When the Ravens travel to Detroit, they will be looking to even their record and find their offensive identity.
The Ravens (1-2) are emphasizing a return to their run-heavy roots, but they also want big plays in the passing game to jump-start their scoring.
Both are areas of need for the desperate Ravens, who are averaging 10 points a game.
"In this league, you can't live on scoring 13 points a game," said receiver Derrick Mason, alluding to the Ravens' 13-3 win over the Jets last Sunday. "You always want the defense to play well. But there comes a time in a game where, as an offense, you have to score more than 13 points. There are not too many teams you're going to run into that are down to their third-string quarterback. I feel as an offense that we have the talent to put up a lot of points."
The Lions defense has been hot and cold for the early part of the season.
They held Green Bay to a field goal and then surrendered 38 points at Chicago. Last Sunday, Detroit limited Tampa Bay to 17 points.
The Ravens have the second-worst scoring offense in the NFL, producing more drives that have ended in turnovers (eight) than inside the red zone (six).
"Right now, we're trying to get the identity of this offense," quarterback Anthony Wright said. "The profile that we want has always been here - a running attack."
The Ravens' usually dominant running game has struggled this season. The Ravens are averaging 2.6 yards a carry.
The success of the ground game could be determined which Detroit defense shows up.
The Lions (1-2) gave up 139 yards rushing to Chicago's Thomas Jones and then held Tampa Bay's Cadillac Williams to 13 yards rushing.
For the season, Detroit is 14th against the run.
"You have to look beyond the statistics and the ranks and look at the games," coach Brian Billick said. "I see a team that's very effective against the run."
Detroit defensive tackles Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson present a big problem inside for the Ravens.
"They're as big as they come," Billick said. "Those guys make it tough sledding for the running game."
If the Ravens can't run the ball against Detroit, it could be a long day for the offense.
The Lions usually rely on their front seven to contain the running game and keep two safeties deep to prevent big plays. A lack of big plays has been the biggest reason why the Ravens have so few points.
The Ravens have produced three runs over 10 yards and three passes over 25 yards. That forces the Ravens to repeatedly grind out eight- to 10-play drives, a tough proposition against NFL defenses.
"We've got to have more explosive plays down the field," Billick said. "The profile we showed the other day was very good. But there's got to be a great deal more if we expect to get where we want to go."
The Ravens want to return to Detroit, the site of this year's Super Bowl.
But to reach that goal, the Ravens have to fix their offense and figure out how to win on the road again. The Ravens have lost four in a row on the road, dating back to last season. Their last road victory was Nov. 14 at the New York Jets.
"It's you against the world," said Mason about the attitude it takes to win on the road. "We've got to come out and basically give it to them right at the punch. Because if you don't, that crowd gets very loud. If we come out and establish ourselves as an offense, it will be to our advantage."
SERIES HISTORY: Second meeting. The Ravens won the only previous meeting, a 19-10 victory over the Lions in 1998. The Ravens limited Barry Sanders to 41 yards rushing in the running back's final game. Defensive tackle Lional Dalton forced Sanders to fumble at the Detroit 1-yard line, which led to a Priest Holmes touchdown and a 9-0 lead. This marks the Ravens' first regular-season game in Detroit.
--PR B.J. Sams had better regain his focus or he might lose his job. The Ravens return specialist inexplicably attempted to field a punt at his goal line against the Jets, but the ball slipped through his hands. Luckily for the Ravens, it bounced out the back of the end zone for a touchback. In the preseason against New Orleans, Sams also fielded a punt inside his 5-yard line, a big mistake for a returner.
"The first one in preseason, I was a little more forgiving," coach Brian Billick said. "B.J., you can't make a mistake like that. We'll continue to bring focus to it. He's not a rookie anymore, so our expectations are much more demanding in terms of him. That's a critical error, and we can't make that kind of mistake."
--Defensive end Tony Weaver walked around the locker room in a walking boot to protect his dislocated toe. The timetable for his return is four weeks, but he is determined to make a swift recovery.
