OK, so Andre Johnson will not make his return to the Houston Texans’ lineup when the Browns invade Sunday. Has a hamstring that refuses to heel properly.
Break for the Browns, no?
The Texans are a very good football team without Johnson, who has missed the last four games. With him, though, they legitimately challenge for their first-ever appearance in the postseason. It makes sense to rest him one more week. He won’t be missed. Certainly not against the Browns.
Take into consideration what the Texans have done during the absence of the National Football League’s best wide receiver. After losing their first two games without him, they rebounded nicely to win division games against Tennessee and Jacksonville.
The Texans, who entered the NFL as an expansion team three years after the Browns returned, have made many more strides toward respectability in the last five seasons than have the Browns.
Not counting this season, they are 37-43 during that span under coach Gary Kubiak, while the Browns limp in at 28-52. Kubiak has been a constant since taking over in 2006, while the Browns have gone through three coaches.
As the Browns flail at attempting to become at least competitive, the Texans have quietly climbed that ladder to the point where other teams do not take them for granted.
They can beat you in many different ways. Infantry style, they come at opponents with Arian Foster and Ben Tate. When Foster, who had a sensational 2010 season with 2,200 yards from scrimmage and 18 touchdowns, missed the first two games of the season with a hamstring, Tate stepped in and ripped off games of 116 and 103 yards.
Both men have rushed for more than 500 yards in the first eight games this season with Tate averaging 5.2 yards a carry. And Foster seems to have regained his 2010 form with 532 yards in just six games.
When the Texans decide to go up top, they become even more effective despite the loss of Johnson. Quarterback Matt Schaub, who completes 60% of his passes, is a master of ball distribution and does not hesitate to spread the ball around.
Of his 13 touchdown passes, tight ends Owen Daniels and Joel Dreesen have split six. And (sarcasm alert!) we all know how well the Browns have dealt with tight ends this season.
In Johnson’s absence, Schaub includes veteran wideouts Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones in his repertoire, and relies heavily on Foster out of the backfield on screens and dumpoffs.
The Texans also excel at ball control, averaging 33.5 minutes a game. That means their defense is on the field just 26.5 minutes a game. A rested defense is a dangerous defense. Something has got to give there because the Browns average 31 minutes in time of possession.
The Texans, who average 395 yards a game on offense, present a formidable challenge for Cleveland defensive coordinator Dick Jauron. However, they have shown the capability of adjusting depending on how opposing defenses scheme them. It’s possible Jauron will try to stop the Houston running game with a variety of fronts and run blitzes, forcing Schaub to beat them with his arm.
The Cleveland offense, based solely on the way it has played in the first seven games this season, most likely will struggle against a very good Texans defense. Now that Wade Phillips has taken over as coordinator and transformed them into a 3-4 team, they have flourished.
Even though Mario Williams, the world’s biggest linebacker at 6-6 and 285 pounds, is through for the season with a pectoral injury, the Texans excel when the opposition has the ball, allowing just 17 points a game.
The Browns are most vulnerable on offense when Colt McCoy drops back to pass. The offensive line has not provided him with the kind of protection he needs to have a shot at being successful. And throwing the ball is the best way to beat Houston.
The Texans flat out stop the run, permitting just 97 yards a game on the ground. With Peyton Hillis out again, Cleveland’s chances of anything remotely resembling a successful running game disappears.
And the Texans will be waiting in the secondary, which has picked off 10 passes this season. Off-season acquisitions Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning have solidified a defensive backfield that was shaky last season.
So that’s what the Browns have to face Sunday. Doesn’t seem like a pleasant task as coach Pat Shurmur approaches the halfway point of his rookie season.
Oddsmakers have established the Browns as 11-point underdogs. The oddsmakers are wrong. Give the points. Make it:
Texans 30, Browns 10