The final game of the season will provide the Texans (5-10) a great opportunity to close the year on a positive note as they face the struggling Browns (4-11).
Last week against the Buccaneers, another team that is finding victories hard to come by this season, the Browns dragged their feet through a 22-7 loss. Backup quarterback Derek Anderson, who had replaced starter Charlie Frye in Week 13, hurt his shoulder and will be out for the final game against the Texans forcing former
49ers QB Ken Dorsey into action.
While there have been positives for the team like the emergence of first-round pick OLB Kamerion Wimbley and the first full season of tight end Kellen Winslow Jr.'s career, no matter what happens against the Texans, the Browns season will be seen as a year where the injury bug severely hindered their success.
**Although it may not show ranking 30 th in the NFL in both points scored and yards gained, the Browns do have playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. The problem has been getting it to them. Before his injury, young Charlie Frye, viewed by some as the quarterback of the future for the Browns, was not progressing as some haed hoped. He accounted for 10 touchdowns through the air and three on the ground, but his sixteen interceptions overshadowed those numbers.
Ken Dorsey has great intangibles for the quarterback position (leadership, poise, pocket presence), but his marginal athletic ability and lack of a big-time arm have limited his progress and relegated his probable role in the NFL to a life-time backup. Dorsey started a few games in his rookie year of 2004 for the 49ers, but after they secured Utah QB Alex Smith with the first selection of the 2005 draft, Dorsey's potential as a starter in
flew out the window. In the final game against the Texans, Dorsey will be given the chance to test the Texans pass defense, get the ball to their playmakers and show Browns' coaches he can be counted on to man the team's quarterback position.
The key to this game and the future of the Browns' organization lie in the hands of wide receiver Braylon Edwards (6-3, 212) and tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. (6-4, 250). Both first-round picks (Winslow Jr. – 2004, Edwards – 2005), they have struggled to stay healthy in their first years in the league. However, this season they have shown the ability to put up big numbers, and given a bigger threat from the quarterback and running back position, they can make the Browns offense something it hasn't been: explosive.
Edwards has 57 catches, 838 yards and six touchdowns, while Winslow leads the team in catches with 78. Jurevicius, despite missing two weeks and playing through pain, has proved to be a nice veteran compliment to Edwards hauling in 40 passes this season. Also contributing through the air are tight end Steve Heiden and wide receiver Dennis Northcutt.
In the backfield, Reuben Droughns was being counted on to repeat his 1,232 yard 2005 campaign, but the aforementioned aches and pains have cut his carries by 100 and dropped his yards per carry from 4.0 to 3.4. When he's healthy, which he should be for the finale, the 28-year old Droughns (5-11, 220) is a physical runner who makes defenders pay for trying to tackle him and has enough in the open field to pull away from defenders, but he doesn't have home run ability.
Droughns' backup Jason Wright has proved to be a serviceable replacement, but he is even a bit slower than Droughns, which has limited him to 3.0 yards per carry.
With two new starters (Shaffer and Bentley) to go along with solid veteran guards Cosey Coleman and Joe Andruzzi, the Browns had the makings of an offensive line that could pave the way for the run and give their young quarterback enough protection to build his confidence. But any thoughts of success along the offensive line seem to have vanished when Bentley went down. Despite the signing of long-time Eagles starting center Hank Fraley, the unit has struggled giving up 53 sacks and currently sits at 31 st in the league in rushing. While all of the blame cannot be put on the members of the line (injuries and youth at the skill positions), a giant step forward will need to be taken in 2007 by a group of players the Browns have invested a lot of money in.
It is evident the Texans will have every opportunity to get after Dorsey in this game. The offensive line has not provided any protection for any of the three young Browns quarterbacks and the running game has been virtually non-existent this season. The Browns have three receivers (Edwards, Winslow Jr., Jurevicius) that are good enough and savvy enough to beat man coverage, but getting pressure on Dorsey and making him prove he can find those three players and beat you with his arm first would be the best strategy in beating the Browns offense.
**Like he did as the defensive coordinator in
The defense is predicated on three down lineman creating space and taking away offensive blockers from the two outside linebackers so they are able to rush the passer and the two inside linebackers can make a majority of the tackles in space. Being 20 th in the league against the pass and 30 th against the run doesn't give any indication this team is making significant steps toward solidifying the future of the defense, but with many of their young, defensive cornerstones hurt, much of that hope will not be seen until next season.
No evidence is clearer than the absence of the team's two leading tacklers, inside linebackers Andra Davis and D'Qwell Jackson.
Replacing them will be a combination of
show. On the outside, veteran Willie McGinest and rookie Kamerion Wimbley make a formidable pass rushing duo. McGinest (6-5, 268) is in his 13th year in the league, and while he may not have the explosiveness he used to, he is still someone that must be accounted for at all times. Wimbley has made an easy transition from college defensive end to professional linebacker due to his phenomenal athleticism and speed. His 59 tackles and 10 sacks are well above expectations set for Wimbley in his first year.
The Browns are led up front by long-time veteran nose tackle Ted Washington. At 6-5, 365 pounds, he is easily one of the biggest players in the league, and has been throughout his career, but that size has made him a perfect fit with every team he's played for. And most of the time, whatever defense he played for, had tremendous success including the Bears, Bills, 49ers, Raiders, Broncos, and Patriots. The Browns' 30 th ranked run defense is not evident of
's true play because of the injuries accumulated and youth being played on that side of the ball.
There is a lot of a tread on
's tires and he may not be adding on to his four Pro Bowl appearances, but his size will always be effective in the 3-4 defense. At defensive end, Alvin McKinley and Simon Fraser start and are not asked to do alot, but both positions could be upgraded in the off-season.
His 104 tackles rank 2 nd on the team and he leads the team with five interceptions. At 6-1, 215, Jones has prototypical safety size and along with second-year free safety Brodney Pool (69 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception), could form one of the better safety duos in the league for years to come.
At corner, two relatively unknown young players, Leigh Bodden and Daven Holly have filled the shoes of veterans Gary Baxter and Daylon McCutheon admirably. With the two key contributors out, Bodden and Holly have combined for six interceptions and should continue to play a significant role on the defense next year.
Just like they did against the Colts, the key to beating the Browns will be wearing them down on the ground. Although all of their defensive backs are 25 years or younger, they have significantly outperformed the Browns front seven this season. Running the ball would also take the pass rush of Wimbley and McGinest out of the game. With four of the original starters in the front seven out for this game, Ron Dayne and the Texans offense could have another huge day.
**Despite the uncertainty on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball for the Browns, they have stayed healthy and all key contributors should be back next season. Long-time kicker (8 years in the league, all with the Browns) Phil Dawson has had an off year, but still is one of the better options in the league. While he may not have the strongest leg, he possesses a career 82.4% from field goal range and has range upward of 50 yards.
Zastudil, seen as the best free agent punter in the market last off-season, has done a solid job burying 32.9% of his opponents inside the 20-yard line and averaging 44 yards per kick.
In the return game, second-year wide receiver Josh Cribbs, a converted quarterback, has converted 24.6 yards per kick return and brought one back for a touchdown. He doesn't have world-class speed, but is very decisive and doesn't reverse field. He generally hits a hole and sticks to it, something many return men could learn something from. Veteran Dennis Northcutt, who has been handling punts for the Browns for his entire seven-year career, returns again this season and is doing a solid job averaging 11.1 yards per return, including a long of 81 yards.