"You're always going to push it," said Weaver, who was injured last Sunday. "Everything is good structurally. So that's the goal."
--With Weaver out, Jarret Johnson will make his second start. It also means Dwan Edwards will get an increased role.
Edwards, the team's 2004 second-round pick who was drafted higher than Weaver, was inactive the first three games.
"The best-case scenario, Dwan steps up to this opportunity, which we're ready for him to do, and now when Tony comes back, we have additional depth and productivity there," Billick said. "We're approaching it that way."
--Running back Jamal Lewis is off to the worst three-game start - 138 rushing yards and one touchdown - since his rookie season in 2000. It has left him answering questions about whether his contract situation is affecting his play.
Lewis is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the year.
"No, not really," Lewis said. "Of course it plays a role in your head because you don't know where you're going to be next year, or what's going to happen. But it really isn't a major factor."
Last year, Lewis ran for 305 yards and three touchdowns through the first three games.
--Nearly a quarter of the way through the NFL season, the Ravens are the top defense in the AFC, giving up an average of 260.7 yards a game.
Last week, the Ravens were eighth in the conference, which is the reason Billick was not boiling over with excitement. Facing a third-string quarterback and limiting the Jets to 152 yards explains the jump.
"When we want to talk about league rankings, it's great to have," Billick said. "From our standpoint - even from a positive - yeah that's great, but we went from what to now the best defense in one game? Let's play a few more games (to see) what that means."
--Even though the reality of having two losses is omnipresent, Billick has the team focusing on its 1-0 record since the bye week. In fact, that is the record the Ravens are claiming.
"I understand the two games," Billick said. "We are responsible for it. We put ourselves in that situation and we will be accountable until the end of the season. But you can understand why we want to take this mind-set.
"We've beaten ourselves up over that and hopefully made the corrections, and now we're going to go forward. It serves our purpose to have that mind-set, but we're not being ridiculous about it either."
BY THE NUMBERS: 30 - Points scored by the Ravens in their first three games, the lowest output to start a season in the seven-year Brian Billick era.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't believe turnovers come in bunches. When I was a baseball player they told me the hits would come, and I'm still waiting on those." - Nickel back Deion Sanders in addressing the Ravens' lack of turnovers - just one - in their first three games.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Ravens have lost starting defensive end Tony Weaver to a toe injury. Jarret Johnson, who has one start in his three-year career, will replace Weaver. A sixth round pick in 2003, Johnson has a strong motor but sometimes gets pushed off the ball. The Ravens might lose some power at the point of attack but Johnson can apply pressure on the quarterback.
The offense has adopted more of a run-heavy philosophy. That means more playing time for fullback Alan Ricard and less action for tight end Daniel Wilcox, who played an H-back role.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--RB Jamal Lewis has been held to 81 yards or less yards in the first three games. He hadn't been limited to that few of yards in a three-game span (with at least 10 carries) since the beginning of the 2002 season.
--QB Anthony Wright is 6-2 in his last eight starts for the Ravens, throwing 10 touchdowns. His completion percentage against the Jets (71 percent) was the highest of his career.
--PR B.J. Sams ranks second in the AFC with an 11.2-yard punt return average.
--WR Derrick Mason is second in the AFC with eight catches for 80 yards on third downs.
--FS Will Demps ranks second in tackles with 19, trailing only linebacker Ray Lewis.
--WR Mark Clayton is expected to make his second NFL start. He is fourth on the team with eight catches for 65 yards.
--RB Chester Taylor leads the Ravens running backs with seven catches for 67 yards.
GAME PLAN: Like the Lions, the Ravens are determined to pound the ball. But the focus will be stretch plays, getting Jamal Lewis to the outside. The Ravens' guards, Edwin Mulitalo and Keydrick Vincent, are suspect. That means the Ravens won't challenge the middle with defensive tackles Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson.
