AFC South: Oneil Cousins

Key matchups from Browns, Ravens angle

September, 16, 2011
9/16/11
5:11
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New AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley did not have enough on his plate Thursday, his first day with ESPN.com. So I maneuvered to steal some of his time to talk about two key matchups in games pitting our teams against his on Sunday. It produced this post.

Call it rookie hazing.

PK: For starters, I’m curious about the Browns' plan to slow down Robert Mathis, I know they’ve got some issues at right tackle.

JH: They haven’t even settled on one guy, they’re going to go with a rotation with Artis Hicks and Oniel Cousins. For the chemistry and to get into a rhythm with the offensive line, that’s just not an ideal situation. So I think the best way for them to negate Mathis is through strategy. Colt McCoy is going to take a lot of three-step drops, get rid of the ball very quickly. Because if he holds the ball like he did last week against Cincinnati, he’s going to get hit.

They feel very confident in Joe Thomas on the left side with Dwight Freeney, but the big question is how they stop Mathis. I think they just can’t let Mathis get a shot on McCoy, I think they have to be smart. Because right now that’s the biggest matchup problem they have.

PK: And if the Browns can get ahead, like Houston did last weekend, the biggest way to make both those defensive ends non-factors is to run the ball. So I’m sure Cleveland is hoping for a big day from Peyton Hillis.

How about with the Ravens, I know they’ve got some questions on the secondary and their defense is keyed around their front. Kenny Britt has shown himself to be, perhaps, the Titans’ most dangerous guy. If he gets loose in that secondary and they can protect Matt Hasselbeck, what happens back there?

JH: That’s going to be a big question. The Ravens thought they had a deep secondary coming into the season. Then they lost first-round pick Jimmy Smith to a high ankle sprain, he’s going to be gone for a month. Then you have Chris Carr who hasn’t practiced this week because he aggravated a hamstring injury.

So you have Cary Williams, a former Titan, starting for the Ravens, and Lardarius Webb, who was very inconsistent last year but who’s coming off a good, strong game. I think they’re going to have to do this by committee because Kenny Britt is a talented receiver. I think they’re going to have to use a lot of Ed Reed shading his way.

I don’t think they can honestly go into this game thinking they can put one guy on him and really take Kenny Britt out of this game. Whatever side Kenny Britt goes to, I think that’s where Ed Reed follows.

PK: Britt and Hasselbeck still have some timing issues. That can be just the sort of thing Ed Reed finds an opportunity to pounce on.

Final Word: AFC South

September, 16, 2011
9/16/11
1:30
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackThe Jaguars limited Titans running back Chris Johnson to 24 yards rushing in Week 1.
A focus on Chris Johnson: The Titans are semi-desperate to get their star running back going. But Mike Munchak emphasized this week that they can’t force it. It’s hard to be patient waiting for the big play, but they can’t call 10 rush plays in a row for him. The Titans need to show some creativity on offense and maybe turn themselves inside-out with some passes to set up the run. Matt Hasselbeck said they need to be in third-and-manageable to get off to a better start and to get the sort of possession they need to find an offensive flow. One good omen for Johnson: ESPN Stats & Info says he’s been very effective against 3-4 defenses, averaging about 6 yards per carry running outside against them.

Can the Colts rush? The Browns can neutralize Indianapolis’ pass rush by jumping ahead and riding Peyton Hillis. But when Colt McCoy is looking to throw, the matchups on Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will be compelling. Freeney is a speed guy, and if Joe Thomas has any weakness, it might come against a guy like that. (See Pete Prisco on the matchup here.) Tony Pashos is out, so Mathis will go against some sort of rotation of backups Oniel Cousins and Artis Hicks. Mathis came out of the opener with a neck issue, but he should have a big advantage here.

Big plays in Jaguars-Jets: The Jaguars are not necessarily a big-play team in the passing game, and if they aren’t going to find big plays, they have to be sure not to give them up, either. Stats & Info says Plaxico Burress was the only Jets receiver to be targeted more than twice on throws of 15 yards or more in Week 1. Last season, the Jaguars allowed the most completions and yards per attempt on throws of at least 15 yards. The offensive line will have to sort through constant blitzes to allow Luke McCown to find people, and we could see Cecil Shorts get some big opportunities along with Mike Thomas.

Reggie Bush and the run: The Texans are 5-0 against the Dolphins, but the average margin of victory has been just three points. Houston might be more ready to face Miami than usual after spending a lot of camp time working against its own 3-4 defense. Reggie Bush was on the field more than any other starting running back in the league, and Miami will try to spread the Texans out and create space for Bush to make plays. A big, early lead was the Texans’ best run defense in the win against the Colts. But they were run on in the preseason, and we’ll see Sunday whether things have tightened up or whether there is still a run defense concern.

Replenished D-line: The Titans’ revamped defense was a disappointment in the Week 1 loss at Jacksonville. Why might it be better this week? Because two guys who didn’t play against the Jaguars -- Jason Jones and Derrick Morgan -- will be in the mix. They should be the team’s top defensive ends. Baltimore’s tackles, the resurrected Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher, started strong against the Steelers. Can the Titans' young rushers find some cracks?

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