Browns-Titans: It's Gameday!

The Cleveland Browns and Ken Dorsey attempt to stun the Titans in Nashville

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Cleveland Browns (4-8) at Tennessee Titans (11-1)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET

GAMEDATE: 12/07/08

SURFACE: Grass

TV: CBS (Don Criqui, Dan Fouts)

SERIES: 60th regular-season meeting. Browns lead the series, 33-26. The Browns of the expansion era have played the Titans eight times and are 3-5 against them, but this rivalry goes back to 1970 in the days when the Titans were the Houston Oilers. They met once in the playoffs. Using Don Strock and Mike Pagel at quarterback because Bernie Kosar was injured, the Browns lost the playoff game, 24-23, in 1988. It was the final Browns game coached by Marty Schottenheimer.

PREDICTION: Titans 23-9

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Titans will likely load up against the run by bringing a safety forward and daring soft-armed QB Ken Dorsey to beat them through the air. Regardless of the eight-man fronts, Cleveland must keep feeding the ball to RB Jamal Lewis. Dorsey has a good offensive line, but the Titans have a ball-hawking secondary and Cleveland is minus a key underneath weapon in TE Kellen Winslow, Jr.

Smash 'n Dash: That's what Titans RBs LenDale White and rookie Chris Johnson have dubbed themselves, and they'll get plenty of work against the Browns' 26th-ranked run defense. Tennessee knows Cleveland will struggle to score and doesn't want to do the Browns any favors. Cleveland did hold Indianapolis without a touchdown last Sunday, and should be able to keep the game close if NT Shaun Rogers gets the best of his battle with C Kevin Mawae, who he outweighs by 60 pounds.

Key Injuries: Browns: QBs Derek Anderson (knee) and Brady Quinn (finger) and Winslow (ankle) are out. Titans: CBs Cortland Finnegan (hamstring) and Nick Harper (ankle) should play.

Need to know: Johnson needs 42 yards to become the Titans' first 1,000-yard rookie rusher since Eddie George in 1996. ... The Titans clinch the NFL South with a win or a loss by Indianapolis. They clinch a first-round bye if they win and the Jets lose.

 

PERSONNEL NEWS

Browns:

--DE Corey Williams was limited in practice Thursday with a shoulder injury.

--DL Shaun Smith was limited Thursday with a calf injury.

--FB Charles Ali did not practice Thursday because of a rib injury.

--WR Syndric Steptoe was limited Thursday because of an ankle injury.

--TE Darnell Dinkins was limited Thursday with an ankle injury.

 

Titans:

--K Rob Bironas isn't kicking as many field goals as last year when he made 35 of 39, but his percentage (88.9 percent this year to 89.7) is similar. Bironas has made 24 of 27 kicks in '08 and has not missed inside 40 yards.

--CB Nick Harper missed a second straight day of practice Thursday with a left ankle injury. He is still likely to play this weekend against the Cleveland Browns.

--CB Cortland Finnegan also missed a second straight day of practice with a sore hamstring. Finnegan is likely to play against the Browns as well.

--LB Keith Bulluck has had more than 100 tackles every single season since 2002 and is in line to accomplish the feat again perhaps as soon as Sunday, as the Titans coaching tapes have credited him with 95 tackles so far this year.

--DT Jason Jones practiced again with no problems after missing three straight games with a foot sprain.

--WR Brandon Jones already has a career high with 34 receptions and is closing in on his career high for receiving yards (384), set in 2006. Jones has 367 receiving yards thus far this year.

 

INSIDE THE CAMPS

Browns:

Nobody in the Browns locker room knows coach Romeo Crennel better than linebacker Willie McGinest. McGinest says if players had done what they were supposed to do over the first three months of the season, the Browns could be 9-3 instead of 4-8 as they are heading into their game Sunday against the Titans in Nashville.

Team owner Randy Lerner has said he will wait until January to decide what to do with Crennel and general manager Phil Savage. Speculation Crennel will be fired after four years on the job is rampant.

