The Houston Texans will be facing the Cleveland Browns this Sunday is an AFC Conference showdown. Sitting at 5-3 the Texans can put themselves a step closer to their goal for the 2011 season, a playoff appearance.
More importantly the Texans will be facing the Browns without their star running back Peyton Hillis who seems to be dealing with his own issues outside of football. With Hillis out of the game it leaves a familiar face to the Texans running the ball for the Browns this Sunday.
Here are six things to watch in this Sunday's contest.
1. With Browns running back Peyton Hillis (hamstring) and Montario Hardesty (calf tear) out for this game the running game falls into the hands of Texans lockeroom favorite and Ex-Texan player Chris Ogbonnaya. Ogbonnaya was signed from the Texans practice squad to the Browns active roster. Ogbonnaya met some old faces with Browns head coach Pat Shurmur in St.Louis and with quarterback Colt McCoy at the University of Texas, and he has had homecoming of sorts in Cleveland. Expect the Texans to be cut no slack during the game, but it is a good sight to see him getting an opprotunity to succeed despite not being with Houston.
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2. Arian Foster is one rushing touchdown from setting the franchise record in career rushing touchdowns, he currently has 23 and is tied with former Texans runningback Dominick Williams. Foster will be key to the Texans offense once again with Andre Johnson on the sideline for his 5th straight game. Every game Foster has rushed for over 100 yards the Texans have three wins to show for it, expect that to be apart of the game plan for the Texans on Sunday.
3. This will be a big test for the Texans wide receivers and see if they can beat the Browns corner backs in Sheldon Brown and Joe Haden. Brown is the veteran and Haden is the budding star, but the Texans receivers need to establish themselves for Texans quarterback Matt Schaub. Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones have been getting majority of the snaps with Johnson hurt, but it may be time to get Derrick Mason into the game plan. Mason has only had 5 catches in 3 games for the Texans since coming over in a trade. It will be interesting to see if the Texans try to stretch the field vertically like they did against the Jaguars.
4. Texans fullback, Lawrence Vickers welcomes back his old team to Reliant and it seems like he has had this game marked on his calendar since coming to Houston. Released because the Browns drafted a rookie fullback in Owen Marecic, Vickers wants to show he can still do the job. Playing because of the injury to James Casey, Vickers has slowly worked into the starting lineup and provides some much-needed "nastiness" on the offensive side of the ball. You think he is ready? Watch his interview from this week.
5. Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed will have his hands full with All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas. Reed and Barwin will have to put pressure on Colt McCoy but be careful of putting McCoy on the run, because he can hurt defenses running. The Texans want to keep McCoy in the pocket and make him beat them with his arm, and if the Texans can make McCoy's life hard if they can take the Browns running game out of the equation. Barwin and Reed have to create pressure off the edges and get some early hits on McCoy to create some doubts in they can protect him for the rest of the game.
6. Head Coach Gary Kubiak needs to keep the Texans on track and focused, that can extend their win streak to three. The Texans offense tried to go deep early and often in the game to keep the Jaguars safeties out of the box. Expect a similar offensive game plan this Sunday, an aggressive approach to the game. Kubiak has a chance to make a statement on Sunday with a win, it doesn't matter by how much the Texans need to win. The Texans don't need to look ahead because it is games like these that can derail a season in a hurry.