Punt and kick returner Joshua Cribbs is a gamebreaker on special teams.
With the Texans sitting at 5-5 for the first time in franchise history, each of their remaining six games is vitally important if they are to secure their first-ever playoff spot. Up this week is a tough road contest against one of the teams ahead of the Texans in the playoff race, the 6-4 Cleveland Browns.
Browns head coach Romeo Crennel has had his team playing inspired ball all season, with an offense ranked near the top of the league in several offensive categories.
After their dismal loss to Pittsburgh in Week 1, the Browns traded away then-staring quarterback Charlie Frye and named third-year man Derek Anderson the new starter. Having only three career starts under his belt at the time, Anderson has responded with a huge season. He currently ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in passing yards (ninth), touchdown passes (fourth) and passer rating (10th).
Anderson's backup is Brady Quinn, the Browns' first-round draft choice in 2007. The former Notre Dame star has yet to appear in a game this season.
Running back Jamal Lewis has started all but one game this season. The former NFL Offensive Player of the Year has rushed for 607 yards and seven touchdowns on the year. Lewis' backup is third-year veteran Jason Wright, who has 205 yards rushing this season and has also hauled in 13 receptions in limited action. Lawrence Vickers starts at fullback.
At wide receiver, third-year veteran Braylon Edwards has really come into his own as a star in the league. The former third-overall pick has been brilliant this season, with 51 receptions, 837 yards and 10 touchdown receptions.
Starting opposite Edwards is the ultra-reliable Joe Jurevicius. The 10-year veteran has worked well with the young receivers, but has also produced on the field with 33 receptions this year. Tim Carter, Travis Wilson and return specialist Joshua Cribbs round out the talented group of receivers.
Another young player developing into a star is tight end Kellen Winslow, Jr. The former Miami standout is showing no ill effects from his motorcycle injuries of a few years ago and ranks second on the team to Edwards in receiving yards (767) and touchdown receptions (four), while his 52 receptions lead the team. Nine-year veteran Steve Heiden is Winslow's top backup and has eight receptions this season.
A big reason why Cleveland's offense has been so potent has been the stellar play of the offensive line, anchored by eight-year veteran and former Philadelphia Eagle Hank Fraley. Protecting Anderson's blind spot at left tackle is 2007 third-overall pick Joe Thomas. The massive rookie out of Wisconsin has shown he is well worth the Browns' investment in him, helping keep Anderson upright.
Starting opposite Thomas at right tackle is Kevin Shaffer, who is in his second year at this position in Cleveland. Big-time free agent acquisition Eric Steinbach starts at left guard and 11-year veteran Ryan Tucker starts at right guard.
While Cleveland has enjoyed success on offense this season, the defense has struggled mightily. It ranks dead last in total yards allowed and points allowed per game. If the defense continues to struggle, it may be in for a long afternoon against the potent Texans offense.
In Cleveland's 3-4 scheme, three big lineman look to tie up blockers and eat up space. The ends are 12-year veteran Orpheus Roye and former Texan Robaire Smith, who leads the team with four sacks. At nose tackle is Ethan Kelley, who has registered 20 tackles and one sack this season. Contributing in the defensive line rotation are Shaun Smith and Simon Fraser.
The linebacker corps consists of several players able to make big plays. Along the outside are two tenacious pass rushers, second-year man Kamerion Wimbley and another former Texan, Antwan Peek. Wimbley's production has dropped off in his sophomore season as he only has three sacks compared to 11 in 2006. 14-year veteran Willie McGinest and Chaun Thompson also see action.
Starting at inside backer are Andra Davis and D'Qwell Jackson. Jackson has been hampered by injury the last few weeks and his status is uncertain for Sunday. Should he not play, second-year man Leon Williams, second on the team with 66 tackles, will likely start in his place. Reserve third-year veteran Kris Griffin sees most of his action on special teams.
Starting at cornerback is a pair of hard-hitters, rookie Eric Wright and Leigh Bodden. Wright, the team leader in tackles, suffered a knee injury last week and it is not yet known if he will play on Sunday. His replacement would be former Texan reserve Kenny Wright.
Bodden leads the team in interceptions with four. Former seventh-round pick Daven Holly is another cornerback reserve who sees most of his time in obvious passing situations.
Brodney Pool starts at free safety and has made 36 tackles and two interceptions on the year. One of his interceptions came in last week's overtime victory over Baltimore and Pool returned it 100 yards for a touchdown. Starting at strong safety is Sean Jones, a four-year veteran who ranks third on the team with 62 tackles and has picked off three passes.
Former Texas Longhorn Phil Dawson is the place kicker. The nine-year veteran is having a great season, nailing 17 of his 20 attempts. His 82 points rank him tied for eighth in the league.
Ohio native Dave Zastudil handles the punting duties and is averaging 45.1 yards per punt with only one touchback on the year.
Dangerous returner Josh Cribbs brings back both kickoffs and punts. The third-year man out of Kent State currently leads the league in kickoff return average at 32.8, returning two kicks for touchdowns. He also ranks within the top 10 in punt return average at 11.2, but has yet to return a punt for a touchdown this season.
What to Watch For
- How will former Texans defensive line coach Todd Grantham's defense perform against the potent Texans offense? With three former Texans on his defensive unit, Grantham has to hope his players perform better than their last-ranked statistics show, or else it could be a long afternoon for the Browns defense.
- The Texans' injury-riddled secondary was up to the task last week against the pass-heavy New Orleans Saints attack. They face another strong passing team this week and look to build on last week's success.