Defensively, the Ravens have put a priority on stopping the run. They want to shut down physical running back Kevin Jones and force the Lions into obvious passing situations. It works in the Ravens' favor when the ball is in the hands of quarterback Joey Harrington, who is prone to making costly mistakes.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Ravens SS Ed Reed vs. Lions QB Joey Harrington: Reed, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has yet to make an impact this season. He has broken up one pass in three games and hasn't forced a turnover. Harrington has been prone to making mistakes. He has five interceptions in three games and 55 in his 49-game career.
Ravens RB Jamal Lewis vs. Lions run defense: Lewis has struggled this season, failing to crack three yards a carry in any of the first three games. Take away a 25-yard run in the season opener and Lewis has 113 yards on 54 carries (a 2.1-yard average). The Lions held Tampa Bay's Cadillac Williams to 13 yards on 11 carries.
Ravens WR Derrick Mason vs. Lions CB Dre Bly: Mason has been the only consistent threat in the Ravens' offense. He has 21 of the team's 74 receptions and has delivered the big play in the past two games. Bly, a Pro Bowl defender last season, has broken up just one pass and hasn't made an interception.
INJURY IMPACT: QB Kyle Boller (toe) is out for at least two more games. He will be replaced by Anthony Wright.
DE Tony Weaver (toe) is out for four weeks. He will be replaced by Jarret Johnson.
FB Alan Ricard (leg) is questionable with a calf injury, which limited him in last Sunday's game against the Jets. He appears to be about 85 percent and still favors the right leg.
TE Todd Heap (ankle/illness) is probable and is expected to start Sunday against the Lions. He did not practice Wednesday.
Two heavyweights should slug it out Sunday night in Jacksonville: The third-ranked Bengals offense against the third-ranked Jaguars defense.
The Jaguars are third in the league in total defense at 266 yards a game. And the Bengals are third in the NFL in total offense at 384.8 yards a game.
The Bengals are coming off their worst performance offensively in the 16-10 home victory against Houston.
They committed 11 penalties when they had the ball, wiping out a touchdown, and scored just one touchdown in four trips inside the Texans' 20-yard line.
"We have stopped ourselves," Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said. "When you play good defenses, you can't stop yourself. They'll stop you themselves."
While much has gone right for the Bengals, they have struggled in the red zone, scoring just seven touchdowns in 19 possessions. Their 37 percent-success rate is just 24th in the NFL. Most Bengals players and coaches say that Jacksonville's defense is the best they have faced all season.
"Their front seven is maybe the best we'll play all year," Bratkowski said. "We will have to play our best game on offense to date to have success."
The Jaguars defensive line is among the league's elite. Tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson are incumbent Pro Bowlers, and ends Paul Spicer and Reggie Hayward each have 3.5 sacks.
Like Chicago, whom the Bengals defeated in Week 3, the Jaguars are not a complicated defense. There are not a lot of looks and different fronts.
"That's what makes them real good," said Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who is questionable with a hand injury. "You have an idea of what they're going to do. It's not like they try to disguise a lot of things."
But there might be a weakness to expose in the run defense. Almost inexplicably, the Jaguars are tied for 29th against the run at 130 yards a game - just 6 yards fewer than the average pass yards they allow. The Jaguars gave up 188 rushing yards on 44 carries in their 20-7 loss Sunday against Denver. Mike Anderson ran for 115 yards, including a long of 22.
"They've given up some yards on the ground, so if we can get Rudi (Johnson) going maybe that will change defense up," Houshmandzadeh said. "They'll bring up the safety and open up the pass."
Rudi Johnson has rushed for 84 yards or more in all four games and has 388 for the season. Backup running back Chris Perry, who provides an outside counter punch to Johnson's inside power style, could be valuable as a runner and receiver.
Then there's Chad Johnson. The opposing cornerback on Johnson's in-locker chart - Who can cover Johnson in 2005? - is Jacksonville's Rashean Mathis.
"I haven't watched film of him," Johnson said. "I'm sure he's good."
Mathis is prepared. "I play against good receivers every week," he said.
SERIES HISTORY: 16th meeting -- Jacksonville leads 10-5. The Jaguars lead 6-1 in Jacksonville. The Bengals last won in Jacksonville in 1995, the first season of play for the expansion Jaguars. The Bengals have since lost since in a row at the now-Alltel Stadium.
