley under the suddenly more aggressive Browns blitzing defense to record at least one sack on Schaub. With D'Qwell Jackson returning from injury this week, the linebacking group should get a much needed lift from its best tackler this season.
- Secondary
You have to be impressed with the combined efforts of Sean Jones and Brodney Pool last week -- each of them had an interception, and Jones was very effective on the safety blitz when it was called. They'll have a huge task ahead of them against the Texans though, because there is no way we're going to try and leave Andre Johnson matched up with Leigh Bodden or Daven Holly in single coverage down the field. Both safeties will probably have to alternate assignments when Schaub goes deep, so they better be ready. The Texans were getting a big lift from young cornerback Dunta Robinson this season, but he was placed on the injured reserve a few weeks ago. Without Robinson in the defensive backfield for the Texans, the unit overall is average at best.
- Special Teams
The publicity that the Browns are receiving on special teams is amazing. On Sirius NFL Radio and on pre- and post-game football shows, I'm constantly hearing about how Joshua Cribbs is the league's new elite kick returner. He's not so much "new" to us anymore, but I'll soak in all of the flattery each and every time. Dawson was also at the forefront of discussion all week after the Dawson Effect. What's next -- Dave Zastudil fakes a punt and heaves a touchdown to one of our gunners? The Texans have enjoyed the effort they've received out of their own kicker, Kris Brown, this season. Brown is already 4-of-4 on 50+ yard field goal attempts and is 21-of-23 overall.

FINAL PREDICTION:
Cleveland Browns 28, Houston Texans 21.
The Browns are 4-0 in home games with Derek Anderson at quarterback. The Texans are 3-0 in games that Andre Johnson has played, but only one of those games came on the road. Considering the Browns have the 32nd-ranked defense in the league though, it'd be safe to assume that Schaub-to-Johnson will be an active connection this weekend, even if the Browns try to key in on him. While Schaub-to-Johnson is impressive, don't forget about the just-as-effective connection between Braylon Edwards and Derek Anderson this season. Edwards has already set numerous career highs in receiving, and Anderson will be thrilled at the fact that he won't have to face a "pressure" defense this week that had to place Dunta Robinson on the injured reserve a few weeks ago. Anderson still showed enough poise against the Steelers and Ravens in back to back weeks, but he'll have more opportunities to get the ball down the field against Houston which is what he excels at.

This is the official gameday topic for the Cleveland Browns in Week 12 as they square off against the Houston Texans. All comments regarding the game should be posted in this topic. Enjoy the game, and GO BROWNS!!!