Can the Browns Put Teams Away?

While the Browns have crept closer to the playoffs, their head coach remains worried. The Browns have jumped off to nice first-half leads in their last two games, but haven't been able to close the deal easily. Can the team's high-powered offense put away the Texans?

The Browns have won four of their last five games, are just a game behind the Steelers in the AFC North and are tied with Tennessee for the last playoff spot in the conference.

Still, the job of a head coach is to worry, and as the Browns prepare to face the Texans in Cleveland Browns Stadium Sunday, Romeo Crennel is worried about his team's inability to put opponents away. Conversely, there have been games where they started slowly, such as in St. Louis when they fell behind 14-0, and had to fight to bounce back and win. For once, Crennel would like to see his team play dominating football on both sides of the ball from start to finish. He figures Sunday would be a good time to start.

"We got lucky, but we have to play better," Crennel said, referring to beating the Ravens after leading 27-14, falling behind 30-27 and then winning 33-30 in overtime after tying the game on a field goal at the end of regulation. "We couldn't stop them in the second half. You're fortunate to win when things like that happen."

The Browns were less fortunate a week earlier. They led the Steelers 21-6 in the second quarter, lost the lead and then regained it on a 100-yard kick return by Joshua Cribbs in the fourth. They lost the lead for good on a touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Heath Miller with 3:13 to play. In that game, a 52-yard field-goal try by Phil Dawson fell short. Had he kicked from 52 in Baltimore, the same thing might have happened.

The Texans have followed a similar path on the way to a 5-5 record, playing well at times and playing not as well at others, but they have won two straight and are a different team with Andre Johnson back at wide receiver.

The Browns have won four straight at Cleveland Browns Stadium, a place that used to offer no home-field advantage.

Players agree they have to play well more consistently to make the playoffs, yet Joe Jurevicius sees the difference between the Pittsburgh and Baltimore games as a sign of growth.

Had the Browns given up when they fell behind the Ravens, they would be a .500 team today and people would be questioning their heart. In more practical terms, their playoff hopes would have taken a serious hit. Jacksonville has the first wild-card spot and a game lead on the Browns. Since the Steelers beat the Browns twice, the Browns would have to finish ahead of Pittsburgh to win the division.

"Are there things we could have done better? Sure," Jurevicius said, referring to beating the Ravens. "But this is another stepping stone for us. We had a lot going against us and we kept fighting. It was a wild game, but the kind we have to win if we're going to get to the level we want. We have shown we can play with a lot of teams in this league. Winning on the road is huge."


SERIES HISTORY: 5th meeting. The series is tied, 2-2. The Browns and Texans are linked because they are the NFL's two most recent expansion teams. The only season they did not meet since Houston entered the league in 2002 was 2003.


NOTES, QUOTES


--This will be the second time the Browns played the Texans in Cleveland. The Browns trailed 14-10 in the third quarter before rallying to win 34-17 on Oct. 20, 2002, in Cleveland Browns Stadium.

--The Texans' David Carr outplayed Tim Couch in the 2002 game, but a 25-yard touchdown pass from Couch to Quincy Morgan late in the third quarter put the Browns ahead to stay, 24-17.

--Terry Robiskie will always keep Jan. 2, 2005, as a special day in his heart. He was the Browns' interim head coach for the final five games in 2004 after Butch Davis resigned. Robiskie was 0-4 until the Browns beat the Texans in Houston, 22-14, in the final game of the season. Robiskie went back to being the Browns' receivers coach under Romeo Crennel in 2005.

--The Browns offense was dismal in Robiskie's only NFL victory (he also was an interim head coach with the Redskins for three games in 2000), but Phil Dawson bailed him out with five field goals.

-- On Oct. 30, 2005, the Browns found themselves on the losing end in a battle of field goals. Dawson kicked three field goals, but the Texans' Kris Brown bettered Dawson by one in a 19-16 Houston victory. Reuben Droughns rushed for 99 yards in a wasted effort.