--The Bengals are 4-0 after winning Sunday, 16-10, against the Houston Texans at Paul Brown Stadium. Since 1990, when the NFL expanded to the 12-team playoff format, 43 teams have started 4-0.
And 35 of them (81 percent) have made the playoffs, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
In the Bengals franchise's 38 seasons, only two teams have started 4-0 previously, 1975 and 1988. The Bengals made the playoffs both years and advanced to the Super Bowl in 1988.
"I'm proud of our football team, and to be sitting here 4-0," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.
--The Bengals are 11-4 in their last 15 games.
--Through a quarter of the season, a significant amount of games, the Bengals have allowed just 38 points. Opponents are scoring an averaged of just 9.5 points a game, which projects to 152 for the season. The Bengals' franchise for points allowed in a 16-game schedule is 284 in 1978.
--The Bengals are second in the NFL in penalties after four weeks. They have committed 45 penalties for 349 yards. Oakland has committed the most, 49 for 412 yards in losses.
--Bengals coach Marvin Lewis used to work for Houston coach Dom Capers. Jack Del Rio used to work for Lewis in Baltimore. Del Rio coached linebackers for the Ravens from 1999-2001 under then-defensive coordinator Lewis.
"Jack is a fine coach and was a fine player, and he's a close friend," Lewis said. "We're very close. I tried to hire Jack as a player and ended up getting him hired as a coach (in Baltimore)."
Lewis and Del Rio both were hired to begin the 2003 seasons. Lewis is 20-16 with the Bengals. Del Rio is 16-20 with the Jaguars.
--Lewis is 20-16 as Bengals coach, and one more victory would give Lewis a .568 winning percentage, which would be the best in franchise history. Forrest Gregg was 34-27 (.557) from 1980-83.
-- The Bengals are 3-7 all-time in Sunday night games heading into the Jacksonville game. The Bengals won on Sunday night in 2004, a 16-13 decision against Miami on Sept. 19.
-- The Bengals had one takeaway when John Thornton recovered a fourth-quarter fumble by Houston's David Carr.
End Justin Smith forced the fumble on the sixth of seven Bengals sacks. The Bengals have 17 takeaways and four turnovers, making them plus-13 in turnover differential -- best in the NFL.
--In 36 games under Lewis, the Bengals are 13-1 when they have an edge in turnovers.
--The Bengals turned the fumble recovery into a Shayne Graham field goal, giving them 53 points off turnovers - more than half of their 104.
BY THE NUMBERS: 3 - The Bengals are 4-0 for only the third time in franchise history, joining the 1975 and 1988 teams.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're wrong. And we can correct it. It does drive you nuts. But I know why we're making the mistakes and we'll continue to work at correcting them. We also have a lot of good plays because of things we do. We've got to keep working at that - to do all of it better all the time." - Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, on his team's 45 penalties, second most in the league.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Coach Marvin Lewis offered no additional information Wednesday on the health of center Rich Braham. Lewis had nothing to say about Braham, who injured his left knee last week, was listed as questionable.
"He's 50-50," Lewis said when asked if he thought Braham would play.
Quarterback Carson Palmer thinks Braham will play.
"Either way, we'll be fine. We'd love to have Richie in there but we'd also love to have Richie in there the rest of the year," Palmer said. "Whether it's (Eric) Ghiaciuc or (Eric) Steinbach, that whole offensive line will pick up the slack if the guy doesn't have a whole lot of experience."
Larry Turner, signed Tuesday after his release in early September by the Rams, can play center and guard, but is not expected to be activated for the Sunday night game at Jacksonville.
Turner was signed to take the roster spot of center-guard Larry Moore, who was placed on the injured reserve list, ending his season. Moore suffered a dislocated right knee in the game Sunday against Houston.
