So, wait, is this the season the Houston Texans team that is supposed to have its breakout campaign? It seems recently the Texans are the sleeper pick each and every August as the team to emerge from the AFC South. Instead, they stumble to an 8-8 or 7-9 record.
Peyton Manning's injury has the Indianapolis Colts irrelevant and the door is wide open. Despite injuries to linebacker Mario Williams and wide receiver Andre Johnson, Houston enters Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns at 5-3.
Williams is done for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Although Johnson is not joining Williams injured reserve, the 6-foot-3, 226-pound wide out will miss his fifth consecutive game this Sunday against the Browns because of a right hamstring injury.
That's the good news.
Texans running back Arian Foster has overcome his own hamstring injury to lead Houston's offense. Whether it's Foster or Ben Tate, the Texans are averaging 4.2 yards per carry and they are 5-0 when a back rushes for more than 100 yards in a game. Foster has played six games and is averaging 88.7 yards.
"I feel like we have this conversation every week. Every week we have a new beast at the running back position," Browns linebacker Scott Fujita said on Wednesday. "Their offensive line is playing really well. This offense in particular is really demanding. It's tough. It makes the whole defense run sideline to sideline.
"This back is extremely explosive. He's one of those one cut, quick hit type guys so it's tough."
Here's where it gets weird. The Browns' offense is sixth-best in the NFL for total defense yards per game (299.1) and second-best against the pass (171.9) but 26th against the run (127.3). Through seven weeks, the opponent's leading rusher has averaged more than 4.1 yards a carry each week. Although the Browns still can't stop the run, the defense is playing much better.
Last Sunday against San Francisco, the Browns trailed 17-0 with 1 minute, 26 seconds remaining in the first half. Total yards: 49ers 253, Browns 58.
San Francisco finished the game with 348 yards, or only 95 in the second half. The Browns defense bottled up the 49ers running game and shut down Alex Smith and the passing game for a majority of the second half. Four of San Francisco's first five second-half possession were three-and-outs and all five ended with a punt.
In today's NFL, that would be just what an offense would need to spark its comeback. The defense was doing its job.
The Browns have not scored more than 20 points since the second week. What happened that week in Indianapolis to cause the offensive explosion?
Running back Peyton Hillis had 94 yards rushing on 27 carries and two touchdowns. Since then, well, I'm sure you're well-versed on all the Peyton Hillis drama. The latest broke on Friday in a Yahoo! Sports report that Browns veterans held a meeting with Hillis asking him to shape up. We'll never know if it worked because on Friday Hillis left practice because of his bad hamstring and his status for Sunday doesn't look good.
From there, finding a playmaker on this Browns is an unsatisfying search. Josh Cribbs caught a 45-yard touchdown pass last Sunday, but it was too little, too late. Quarterback Colt McCoy continues to struggle and he added a new wrinkle last week — fumbled snaps. The Browns offensive line is struggling and Hillis' rushing duties now rest with Chris Ogbonnaya and Thomas Clayton.
Someone, somewhere needs to step up for the Browns offense this week. Who? Where? Who knows? It's becoming a dreadful, painful and brutal experience to watch the Browns' offense attempt to matriculate the ball down the field.
It won't be any easier this week. Houston's defense is third in the NFL in yards per game (286.8), fifth in passing yards per game (189.4) and sixth in rushing yards per game (97.4).
"I think they're very similar to what we saw last week in San Francisco," McCoy said earlier this week. "They're big, they're physical, their front seven is really good and they have a good secondary."
Houston's defense is like San Francisco's? Uh, that does not bode well for the Brownies.
Then again, the St. Louis Rams beat the New Orleans Saints last Sunday.
That's your weekly reminder that it would not be out of the realm of possibilities for the Browns to win Sunday. It's a slim possibility, but at least a possibility.