WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL
In his past three games on the road, former University of Texas standout McCoy has completed 65-of-111 passes (58.6 percent) for 667 yards with four touchdowns, an interception and an 84.2 passer rating. Hillis needs six catches to reach 100 for his career, while tight end Benjamin Watson needs nine catches to reach 100 with the Browns. Watson tied his season-best with 64 receiving yards last week. Rookie wide receiver Greg Little, a second-round pick in this past draft, ranks second in the NFL among rookies with 29 receptions, trailing only Cincinnati’s A.J. Green’s 33. Cribbs recorded his second touchdown catch of the season on a 45-yard reception last week.
Houston’s defense is tied with Baltimore with an AFC-best 19 sacks, and rookie linebacker and 2011 second-round selection Brooks Reed aims for a third consecutive game with one. Linebacker Brian Cushing leads the Texans with 54 tackles and posted his first interception of the season last week. End Antonio Smith has 16 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble in eight games, while cornerback Jason Allen has 27 tackles and three interceptions.
Statistically, Cleveland is 28th in scoring offense (15.3 ppg), 26th in total yards (305.7 ypg), 20th in passing yards (218.1 ypg) and 29th in rushing yards (87.6 ypg). The Texans are fifth in the league in scoring defense (18.1 ppg), third in total yards allowed (286.8 ypg), fifth in pass defense (189.4 ypg) and sixth versus the run (97.4 ypg).
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
In his past three games, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 102.1 passer rating. He needs four touchdown passes to reach 100 for his career. Running back Arian Foster aims for a sixth straight game with 100 or more yards from scrimmage, following efforts of 166, 184, 101, 234 and 124 yards. He recorded his 12th career 100-yard rushing game and third of the season last week. Foster has five touchdowns in the past two games (four rushing, one receiving) as well, and in his past five games in November, is averaging 102.4 rushing yards per game with six touchdowns on the ground. Backup running back Ben Tate averages 5.2 yards per carry (97 attempts, 508 yards). Wide receiver Andre Johnson posted 10 catches for 116 yards (11.6 average) in Houston’s most recent matchup with Cleveland back in 2008, but is uncertain to return this week from a nagging hamstring injury that’s kept him out of the past four games. If he plays, Johnson needs two catches to reach 700 for his career and would do so in the second-fewest games (120) in NFL history, trailing only Marvin Harrison (114). Wide receiver Kevin Walter had seven catches for 93 yards with a touchdown in that 2008 win over the Browns, while tight end Joel Dreessen aims for a third consecutive game with a touchdown catch.
On defense, the Browns allow 171.9 passing yards per game, second-fewest in the NFL behind Pittsburgh’s 171.6. Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson leads the team with 65 tackles and cornerback Joe Haden tops all Cleveland players with 10 passes defensed. Rookie lineman Phil Taylor, the Browns’ first-round choice in last April’s draft, has two sacks in his past three games and is tied for third among AFC rookies with three sacks.
By the numbers, Houston is eighth in scoring offense (25.8 ppg), seventh in total yards (395.2 ypg), 11th in passing yards (253.4 ypg) and fourth in rushing yards (141.9 ypg). Cleveland is eighth in scoring defense (20.0 ppg), fifth in total yards allowed (299.1 ypg) and the aforementioned second overall in pass defense (171.9 ypg), but ranks just 26th against the run (127.3 ypg).
KEYS TO THE GAME
Should he be healthy enough to go, Houston’s Johnson could be prolific after posting 10 catches for 116 yards the last time the teams met, though the Browns have been one of the league’s tougher teams to throw on.
While on the subject of injuries, the banged-up Browns could find an even more difficult road against the sixth-best rush defense in the league this week. Replacements Chris Ogbonnaya and Thomas Clayton have a combined career total of 35 rushes for 125 yards, but will need to produce if called upon.
The Texans have traditionally found adversity when beginning the second halves of recent seasons, as their last win in the ninth game of the season was in 2007. It’s a hump the team must get over both for this week and beyond.
Prediction – The Browns offense could challenge any teams as the worst in the league. They rarely if ever go downfield, and the run game without Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty is void. The defense keeps them in games, but like last week against the Niners, they won’t be able to hold down the Texans for four quarters. Houston may or may not get WR Andre Johnson back, but even without him, it won’t matter, as the Texans roll. Houston 30 Cleveland 13
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