While the Browns are looking for an end to the misery known as "2008", the Titans are preparing for a Super Bowl run. The Titans could take that first step on Sunday at home as the Browns come to town. A win secures their first divisional title since 2002.
The Titans are coming off of the Thanksgiving Day Massacre in which the turkey dinner was replaced with lion chops as the Titans devoured the struggling franchise in every possible way. It could very well be repeated against the struggling Browns as they have now lost both of their "franchise" quarterbacks for the remainder of the season but this Browns team isn't going to lay down for the Titans. What happened to the Lions would be motivation enough, but this is setting up to be one of those physical games where ones manhood can come into question. The Browns will not go down without a fight.
Browns Defense vs. Titans Offense
The Titans offense should be very familiar to Browns fans as it is very reminiscent of what the Steelers have been doing for years. They bring both power and speed with the combination backs. Lendale White has become one of the NFL's elite big body backs that simply wears down opponents with his size and strength. His performance in short yardage situations has led to 13 touchdowns but he also shows his versatility with 4 receiving touchdowns. He has become a touchdown machine.
Paired with the size and strength of the 240lb running back is the speed back in rookie Chris Johnson. The speedster will break the 1000 yard barrier this week. This is a tremendous accomplishment considering his shared carries with White. He also possesses terrific hands as he has accumulated 35 receptions on the year. His speed and versatility makes him one of the favorites for offensive rookie of the year honors.
This revamped Titans offensive line has been terrific thus far thanks in large part to the veteran leadership supplied by center Kevin Mawae. He is the glue that has cemented this line into one terrific run blocking unit. Kevin has struggled against the larger nose tackles in this league and facing the Browns Shaun Rodgers will not be an easy task. Kevin will be giving up a great deal of size and strength but Rodgers is equally as quick. This will force help from the guards and that can create opportunities for the Browns struggling linebacker corps.
The Browns will look to stack the box and this may be a great time to get rookie Beau Bell into the linebacker rotation. His strength is playing the run and against the Titans he will receive opportunity to showcase that talent against the run game. It is vital for linebacker D'Qwell Jackson to slide through the traffic and finish the play in the backfield. If you can force the Titans into long third downs, they become a very average team offensively.
The Browns secondary matches up very well with the receivers of the Titans. They should be able to play man to man but quarterback Kerry Collins loves the deep ball and will look to exploit the inexperience of Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright. McDonald is a bit of a risk taker and he has been beat deep when caught looking at the quarterback.
The key will be the play recognition of the Browns safeties. They must react quickly to the TE when he chips and slides into coverage just beyond the linebacker. They will also be counted upon heavily for run support as well as defending the deep ball against a deep ball quarterback.
Browns Offense vs. Titans Defense
The Titans bring a terrific all around defense against an offense and also an offensive line that has lost its way. The play of center Hank Fraley has not been what is expected from a player the quality of Hank Fraley and neither has the play of left tackle Joe Thomas. This unit will need to be at its best if they are to stand up against the best front four in the game today composed of LDE Jevon Kearse, LDT Tony Brown, RDT Albert Haynesworth and RDE Kyle Vanden Bosh.
If the Browns are to make a game of this one they must run the football against a front seven that understands the third string backup is in the game and the number one receiver is in the worst slump of his career. The Titans are going to pressure the pocket. Whether its chase the quarterback or getting to the running back they are going to play aggressive up front and challenge the offense to withstand their storm.
Jamal Lewis was a terrific running back just a year ago but that was a contract year and that running back wall has hit Lewis full force. Lewis has yet to reach 100 yards in any game this year and he simply misses the same holes he was hitting a year before or they close before he gets there due to his dancing. Frankly he now appears like the offspring of Reuben Droughns and William Green. He is dancing on his way to the bank with the contract he earned for a 1 year performance.
The decision to use Lewis while his struggles are obvious is but one of the reasons why fans have grown tired of head coach Romeo Crennel. RB Jerome Harrison is averaging 8.4 yards per carry along with 14 yards per reception but wastes away behind Lewis and his 3.6 yards per carry. The situation now is if Romeo doesn't switch to Harrison, he continues to look stubborn and unwilling to grant opportunity. If he makes the switch and Harrison performs well, then he looks like a coach that has trouble evaluating talent. This is why few should question general manager Phil Savage's control over the 53 man roster.
Quarterback Ken Dorsey lacks the great arm strength and he doesn't have a great deep ball but he is a terrific rhythm passer that excels with timing routes. With a full week to work with the likes of Donte Stallworth, Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards the timing won't be perfect but it can be effective. This group of receiving weapons matches up very well with the injured corners of the Titans. They must use their physical advantage of both health and size to gain separation against the Titan defensive backs.
The Browns must win the battle of field position set up by special teams. This is a great opportunity for Joshua Cribbs to reinstate himself as the AFC's best special teams player. It may also be an opportunity for Cribbs to run the offense if Dorsey struggles. The wild hog formation may rear its ugly head once again.