--WR Chris Henry, for the third consecutive week, made the most of his chance to play and appears to have won the No. 3 receiving job ahead of Kelley Washington. Washington was inactive for three consecutive weeks. Against the Texans, Henry had two more receptions, giving him 10 for 130. He also was the intended receiver on a 25-yard pass interference penalty against Houston that gave the Bengals the ball at the 1. They scored their only touchdown on the next play.
--RB Rudi Johnson, after three games, has 388 rushing yards on 92 carries, a 4.2-yard average.
--MLB Odell Thurman leads the team with 35 tackles and has impressed coaches with his fast learning curve. He had his first NFL sack against the Texans.
--LB-DE David Pollack collected his first NFL sack Sunday against Houston. He is getting significant time on third down as a pass rushing end. Seven different players, including Pollack, had sacks against Houston to account for the seven total.
--QB Carson Palmer, the only NFL starting quarterback to compile a 100.0-plus passer rating in each of his 2005 starts, has not thrown an interception in 82 pass attempts, a span of more than 10 quarters.
GAME PLAN: Run and run and run some more. The Bengals No. 3-ranked defense (384.8 yards a game) faces Jacksonville's third-ranked defense (266). The Bengals might have an edge in the run game, where they are averaging 124 yards a game, good for 10th in the league. The Jaguars are tied for 29th in run defense, at 130 yards a game.
The Bengals have a major edge in possession time at 34:39-25:21. Playing keep away from Jacksonville would help the Bengals' chances of winning.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
A problem for the Bengals could be at center, where starter Rich Braham is questionable with a left knee injury and did not practice. The Bengals might be forced to start rookie Eric Ghiaciuc, their fourth-round pick who has not played a down. He would go against the Jaguars Pro Bowl tackles, Marcus Stroud and John Henderson.
Bengals CB Deltha O'Neal vs. Jaguars WR Jimmy Smith. O'Neal leads the NFL with four interceptions. Smith is having a big year with 17 catches, four for touchdowns. He has a whopping 19.4-yard average.
INJURY IMPACT: Besides center Rich Braham, the Bengals have two other starters questionable for Sunday night.
--WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (hand) is questionable. He did not practice but is expected to play. He is an important part of the offense, especially if defenses choose to double-team No. 1 receiver Chad Johnson.
--S Madieu Williams (shoulder) is questionable. He did not practice. He is the starting free safety. He missed last week's game. Kevin Kaesviharn moved from starting strong safety to free safety, and Ifeanyi Ohalete started at strong.
--The players listed as probable for Sunday night at Jacksonville are right tackle Willie Anderson (back) and tailback Rudi Johnson (knee). Anderson was the only one of the five to practice Wednesday afternoon.
The Browns know that if they are ever going to play good defensive football they are going to have to put more pressure on the quarterbacks they meet the last 13 weeks than they did on the passers they faced before their Oct. 2 bye.
Over the first three weeks the Browns faced Carson Palmer, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning - three quarterbacks with a quick release. They sacked Palmer twice and Favre once. They did not get to Manning.
Sunday in Cleveland Browns Stadium the Browns face Bears rookie quarterback Kyle Orton, who cannot match the credentials of the other three.
Firming up the pass rush was one of coach Romeo Crennel's missions while the team practiced during their bye week. No lineup changes were made. The playbook was not rewritten. Crennel just wants his defense to be more fundamentally sound.
"We have to rush the passer harder and better," Crennel said. "We can't run up the field past the quarterback. We have to get in his face.
"Anybody who rushes the quarterback, I'd rather see him be more efficient, whether it's a defensive back rushing on a blitz, a defensive lineman, whether it's an outside linebacker or an inside linebacker, because we've rushed them all. I'd like to see it come from any of them."
The Browns are licking their chops because Orton has thrown one touchdown pass and six interceptions while being sacked five times.
Defensive end Orpheus Roye, safety Chris Crocker and linebacker Chaun Thompson each have one sack. Kenard Lang, the end turned linebacker, had seven sacks last season has been shut out so far.
"Sacks come in bunches," Lang said. "Sometimes you hit a dry spell and then they all come at once. I remember one year I had one sack in the first eight games and then I got seven in the last eight.