--Usually no one player costs a team a game, but punter Kyle Richardson's fingerprints are all over the loss on Halloween Eve in 2005. He shanked two of four punts out of bounds. He launched one punt 53 yards, yet his average was only 33 yards, his net just 23 yards.

--The Browns closed out the 2006 season with a fourth straight loss by losing 14-6 in Houston. Charlie Frye tried playing with a sore wrist to prove he should be the starting quarterback in 2007. He completed 25 of 34 passes for 187 yards and threw an interception. The Browns scored their points on two field goals by Dawson.


BY THE NUMBERS: 10 -- The Browns sacked the quarterbacks 10 times in the last two games after registering seven in the first eight games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "If you can continue to pound the football then you're going to have success. It's like boxing and body punches. Maybe you're not getting a knockout early in the game, but if you can continue and get to the later rounds and still fight, you'll get the knockout. That's where those body punches end up paying off." -- Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, on sticking with the running game.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Pass defense has been a struggle for the Browns all season, and now they might have to play the Texans without starting left cornerback Eric Wright, the rookie from UNLV.

Wright left the game in Baltimore with a sprained right knee in the first quarter and did not return. He did not practice Wednesday. He is day-to-day.

Daven Holly would start if Wright cannot play and rookie Brandon McDonald would be the nickel back.

On the other side of the field, right cornerback Leigh Bodden is having a very disappointing season. Two years ago, Bodden was the Browns' best cornerback, but he battled ankle injuries in 2006 and now he is trying to play with a back injury. Plus, his name keeps popping up because of a disagreement with an airport policeman in August. Bodden's trial on numerous charges related to the incident is scheduled for Feb. 4.

"Leigh has been working through some issues," coach Romeo Crennel said. "He's not where he wants to be from a physical nature. He's kind of been up and down a little bit. But Leigh will bounce back and he will play well."

--RT Kevin Shaffer missed practice Wednesday with a sore right knee. He is not wearing a brace.

--WR Tim Carter missed practice with a sprained finger. Carter was injured making his only reception of the game last week.

--LDE Shaun Smith is still out with a knee injury. He was injured in practice last week and missed the game against the Ravens.

--NT Ethan Kelley missed practice Wednesday with a knee injury.

--LB D'Qwell Jackson is expected to return to the starting lineup Sunday. He missed the games against Seattle and Pittsburgh with an ankle injury and was limited to special teams against the Ravens.


GAME PLAN:
After two weeks of being challenged by two of the best defenses in the NFL, Derek Anderson on Sunday will face a Houston team decimated by injuries, particularly in the secondary. Fourteen Texans are on injured reserve, and six of them are defensive backs.

The Texans are not a blitzing team, which isn't necessarily good for the Browns because Anderson has proven he can beat the blitz. Anderson could have more success trying to beat the Texans with long passes rather than beating them near the goal line. Houston is allowing 23.6 points a game, ranking the Texans 25th in the league, but they are third in red-zone defense.


MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Browns LT Joe Thomas vs. Texans LDE Mario Williams. Thomas could have his hands full trying to keep Williams out of Anderson's face. Williams has five sacks, which is already a half sack better than he had as a rookie in 2006. Pass protection has been a strength for the Browns and Thomas has been a big part of it. He has to be careful not to flinch. Last week he was called for a false start on back-to-back plays trying to get the jump on Haloti Ngata.

Browns LB Kamerion Wimbley vs. Texans QB Matt Schaub. Although he has only four sacks this season, Wimbley is the Browns' best pass rusher. Schaub has been sacked 13 times in 10 games. He is far sturdier and gets rid of the ball far more quickly than David Carr, his predecessor in Houston. With the injury problems the Browns are dealing with in the secondary, it is essential they get some pressure on Schaub.


INJURY IMPACT:
Kevin Shaffer is hopeful his knee injury is not serious. If he misses the game Sunday, Nat Dorsey might start in his place. Coach Romeo Crennel could move Ryan Tucker back to right tackle, but then he would have to replace Tucker at right guard.

The knee injury to Ethan Kelley is a concern. Kelley has a history of knee problems. Louis Leonard would start if Kelly cannot play.


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