BEREA, Ohio--The Browns have had enough problems, particularly with injuries through the first five weeks of the season, but coming off a poor rushing performance against the Patriots a week ago, the news isn't any better this week.
Long-time Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is running the Titans defense and he is expected to employ some of the same tactics that held the Browns to just 27 rushing yards a week ago. Tennessee is giving up just 98 yards a game defensively.
“Obviously, Dick LeBeau is one of the best coordinators in this league, but we face good coordinators every week," Hue Jackson said. "There is a whole bunch of them in this league, and that is what they do. Dick LeBeau is as good as there is and he has those guys playing well. We have a big challenge again this weekend.”
Titans coach Mike Mularkey was asked on a conference call this week if they will use what New England did in stopping the run.
“I’m sure we will look at it closely like we always do," Mularkey said on a conference call. "Dick LeBeau does a great job of scheming offenses so I’m sure he will have something up his sleeve.”
To compound the situation, the Browns offensive line situation is even more muddled with the loss of left guard Joel Bitonio to a mid-foot sprain to injured reserve. Joe Thomas has not practiced yet this week with a knee injury. On Friday, the Browns said Thomas would play.
Cameron Erving will return to the lineup this week after missing three games with a bruised lung. However, the Browns will start a different lineup up front for the fifth-straight game.
“Cam is ready to go," Jackson said. "Cam is there and obviously (John) Greco and Alvin Bailey and (Jonathan) Cooper. We will know more by the end of the week, but I feel good about the guys who are going to walk out there first. I do feel good about the starting line.”
Jackson was asked about the challenges presented with the rash of injuries to the line.
“You guys want me to say I give, I quit or what?" Jackson said laughing. "That is not going to happen. I think you guys know me. I’m built for this. I’m just telling you, I’m built for this and I think our team is. It is not easy. I’ll be the first to tell you that. I’m not going to sit up here and tell you, ‘Oh my gosh, this is great!’ No, it is not, but at the same time, what do you guys want me to do?
"We are going to keep working," he said. "We are going to keep coaching and keep getting these guys better. We are not going to make excuses. I don’t think that is what this is all about. This is the National Football League. We have other guys that are paid to do a job, and we as coaches have to get them ready to play and our guys have to get themselves ready to play. It is not going to always be pretty, it is not going to always be the way we want it to be, but that is just life in this business. We have had a ton of injuries, It has been unfortunate, It has been our year. Hopefully (knocks on wood), after this is done, we are going to get some guys back. As you know, we are starting to get guys back. Here comes Cam..."
Bailey will shift to left guard to replace Bitonio and Greco would move back to right guard. Bailey has started two games this season, both at right guard.
“It is good," Greco said. "I have been bouncing back and forth the last couple of weeks so this is a right guard week. Hopefully, I get to stay there, but like I said, I am ready no matter where they need me.”
Mularkey said the Titans will try to take advantage of the opportunities afforded them with their defensive front.
“You hate to see anybody get hurt and have some problems with injuries, but that is pretty much the league," Mularkey said. "We are in the same situation with our right guard. We are not going to put an entirely different scheme together based on their injury with the guard (Bitonio).
"We have got a set scheme," he said. "We are going to attack. Dick LeBeau does a good job of attacking where he thinks weaknesses are, and we will go from there.”
Jackson said the Titans front line is strong.
“No. 99 (Titans DL Jurrell Casey), No. 98 (Titans OLB Brian Orakpo), they are good, and No. 91 (Titans OLB Derrick Morgan), they are good players," Jackson said. "They are really good players, play hard and I think Casey is playing as good as anybody in the league right now. He just is. He is a dominant football player, and Orakpo is proven. The guy has six sacks so that tells you they know how to get to the quarterback.”
Mularkey said he's not worried about his team being over confident in playing the winless Browns. The Titans are 2-3.
“We know better," Mularkey said. "We have been in the league, especially this staff has been in the league for a long time. Every Sunday, there is a fine line between winning and losing games. Like us, they have lost a couple close games. They easily could have a different record as we could. We won’t fall for that. I can promise you that.”
McCown Out: Jackson said that QB Josh McCown will not be active Sunday, leaving rookie QB Kevin Hogan as the backup to QB Cody Kessler. WR Terrelle Pryor will likely be in the mix as the backup, as well. McCown returned to practice this week but wasn't cleared to play this week. Jackson did say he was more comfortable with Hogan after a full week of practice.
Bitonio to IR; Sign FB: The Browns have signed FB Dan Vitale from Tampa Bay’s practice squad. In addition, the team placed OL Joel Bitonio (foot) on injured reserve.
Vitale (6-1, 239) from Northwestern. Originally selected by Tampa Bay in the sixth round, he has spent the entire season on the Buccaneers’ practice squad. As a senior, he led Northwestern in receptions (33), receiving yards (355) and receiving touchdowns (four). He'll wear No. 40.
Bitonio, a second-round pick in 2014, started all five games this season and helped the Browns rank fourth in the NFL in rushing average (5.62) and fifth in rushing yards (624). He sustained a mid-foot injury during Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots.
Haden Update: DB Joe Haden was a late addition to Thursday's injury report with a groin injury. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton termed Haden's injury as "slight" and said he expects him to do everything he can to play on Sunday. Besides Thomas, OL Joel Bitonio (foot) WR Corey Coleman (hand), TE Randall Telfer (ankle), TE Seth DeValve (knee) and DL Xavier Cooper (shoulder) did not practice. QB Josh McCown (left shoulder) and TE Gary Barnidge (forearm/hip) were limited while QB Cody Kessler (chest/ribs), OL Cameron Erving (chest/lung) and DB Tramon Williams (shoulder) were full participants.
More Duke as Returner: The Browns have been struggling to have an effective punt return game since the departure of PR Travis Benjamin. In effect, most of the returners this season have been fair catchers. However, special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said he expects to use RB Duke Johnson more in that role.
“Yeah, he will get more opportunities," Tabor said. "He is averaging 12.7 yards. The last time we discussed punt return, we have gone up statistically the last couple of games. We are making strides there. Obviously, not where I want it to be or it is not at the level that the Cleveland Browns’ return unit should be, but my glass is not half empty. It is half full, so to speak. Duke is doing a nice job for us fielding the ball cleanly, and I expect that area to improve.”
Nothing New on RG3: Jackson was asked if there was any new updates on QB Robert Griffin III.
“No. No sir, there is nothing new at this point.”