2008 has been a great disappointment for the Texans as well as the Browns. While the Browns cling to the last of their playoff hopes, 2008 is now a building block for the Texans as they look to play spoiler to the Browns as well as rest of the NFL. This is a very even matchup and the winner will likely be the one with the big play on special teams as former Brown Andre Davis and current Brown Josh Cribbs will set the stage for that unit's play.
The Texans may have very well answered some of their most important questions, at least the question as to who is the number one back. Rookie RB Steve Slaton is coming off of his best game as a pro. This isn't shocking as the young back is having a spectacular year with limited carries. Slaton has 32 receptions and is also averaging just over 5 yards per attempt running.
With the age of Ahman Green becoming an issue as this team goes forward, it will be vital for the Texans to find that complimentary back to pair with the speedster Slaton. For this game, however, Green will be the compliment and, despite his age, he still runs with ferocity.
The Browns' defense is weak against the run, especially when it comes to defending backs with speed. Look for the Texans to work off the right side of their line as they try to exploit the lack of speed of linebackers Andra Davis and Willie McGinest.
To free up that right side, they will be looking to use the quickness of their zone blocking scheme -- combined with the talents of RG Mike Brisiel and RT Eric Winston -- to create the quick lanes. Do not look for a great deal of success running inside the tackles, especially when the Browns NT Shaun Rogers is in the game. They must at least show the inside run to keep Rogers honest. If he is just running free to the quarterback, it will be a long day for QB Sage Rosenfels.
The pass protection is an issue for the Texans, but the Browns have little in the way of a pass rush outside of Shaun Rogers. This means Rosenfels should be able to find his comfort zone, and that comfort zone is dependent upon WR Andre Johnson getting the football. Johnson is a mismatch for anyone and he can beat most double teams. He is that good.
While many used the excuse of poor line play to defend the Browns underachieving defense, an upgraded line has exposed the true weakness. Earlier it was the young inexperienced secondary that was the blame for this underachieving defense, but the secondary plays hard and, despite that inexperience, they are not behind the woes of this defense. The only unit left to blame is the linebackers and this unit is only partially to blame.
It is true that this group is slow and is horrible when it comes to making the solo tackle and even the gang tackle. What is also true is that this unit is soft. Anyone that has been to camp can testify that they practice soft. This group also plays soft. They do not stand up running backs and drive them backwards. This group arm tackles and fails to wrap up.
Their play against the Bills was an embarrassment. If they bring the same type of effort against the speedster Slaton, he may break Jamal Lewis's single-game rushing record.
The Browns must also use the same strategy they used against Bills receiver Lee Evans when facing Andre Johnson. You double and triple him on every single play. You have to take him out of the game both mentally and physically with blanked coverage. One on one, no Browns defender can stop Andre Johnson. Johnson needs but 45 yards to go over 1000 yards for the 3rd time in his career.
Everyone should be excited to see two of the bright young stars in the NFL go head-to-head as the Texans' DE Mario Williams faces off against the Browns' LT Joe Thomas. The athleticism and quickness displayed by these two is amazing to watch when you consider their size and power. This is the kind of match up the great player needs as they face off against the best the league has to offer. This one could be worth the price of admission alone.
That match up, however, isn't what makes the Texans drool. The Browns offensive line was exposed against the Bills and the only thing the Bills did wrong was fail to do it enough. They blitzed right over the center and the Browns failed to communicate and that allowed a free run towards the quarterback.
MLB DeMeco Ryans is one of the best young linebackers in the game today. He is highly intelligent. He hits like a Mack truck and has great instincts for the position. I expect to see Ryans blitzing from everywhere, but often right over center to test Hank Fraley's ability to call the right protection scheme. If there is any confusion this week, QB Brady Quinn could be in for a long game.
The weakness of this defense is the secondary. There is a lack of communication that teams are exposing. If you are patient on offense, the Texans' secondary will break down, especially when it comes to defending the tight end over the middle. They will have their hands full with Kellen Winslow this week.
Quinn had a horrible night as far as stats are concerned during his last performance, but this young quarterback continues to impress. Not only did he show great pocket presence as he stepped up to avoid the sack but he also showed fearlessness standing in there and delivering the ball knowing he was going to get hammered. It is also the reason he broke his index finger on his throwing hand. The injury, however, is believed to be minor and should not dramatically affect his play.
Quinn also impressed me with his mentality. Any quarterback could have faltered after seeing pass after pass dropped against the Bills but, not only did Quinn continue to throw with confidence, he also continued to throw to the guy that was guilty of the drops. Instead of drops destroying his confidence, he gave Braylon Edwards confidence by continuing to find him and give him those crunch-time opportunities.
When it comes to the running back position, the Browns coaching staff appears to be totally clueless. For two years Browns fans have been screaming for Jerome Harrison to get the ball, and all this young man does is make big play after big play. Jerome is averaging 10.4 yards per attempt. Fortunately for the Browns coaching staff, this week they might actually have a legitimate excuse for not playing Jerome as he is suffering from a hamstring injury.
Jamal Lewis appears to be auditioning for Dancing with the Stars whenever he gets the ball lately. His 3.6 yards per attempt is near the bottom of the league. He dances with the ball, shows poor vision, is slow to the hole, and falls quicker than Kimbo Slice.
Look for the Browns to use multiple receiver sets to exploit this Texans secondary. Syndric Steptoe has speed and quickness, which is an issue for the Texans. If the Browns can get him in the slot he will either get open or pull the coverage away from tight end Kellen Winslow.
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