Week 16 scouting report

A win Sunday against the 3-12 Cleveland Browns and the Texans finish the 2004 season three wins better than they did in 2003.

A win Sunday and Houston will have won a franchise record three-straight games and all indications show the team has a good chance to continue it's recent defensive supremacy – 11 straight quarters without allowing a touchdown – against the statically challenged Browns.

Cleveland is under the direction of an interim head coach, Terry Robiskie, who is 1-6 in that role dating back to a three-game stint with the Washington Redskins in 2000.

The Browns are 0-4 since Butch Davis resigned Nov. 30 and have lost by a combined 81 points, the last loss coming to the Miami Dolphins, who are also looking at a top draft pick with a 4-11 record.

But don't rule out the healthy heart of a Browns team that because of injuries has only 18 players with a chance to play in all 16 games and only two – LT Ross Verba and SS Robert Griffith – scheduled to start every contest.

Their coach is a fighter and in many ways interviewing for a full-time gig starting next season, whether it be in the college ranks (LSU is looking) or with Cleveland.

"I don't' know whether or not I would be interested in coaching at LSU," Robiskie said earlier in the week. "I went to LSU. I graduated from LSU. I am an alumnus of LSU. I have a lot of respect for people at LSU, but if it came down to it, my heart's wish and desire is to be the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, not for today or tomorrow, but for years to come."

The Texans are returning home after a two-game road winning streak and a 21-0 shutout at Jacksonville, but are preparing as if the Browns are the first 3-12 team making it to the Super Bowl.

Because to Cleveland, Sunday's game is just that.

LAST WEEK:The Browns were tied with the Dolphins Sunday night heading into the fourth quarter but lost 10-7 on a 51-yard field goal by Olindo Mare.

RB Lee Suggs broke a team record for carries (38) and rushed for 143 of the Browns 285 total yards against the Dolphins. QB Luke McCown, a rookie out of Louisiana Tech, threw two interceptions in the game and completed only nine passes.

Miami ran 71 plays but was kept out of the end zone for three quarters and thrown off balance by a ferocious Browns pass rush. Dolphins QB A.J. Feeley was sacked twice but pressured out of the pocket on countless other plays.

THE SERIES:The Texans lost 34-17 in Cleveland in 2002. Former Browns QB Tim Couch threw for 148 yards and a touchdown while Texans QB David Carr threw for 267 yards and a score.

Houston was down 24-17 entering the final quarter but the Browns scored 10 unanswered points to run away with the game.

TEXANS ON DEFENSE:The defense has got plenty of attention over the last three weeks and has arguably been one of the best units in the league during that time.

The Texans have not allowed a touchdown in 11 quarters, just one off the season high of 12 set by Philadelphia earlier in the season. Sunday's win at Jacksonville was the first shutout in team history and the Jaguars 126 total yards was the lowest allowed by the Texans franchise.

On the flip side, the Browns have one of the worst offenses in professional football.

Starting quarterback Jeff Garcia had a 3-7 record as a starter but was placed on injured reserve Dec. 13 with a knee injury. Backup Kelly Holcomb has also fought injuries leaving McCown calling the shots.

Cleveland has also had issues with the running game and rank 26 th in the league in rushing offense (28 th overall) and next to last in time of possession.

Suggs 143 yards Sunday night shows some light at the end of the tunnel, but it may be too little too late for the Browns, who list Suggs and William Green as co-starters on the depth chart.

Suggs leads the team with 613 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Green has carried just 12 times less than Suggs and rushed for 585 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Only one more player on the team has more than 30 rush attempts and that's Garcia (35 and two touchdowns).

The offensive line averages 3.8 years experience led by Verba (8) and RG Damion Cook, RT Joaquin Gonzalez and C Melvin Fowler (3). The group has paved the way for just 101 rushing yards per game and given up 40 sacks on the season.

Cleveland is 28 th in the league in three-and-out drives and has converted only 28.4 percent of its third down opportunities this season.

The Texans defense, while struggling on third down early in the season, has picked up the slack, holding the Jaguars and Bears to a combined 4-of-27 on third down the past two weeks.

The Browns bolstered their receiving corps with the acquisition of Antonio Bryant through a trade with Dallas earlier in the season. He has 459 receiving yards and four touchdowns since the move.

Dennis Northcutt, who will start on the other side has two touchdown grabs on the season. Tight ends Aaron Shea and Steve Heiden have done an admirable job filling in for first-round pick Kellen Winslow, who broke his leg in the first month of the season.

The team ranks 30 th in the league in dropped passes and has lost 19 fumbles that have led to 116 opponent points. Houston is 5-0 when scoring a defensive touchdown.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Browns P Derrick Frost has only one year of NFL experience and averages 40.3 yards per punt (35.5 net average).

Cleveland KR Richard Alston played at East Carolina and was a free agent acquisition prior to this season. At 5-feet-11, 215 pounds he has good size and has returned a kick 93 yards for a touchdown this season.

Northcutt handles punt return duties and averages a solid 12.2 yards per return.

TEXANS ON OFFENSE:The Browns defense has been a bright spot for a team that has spent most of the season searching for answers.

The defensive line has combined for 19.5 of the team's 26 sacks this season and is led by defensive ends Ebenezer Ekuban and Kenard Lang.

Of course, that should matter little if the Texans continue opening up holes in the run game and running time off the clock. The team had a franchise record 211 rushing yards against the Jaguars last week, led by RB Domanick Davis’ career-high 150 yards and a touchdown.

The Browns have not won a game this season when their opponent rushes for more than 100 yards.

Davis has quietly rushed for 1,077 yards after a sluggish start and has already broken a career high for total yards this season. He tops the team in rushing attempts with 284 (no one else has more than 80) and is second on the team with 64 receptions.

The Browns defense has allowed 207 points in the first half this season but is significantly better in the third and fourth quarter. The team has only been outscored by eight points in the fourth quarter this season.

A quick start again will be important for the Texans, who ate up the clock Sunday in their first possession against the Jaguars before taking a 7-0 lead.

Houston will have better conditions to throw the ball Sunday after going two straight weeks in cold, windy weather but the Browns have been stingy when it comes to defending the pass.

Cleveland has allowed the fewest yards after catch (YAC) this season and averge 187 total passing yards per game.

Griffith leads the team with 144 tackles from his strong safety position and also has a sack and an interception on the year.

CB Anthony Henry leads the team with four interceptions. The secondary, like many in the NFL, benefits from a strong pass rush that takes the pressure off the coverage. Establishing a run should pull Griffith more into run support and open things for WR Andre Johnson.

Cleveland took a hit a linebacker when Andra Davis was put on injured reserve Nov. 30 He racked up 89 tackles and three interceptions before being replaced by Barry Gardner.

Gardner, a six-year veteran from Northwestern, has 33 tackles and one interception.

*Stats courtesy NFL.com and STATS, Inc.

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