Browns-Bengals: Personnel and Strategy

Some match-ups to keep an eye on this Sunday

Chris Crocker continues to cut into Earl Little's playing time at free safety, and it may be a matter of time before he supplants Little as the starter.

Little led the Browns with six interceptions last season but doesn't have any this year. He also missed a tackle on Duce Staley that allowed the Pittsburgh running back to score a 25-yard touchdown.

Crocker returned an interception for a touchdown against the Steelers.

A third-round draft pick in 2003 as a cornerback, Crocker has the man-to-man cover ability that Little lacks, so he gives the Browns greater flexibility in pass coverage.

"He is a young player who is making rapid improvement every single ballgame in just about every single aspect," coach Butch Davis said of Crocker.

Said Little, "I really don't want to get into it right now, but I'll talk to y'all about it when the time is right," Little said. "Right now, I don't want to (create) any distractions."

Davis said the move had more to do with Crocker's improvement than any deficiencies in Little's play. He said Little's tackling overall this year has been significantly better than it was last season.

"One thing Earl Little has done ever since I've known him in 1995 is (show) he has a nose for the ball," Davis said. "He's still going to be in the plans."


  • At left guard, Enoch DeMar almost certainly will get the start over Paul Zukauskas, who has been ineffective while trying to play with a sprained knee. "You'd have to give him kind of a Purple Heart, to be honest with you," Butch Davis said of Zukauskas.

  • RT Ryan Tucker returned to practice Wednesday after missing three weeks with a torn quadriceps muscle. He is expected to start against the Bengals.

  • DT Gerard Warren returned to practice Wednesday after missing most of the season with a strained pectoral muscle. He is expected to start against Cincinnati.

  • LB Barry Gardner is listed as doubtful and did not practice Wednesday because of a groin injury.

  • QB Jeff Garcia suffered a cut on his left (non-throwing) thumb against the Steelers, but he practiced without a problem Wednesday.

  • TE Kellen Winslow Jr. said he expects to be walking without a cast in a month and should be fully recovered well before next week's minicamp. He broke his fibula Sept. 19 and then required a second surgery a week later to stabilize an ankle ligament.

With a passing game that clicks only in fits and starts, the Browns will look to pound the porous Bengals run defense with William Green and Lee Suggs. Suggs ran for 186 yards in last year's season finale, and Green also is capable of a big game. The Bengals are giving up an NFL-worst 165.8 rushing yards per game. Defensively, the Browns are most concerned about WR Chad Johnson, who now has a quarterback who can throw the deep ball in Carson Palmer. Look for Cleveland to roll their coverage toward Johnson and hope their front four can keep Rudi Johnson in check.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Browns DB Anthony Henry vs. Bengals WR Chad Johnson. Daylon McCutcheon also could spend time trying to cover Johnson, but chances are Henry will see more of the work because of his bigger frame. Henry had been having a solid year until he blew two coverages against Plaxico Burress last week that resulted in long completions after Ben Roethlisberger scrambled out of the pocket.

MLB Andra Davis vs. Bengals RB Rudi Johnson. Davis' tackle numbers are down - he's averaging eight per game - but the Browns remain happy with his play. He'll have to play well Sunday against Johnson because the Browns will likely devote much of their defensive game plan to stopping Chad Johnson. With Cleveland's safeties hesitant to step up in the box, Davis will have primary responsibility for making sure the Bengals don't break long runs.

INJURY IMPACT: LG Paul Zukauskas has been playing at 70 percent because of a knee injury and will be replaced by Enoch DeMar. Zukauskas will back up DeMar and right guard Kelvin Garmon.

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