Redskins at Browns

Here's how long it's been since Washington last played the Browns: Joe Gibbs led the Redskins to a Super Bowl, then a playoff appearance, then retired, then came back after 11 years.

These teams last met in 1991 at RFK Stadium. And they last played in Cleveland in 1985, with Joe Theismann leading a 14-7 Redskins win. Cleveland remains a tough place to play--because of the fans, not the team. They're 10-15 at home under Butch Davis, but, despite the lack of success since they're return in 1999, Cleveland Browns Stadium is always full. And loud.

Key defensive player: Middle 'backer Antonio Pierce. The Browns will probably test Washington on the ground, especially if Lee Suggs is healthy and available. He's the kind of power back the Redskins have not yet seen with Pierce in the middle. Of course, the key for Pierce is how well the tackles play, keeping the linemen off him. So far, they've done well.

Watch out: The Redskins' safeties will be tested. Sean Taylor is still learning the game and Ryan Clark is not as steady as Andre Lott. Todd Franz isn't very good and Matt Bowen is not strong in coverage. Cleveland has receivers who can test them deep, if Jeff Garcia can get them the ball. Which is a big if.

Still not convinced: Mark Brunell had one good quarter against Dallas, finally showing life in his arm. But Brunell needs to play well for an entire game before anyone is convinced he can be a big factor this season.

Be wary of: The Browns' corners. They can be beaten, but they also can make big plays on interceptions.

Offensive game plan: Obviously the Redskins want to get Clinton Portis going and could do so this weekend. Tiki Barber had a strong game against Cleveland last week in New York. The Redskins have a better line and a better back. But the Redskins also need to test the Browns deep. Their safeties are a weakness, so look for shots to Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner downfield. And tuck this name away: Taylor Jacobs. With Coles a bit injured, maybe this is the game Jacobs finally does something.

Still adapting: Cleveland is still figuring out how to use quarterback Jeff Garcia. He's best when he scrambles, yet coordinator Terry Robiskie has insisted, at least in the first three games, that Garcia sit in the pocket. Garcia is a small quarterback and struggles to see over the linemen. Look for Cleveland to perhaps roll him out more this week, creating better passing lanes. But the Browns also seem to have a bad fit with receivers who are better downfield and a quarterback who prefers shorter routes.

Trouble spot: The Redskins will continue to have problems until they solve the situation at right tackle. Whenever Ray Brown was locked one-on-one in pass protection last week, he failed. And Kenyatta Jones isn't much of an alternative. If they keep sliding protection this way, teams will continue to overload the other side. Watch the Browns do the same.

Top matchup: DE Kenard Lang vs. LT Chris Samuels. The former teammates should have a fun matchup. But we'll take Samuels in this one. Lang has four sacks, but three came against Baltimore when he faced Jonathan Ogden's backup.

Curious to see: How the return game fares without Chad Morton. He hasn't done much since joining the Redskins. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the kick returns are steadier -- Ladell Betts improved in this role two years ago.

Grudge match: Robiskie doesn't like Dan Snyder; George Edwards is Cleveland's linebackers coach, one year after getting canned as the Redskins' defensive coordinator.

Prediction: Washington 16-10. My hometown Browns have been resilient under Butch Davis, often winning when least expected. But they're too banged up and have not played well at home under Davis. If the Redskins stop the ground game, they win. Two weeks ago, this looked like it would be a loss.


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