"I don't think we have to do anything differently technique-wise. We just have to keep pressure on the quarterback and the sacks will come."
Roye said the players are still getting used to playing the 3-4 defense. Nor does it help that linebacker Matt Stewart has missed most of the season with a sprained right knee. Stewart had only 1.5 sacks with the Falcons last season but his return will make the entire defense better, general manager Phil Savage said.
Stewart's return could coincide with the game against the Bears. Thompson started the last two games while Stewart mended. Thompson can get to Orton but he is not as good as Stewart against the run.
After facing Orton and the Bears the Browns face three more teams with vulnerable quarterbacks. On Oct. 16 they play the Ravens, whose quarterbacks have been sacked nine times, then Lions' quarterback Joey Harrington, who has been sacked seven times and has a 57.3 passer rating and on Oct. 30 they play in Houston. Texans quarterback David Carr has been sacked 20 times in three games.
SERIES HISTORY: 13th meeting. The Browns lead, 8-4. Their last visit to Chicago is a game the Browns would like to erase from their history. They led 21-7 with less than a minute to play but lost 27-21 in overtime.
--The Browns and Bears became part of NFL history on Sept. 7, 1986 in Chicago. Browns safety Al Gross intercepted a pass near the back of the end zone in the first quarter. It was the first play ever reviewed by officials; the replay official wanted to make sure Gross was in bounds. The play stood as called but the Browns lost 41-31.
--The Browns are 1-3 after byes. Their byes their first two seasons were on the last Sunday of the regular season.
--Coach Romeo Crennel maintains Braylon Edward's two-week holdout at the beginning of training camp has put the rookie behind and is the reason he is not starting. Edwards is not disputing Crennel's decision to not start him, but he says he is caught up.
"It looks that way to me," Edwards said. "I could be mistaken, but I feel I'm on the right page."
--K Phil Dawson has made 11 straight field goals dating to last season. That is not even close to his personal best streak of 27 straight made between Oct. 19, 2003 against San Diego and Nov. 21, 2004 vs. the Jets.
--Trent Dilfer is 5-5 as a starter against the Bears but he has not started against them since he was with Tampa Bay in 1999.
--The Browns and Bears played a preseason game Sept. 1. In that game, Charlie Frye completed 12 of 14 passes for 186 yards to lock up the backup QB job. Crennel made him a surprise starter in that game.
--Lee Suggs could get his first carry of the season against the Bears. He missed the first two games with a sprained ankle and caught two passes against the Colts Sept. 25, the Browns last game before their bye.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 - The Browns have scored four touchdowns, but just one during six trips inside the red zone. The other five ended in field goals.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Veterans have been through the war. They've seen it. They know what it takes. A rookie is still learning. He's got to discover. In discovering and finding out, sometimes they take missteps, but that's how they learn." -- Coach Romeo Crennel on his decision to play veterans in a rebuilding year.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Matt Stewart is getting closer to being able to play again, but if he plays against the Bears it might be as part of a three-man rotation with Chaun Thompson and Kenard Lang rather than as a starter.
The 26-year-old linebacker returned to full practice Wednesday. He is running straight ahead with no problem and is getting back his lateral movement from a sprained knee suffered in the first quarter of the first game.
"Each day over the last couple weeks it has gotten better," Stewart said. "I feel like I'm at the point where I'm ready to give it a shot."
Stewart said running by himself is different than hitting people, so he is being cautious in his return.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--DT Orpheus Roye was given Monday off so he could rest his chronically sore knee, but Roye returned to full practice Wednesday.
--KR Josh Cribbs expects to play against the Bears. He has been out with a sprained knee suffered in the first game. He practiced without restriction Wednesday. He'll probably wear a brace.
--TE Aaron Shea is no longer on the injury report. He missed the first three games with a pectoral strain. Steve Heiden remains the starter.
--RB Lee Suggs will continue to wear a brace on his left ankle, but he says it does not restrict the way he plays.
--LB Orlando Ruff has only three tackles, but he could see more playing time against Bears RB Thomas Jones.