"I don't want to talk about Romeo's job," said McGinest, who played under Crennel in New England from 1994-96 and 2001-2004 and here since 2006. "That's (the media) creating that.

"The way we're playing, once again, has nothing to do with our coaches all across the board. I'm speaking for defense and head coach. I don't speak for offense, ever.

"Anybody who knows anything about football can watch the games and see what's going on. Players have to make plays when called upon, play disciplined and not get penalties, follow your assignment, not have mental errors and play good, sound football. If we do what we're coached to do and what we practice, we'd have won at least five more games."

McGinest said he wouldn't talk about the offense, but the longer he talked, the wider the blanket of incompetence he threw over the entire team.

"If guys make plays they're supposed to make, if we tackle, if we block -- block -- if we catch, we win a lot of those games," McGinest said. "It's not hard. You have to come up with plays when your number is called. What does coaching have to do with that?

"You can't make somebody do something on the field. You can't go out there and literally make them do it. If the coach tells me to run a stunt and I don't and they run where I was supposed to be and they score a touchdown, I didn't do my job. If you have Vince Lombardi coaching you, if you don't do what you're told to do (it doesn't matter)."

After the Browns lost to the Colts on Sunday, barely able to stand because of his knee injury, quarterback Derek Anderson said the Browns care for each other and said the players love Crennel and how they're going to play for Crennel the last four weeks. Anderson will not be part of the show in Tennessee. He is on injured reserve with a torn left medial collateral ligament.

Crennel was asked about Anderson and others speaking out for him. He said it shows the players respect him, which in turn means they have not quit.

"It makes it easier for me to come to work," Crennel said. "Those are the guys I have to work with every day. If they respect me, then I can feel decent about myself. If they perform on the field like they did on Sunday, then I know we have a chance."

The Browns were beaten, 10-6, by the Colts. Indianapolis did not score an offensive touchdown. Peyton Manning was held to 125 yards passing. The Browns intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble.

 

Titans:

On many NFL teams, a punter is little more than an afterthought.

The Tennessee Titans view Craig Hentrich entirely different, however. They regard the 14-year veteran as a legitimate weapon when it comes to field position.

Hentrich is perhaps one of the most versatile punters in the NFL. Not only is he the holder on place-kicks, but he can also kick off and kick field goals in a pinch, having held both roles at Notre Dame. Hentrich was even the Titans' emergency quarterback during years past with the team.

But it is still as a punter where Hentrich shines most, as evidenced by how he and the coverage team have kept the likes of Devin Hester and Leon Washington bottled up in earlier games this season. That duo returned just four of a combined 13 Hentrich punts for a total of 21 yards.

Hentrich has another such challenge this week in Cleveland's Josh Cribbs, and he has been known to experiment much more with directional punting and punting the ball at different angles off his foot.

"These guys are so good nowadays you've got to find any way you can to keep it out of their hands. It's just experimentation," Hentrich said. "Cribbs and Hester and all these guys are so dangerous and can change the game so fast that you try any way to keep it out of their hands."

Hentrich more or less "invented" a knuckleball punt that acts like the baseball pitch with only a couple of revolutions as it comes toward the returner, making it extremely difficult to catch. And he has other tricks up his sleeve that he could unveil at opportune moments perhaps later this season.

"I don't have a big bag, that's for sure," Hentrich said. "I just basically do what it takes to get the job done. You experiment with kicks, and it's pretty dangerous doing that, because bad things can happen. But then again, if you punt to a guy, bad things can happen too. I don't ask questions; I just do what I'm told."

Special teams coach Alan Lowry said Hentrich has done a good job this season with the three elements needed to keep good return men at bay.

"He's been working real hard on directional punting, and he's done a good job with that, getting the ball on distance, direction and hang time all on the same punt," Lowry said. "The key is ... that you don't have a low hang time punt -- even though it's in a good direction -- or he'll have a chance to return it. He's done a pretty good job with that. And then the other thing is that when we have punted middle, he's done a good job with his hang time. He's gotten the ball up high."

 

 


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