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Titans-Browns matchup of the day: Thursday

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Posted Sept. 29, 2011 @ 9:46 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Here's a matchup to watch in Sunday's Titans-Browns game: 

Tennessee run defense vs. Cleveland's running game

Browns RB Peyton Hillis returns to the starting lineup after missing Week Three with an illness. Hillis, who's rushed for 151 yards and a pair of TDs in 44 carries this season, figures to get the bulk of the work on Sunday, with Montario Hardesty also getting some work. Hardesty rushed for 67 yards on 14 carries vs. Miami and also caught three passes for 19 yards, including a fourth-down reception that kept alive what turned out to be Cleveland's game-winning drive.

"Montario is a great player and he did extremely well when he was out there. He's really smart and he can contribute," Hillis said Thursday. Referring to the importance of the performance, Hillis said: "You don't have to go out there and do it all on your own; you've got a guy behind you or in front of you that is just as capable of doing anything that you can do. That's big for me, it's big for our team and it gives us some depth." 

The Browns primarily run up the middle and off the guards. The Titans have defended such rushes very well this season. No team has been tested more with middle runs, but opponents haven't been able to gain much ground this way, averaging just 3.13 yards on 46 attempts. The Titans' strength up the middle was apparent on their goal-line stand vs. Denver early in the fourth quarter last Sunday. The Broncos, leading 14-10, were stopped at the Tennessee one, with RB Willis McGahee gaining no yards on fourth down.

Veteran Shaun Smith (left tackle) and rookie Jurrell Casey (right tackle) start in the middle for the Titans, with Dave Ball (left) and Jason Jones (right) the ends. Sen'Derrick Marks and Karl Klug provide good depth at tackle, with Derrick Morgan and William Hayes capable reserve ends. Akeem Ayers (outside), Barrett Ruud (middle) and Will Witherspoon (outside) are the linebackers. Ayers, a rookie from UCLA, has impressed with his physicality.

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