GAME PLAN: Yes, Kyle Orton is a rookie with one touchdown pass and six interceptions, but Coach Romeo Crennel wants to make sure his defense does not take Orton lightly. To that end, he has shown tape of a play from the Browns-Bears preseason game in which Orton hooked up with Muhsin Muhammad for 47 yards.
The Browns could disguise their coverages to trick Orton, but if they do it will be only occasionally. Crennel is not certain his team is ready to get exotic.
"I would rather line up where you are supposed to be," Crennel said. "I don't know if we're good enough to disguise. I tell (the team) to disguise if they can, but be where you are supposed to be to take care of your job first."
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Browns CB Daylon McCutcheon, who is listed at 5-10, vs. Bears WR Muhsin Muhammad, who is listed at 6-2: McCutcheon always players bigger than his program size. He is looking to shut down Muhammad, because McCutcheon was the corner burned on the 47-yard pass play in the preseason. The Browns are not a blitzing team. They do play a lot of zone defense.
Browns C Jeff Faine vs. Bears MLB Brian Urlacher: Faine must first fight through nose tackle Ian Scott to get to Urlacher. The Browns want to run and will have a much better chance at success if they can control Urlacher, who is third on the Bears \with 27 tackles and first with three sacks.
INJURY IMPACT: The Browns are healthier a month into the season than they ever have been since returning to the league in 1999. Coach Romeo Crennel said his most difficult decision will be choosing which players to make inactive.
Hines Ward and Ben Roethlisberger are starting to click where it counts, on the scoreboard. The Steelers haven't thrown the ball much, just 60 times in three games. Ward has caught four touchdown passes, two in each of the past two games, among his 12 receptions after a slow start in the opener.
They hope to continue that kind of rapport in San Diego Monday night.
"There are more opportunities and I'm more comfortable with Ben," Ward reasoned.
It did not take Ward long after he ended his two week holdout to start training camp for him to get together with Roethlisberger for extra work after practice. Now it's become a routine, the two taking extra time together.
After a slow start in which he caught two passes for 25 yards even though the Steelers rang up 34 points in their opener, Ward has caught 10 passes, four of them for touchdowns in the past two games.
He says there are two reasons he's scoring more: Jerome Bettis hasn't played and Plaxico Burress has disappeared. Bettis was used in the first half of last season as a goalline back and he responded with 13 touchdown runs. Burress became a more frequent target of Roethlisberger's last season in the red zone.
Ward's four touchdowns match his total from last season. He scored a career high of 12 when he caught a Steelers-record 112 passes in 2002, and followed with 10 TD catches in 2003. Last season, the Steelers turned to a ground game and ran the ball 61 percent of the time and Ward's opportunities to score dropped.
"Look at it, Jerome had 13," Ward said. "When we got down in the red zone, we ran the ball. I went from 12 touchdowns to 10 before, it's not like it's a shock or anything. You add how dominant we were last year in the red zone and Jerome being our short-yardage, red-zone guy, we scored from the red zone a lot of times."
Then there was the Burress factor.
"Not having Plaxico opposite me, my role has kind of changed in the red zone," Ward said, "where last year everyone wants to just throw it up to Plax and I was kind of like the odd man out.
"I was still in my progressions, but that's what all the fans and the media said: 'You'd be stupid not to use (Burress) to your advantage, he's 6-6, throw it up and let the guy make a play. Well, we don't have that on our team. To me, you don't have to be 6-6 or whatever, if you have good body adjustments, just the want to go get the ball, you can do it."
Ward likely won't maintain his pace; if he did, he'd catch 21 touchdown passes. Ward's dozen shares the Steelers record. But people long ago stopped doubting what Ward can accomplish. He's surpassed the old Steelers record of 85 catches in a season, three of the past four years. He needs 21 to break John Stallworth's team record of 537 career receptions. His 45 career touchdowns are third in club history to two Hall of Famers, Stallworth's 63 and Lynn Swann's 51. And he's only 29 years old.
