KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Craig Bolerjack, Richard Baldinger; DirecTV, 7
SERIES: 2nd meeting. Cleveland leads 1-0. The Browns defeated the expansion Texans 34-17 on Oct. 20, 2002 in Cleveland.
2004 RANKINGS: Browns: offense 28th (26th rush, 26th pass); defense 16th (31st rush, 6th pass). Texans: offense 15th (17th rush, 15th pass); defense 24th (13th rush, 21st pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Texans have plenty of motivation as they attempt to finish with a .500 record for the first time in franchise history. The defense has not allowed a touchdown in 11 quarters, and the Browns must get early production from RB Lee Suggs to keep the game from spiraling out of control. Cleveland's passing game has been virtually nonexistent, in large part due to an injury-plagued offensive line that struggles to provide any pass protection. The Texans would love to feed the ball to RB Domanick Davis, who is having a monster second half of the season, and shorten the game by controlling the clock. Houston has a dangerous vertical passing game, but the Browns are much more solid in pass defense and the Texans don't want to provide Cleveland any gifts by being more aggressive than they need to.
FAST FACTS: Browns: K Phil Dawson has missed five of his last seven field-goal attempts. ... Opponents' winning percentage of .596 is the toughest schedule in the NFL. Texans: QB David Carr has more passing yards (8,030) through three seasons than Troy Aikman (7,082), John Elway (6,067) and Brett Favre (6,150). ... RB Domanick Davis has scored at least one rushing touchdown in a team-record eight consecutive games.
PREDICTION: Texans 23-13
- QB Kelly Holcomb practiced without pain after doctors examined his
injured ribs and found no swelling. Holcomb will wear a small protective pad
that attaches to the front and back of his shoulder pads.
- LT Ross Verba missed practice Thursday with a sore back. He hopes to
return to practice Friday.
- WR Dennis Northcutt missed practice with back spasms. He also hopes to
return to practice Friday.
- FS Chris Crocker is listed as questionable, but he said a biceps injury
would keep him on the sideline for the final game of the season. He missed
the previous three games with the injury.
- LB Andra Davis said he could have played two weeks ago, but he was placed on injured reserve Nov. 30 with a sprained left MCL.
- RB Domanick Davis is only the 13th player to record consecutive
1,000-yard rushing seasons to begin a career since 1985.
- QB David Carr has thrown 15 TDs, six more than he did in both of his
previous two seasons.
- The Texans signed FB Josh Rue to the practice squad Wednesday. Rue spent
this season on the Arizona Cardinals' practice squad before being released
on Nov. 22.
- FS Marcus Coleman had stitches removed from his surgically-repair right
shoulder Thursday and said he's "about three or four days ahead" of schedule
in his rehab. Coleman, who is out for the season with a sprained shoulder,
expects to begin some light weightlifting next week and be ready for the
Texans' offseason conditioning program in March.
- The Texans are aiming for their first .500 record at home. They went 2-5
and 3-4 at Reliant Stadium during their first two seasons.
- Houston is allowing 9.3 points and 237 yards in the last three games. They allowed an average of 24.1 points and 365.3 yards through the first 12 games.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Only one game remains in the 2004 season, and interim coach Terry Robiskie probably won't be around for 2005, but if he is retained as a head coach or offensive assistant he is making it clear he is willing to put all his faith in running back Lee Suggs.
Suggs carried the ball 38 times against the Miami Dolphins last week. No Browns back ever carried more in one game. Jim Brown held the team record for carries in a game until Sunday night. He carried 37 times in game against the Chicago Cardinals Oct. 4, 1959.
Suggs could get as many as 35 carries against the Texans Sunday if the score stays close or the Browns are ahead, Robiskie said. If Suggs breaks 100 yards for the third straight time, it will mark the first time a Browns back has done so since Greg Pruitt did it three times in December of 1978.
Part of the reason Robiskie is counting on Suggs is because of uncertainty at quarterback. Rookie Luke McCown is 0-4 as a starter. He is likely to be on the sideline in Houston watching veteran quarterback Kelly Holcomb. Holcomb has not played since Nov. 28 when three ribs were fractured.
"Obviously, a lot of it has to do with Lee's ability," Robiskie said. "He has that extra vision, that extra cut, that extra eye. You don't have to block them all. He has that ability that if a safety is in the box or in the hole to make that guy miss. He also has a very good feel for his backside pursuit. It speaks volumes about him."
Good news for Suggs is bad news for William Green, the Browns' first pick in the 2002 draft. Green did not play last week and he does not expect to play against the Texans - not if he can't give Suggs a breather while Suggs is getting 38 carries.
"I would hope that it says to William that Lee Suggs is playing pretty good," Robiskie said. "That doesn't mean we don't like William. William Green is part of the Cleveland Browns. He is part of what we're doing and what we're trying to get done.
The Texans believe they have closed the gap in the AFC South.
Now only one thing remains.
"We've got to find a way to get past Indianapolis," coach Dom Capers said. "We'll be looking for ways to do that in the offseason."
The Texans finished this season with a 4-2 division record, a major turnaround from their previous two seasons when they won only one game. They swept the season series from both Jacksonville and Tennessee. All that stands in their way are the Colts, who have won all six meetings with the Texans since 2002.
The Texans lost to Indianapolis 20-17 in the 2003 season finale, got blown out 49-14 in Week 10 this season and lost 23-14 in the last meeting Dec. 12. In that game, the Texans allowed Peyton Manning to throw two first-quarter touchdowns. They kept the high-powered Colts out of the end zone the remainder of the game, beginning a current streak of 11 quarters without allowing a touchdown.
Houston is a 10 1/2-point favorite against Cleveland this Sunday. The Texans are seeking the first three-game winning streak in team history and a .500 record that could serve as a catapult for next season.
"You don't want to get locked into a losing habit," quarterback David Carr said. "If you continue to go out and not get to .500 and not win football games consistently you're going to think that's what you are. I know that's not the kind of guys we have in the locker room. That's not me. That's not our coaching staff."