BEREA - Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson is back for the Houston Texans. Starting cornerback Eric Wright is out for the Browns.
That`s a dangerous combination for a pass defense that hasn`t stopped anyone this year.
Wright sprained a knee vs. the Ravens, needed help to get off the field and didn`t practice Wednesday.
Coach Romeo Crennel wouldn`t rule him out for the game vs. the Texans on Sunday, but WKYC-TV`s Jim Donovan, the radio voice of the team, reported Wright will miss 4-6 weeks.
"Jim hasn`t told me that yet," Crennel said. "There is no surgery involved. We`ll just rehab it and get him back. Just go day to day and see how he does."
Wright, a second-round pick out of UNLV in April, had come on after a rocky start and was playing as well as any cornerback on the team. His loss would push Daven Holly into the starting lineup and rookie fifth-round pick Brandon McDonald into the role of nickelback. Leigh Bodden, the other starter, has been bothered by back spasms.
"Leigh`s not where he wants to be from a physical nature," Crennel said. "He`s kinda been up and down a little bit. He struggled a little bit (Sunday), but Leigh`ll bounce back and play good."
The Browns need him to play like the guy who earned kudos from Cincinnati`s Chad Johnson. Cleveland`s offense is certainly playoff-caliber, but the pass defense ranks 31st in yardage (269.5) and has allowed a league-high 23 touchdowns. It allowed 20 all of last year.
Following the opener, when Pittsburgh didn`t need to throw, the Browns have allowed at least 200 yards and a touchdown passing in each game. They`re last in the league in points allowed (29.4) and total defense (406.3).
Baltimore`s Kyle Boller rebounded from a dreadful first half Sunday to throw for 255 yards as the Ravens scored 23 points in the second half. He took advantage of generous cushions from the cornerbacks to pick up first downs underneath, then was able to complete a couple of deep passes.
Early in the season the Browns were burned deep often, so they adjusted the game plan to try to eliminate the big play. The 8- or 10-yard cushions consistently provided by the cornerbacks are part of that effort.
Crennel said the defensive call on a particular play dictates whether the corners play tight coverage or drop back into a zone. If zone`s the call, it`s the cornerback`s responsibility to play far enough off so he can stay with the receiver if he runs deep.
"That`s the first premise of playing off," said Crennel, who added it`s up to the cornerback to figure out how much room to give. "If you`re facing a burner who you know has great speed, you might get a little further off."
Andre Johnson presents an extreme challenge. At 6-foot-3, 222 pounds, he`s big enough to work underneath and move the chains. But his league-leading 19.1-yard average per catch proves he can stretch the field.
"He`s a big-play, Pro Bowl receiver," Holly said. "He`s strong, he`s physical, he`s tall, he has the ability to run routes. I respect his game a lot."
Johnson missed seven games with a knee injury but returned last week to help the Texans beat the Saints. He caught six passes for 120 yards and a touchdown and is averaging 6.6 catches, 127.3 yards and more than a touchdown in the three games he`s played.
"We`re very fortunate that the injury wasn`t a lot more severe," Houston coach Gary Kubiak said in a conference call. "We`re very excited to get him back. He means a lot to our football team. He brought a lot of energy back to our team."
The Browns usually assign the cornerbacks sides, rather than have one follow a particular receiver, so Holly will be matched up with Johnson at some point. Holly, who intercepted five passes in 12 starts last year, had to adjust to coming off the bench after Wright assumed the starting job in the preseason.
"There was no time for pouting or getting down," he said.
The Browns have used their nickel package extensively, so Holly`s playing time hardly decreased.
"I consider myself a starter. It`s not foreign to me," he said.
He`ll need that confidence to slow down Johnson.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.