Ward is listed as questionable for Monday night's game in San Diego with a hamstring injury. Don't bet against him this time, either. He has not missed a game since he was the Steelers' third-round draft choice in 1998. He's played in 115 straight and he's started the past 82, since the second game of the 2000 season.
SERIES HISTORY: 26th meeting. Steelers lead the series, 18-7, two of those losses in the playoffs. The Steelers beat the Chargers 40-24 on Dec. 21, 2003 in Pittsburgh. They are 6-2 against San Diego under coach Bill Cowher, one of the losses in the 1994 AFC championship game.
--The Steelers have won three of their last four games following their bye week.
--Bill Cowher's teams are 16-6 on Monday night.
--Cowher wasn't happy with the way his offensive line played against New England in their last game.
"I'd like to think it's correctable. E did not play at, what I think, our ability and the standard that we have set around here."
--ILB James Farrior was not happy with his defense in that 23-20 loss to the Patriots.
"Yeah, we missed some tackles. That's usually one of our strong points."
--San Diego's Marty Schottenheimer is the only coach Bill Cowher worked for as an NFL assistant in Cleveland and Kansas City. Cowher is 4-2 against Schottenheimer.
"I have a lot of respect for him," Cowher said. "He gave me a chance to come into this league as a coach, and I will forever be indebted to him for that."
--Cowher dropped out of a tie with Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs for number of regular-season victories. Gibbs now has one more at 133 after his Redskins won over the Steelers' bye week.
BY THE NUMBERS: 78 - The number of combined seasons that Steelers coaches played in the NFL, more than any staff in the league.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "LaDainian Tomlinson, I think, is the best back in the game today." - Bill Cowher.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
James Harrison makes his first start, at left outside linebacker, for injured Clark Haggans, who will miss at least the next four games after groin surgery.
--LB Joey Porter did not even know he was listed on the injury report this week. He's questionable with a knee even though he was not hurt in the game against New England and did not miss any practice time since then.
--FB Dan Kreider has not started a game and has no carries and no receptions. The Steelers have opened all three games with two tight ends.
--RB Verron Haynes is the team's third-down back. He only has two receptions. He does have 20 carries. He hit his three-year career high last season with 55.
--WR Antwaan Randle El has touched the ball as many times on returns (6) and carries (1) combined as he has receptions as their starting split end, seven.
--DE Brett Keisel has practiced some at outside linebacker, for emergency purposes.
GAME PLAN: Coach Bill Cowher believes it's vital to run the ball, control the clock and keep it out of the hands of the explosive Chargers offense. They will try to run with Willie Parker and try to run with Duce Staley if that doesn't work. Also, look for them to throw deep as the Chargers load up to stop the run. Their aim on defense is to stop LaDainian Tomlinson and get to Drew Brees. Cowher said everything starts and stops with Tomlinson. If they can stop him, they don't think Drew Brees can beat them with his passing alone.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson vs. LB James Farrior - Farrior not only will be charged as the point man to stop Tomlinson on runs up the middle but also to cover him on pass routes.
Chargers TE Antonio Gates vs. SS Troy Polamalu - Polamalu must prevent Gates from the kind of day he had in New England with eight catches. It may restrict the Steelers from using Polamalu on the pass rush.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. Chargers pass defense - San Diego allows 248.5 passing yards a game and while the Steelers want to run, they'll need to do better on third downs than they did against New England, when they converted only 3 of 13.
INJURY IMPACT: James Harrison replaces injured Clark Haggans (groin surgery) at left OLB and he's proven capable. The problem arises if they have to dig any deeper into their depth chart at outside linebacker. Right OLB Joey Porter is questionable with a knee problem, the one he had surgery on in August, but is expected to play. Next up would be undrafted rookie Andre Frazier. They have also practiced rookie ILB Rian Wallace on the outside since last week, and can use DE Brett Keisel there in an emergency. Also questionable are WR Hines Ward (hamstring), but he won't miss the game, and CB Ike Taylor (knee). If Taylor cannot go, Willie Williams likely will play on the left side.