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Titans-Browns matchup of the day: Friday

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Posted Sept. 30, 2011 @ 10:38 a.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

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

Tennessee's running game vs. Cleveland's run defense

Forty-six carries, 98 yards, zero touchdowns.

Titans RB Chris Johnson's statistical summary through three games is as stunning as it is unsightly. He has yet to have a rush of longer than nine yards. His game-to-game rushing average ls cringe-inducing: 2.7 to 2.2 to 1.6.

How bad has it been for Johnson? His backup, Javon Ringer, has a grand total of 15 yards on 11 carries — and one club observer says he has looked better than Johnson, who, after holding out of training camp, signed a new contract in September that reportedly included $30 million in guarantees.

In Johnson's defense, the offensive line hasn't created much of a push, and FB Ahmard Hall is out for one more game after being suspended the first four games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. What's more, it's clear that the opposition has made stopping Johnson a priority, which hasn't hurt Tennessee's passing attack, which has been very sharp early.

Of course, more — a lot more — is expected from Johnson, who rushed for 4,598 yards in his first three NFL seasons. Can the Titans give him a little more room to roll, and he can he show the special acceleration that's been his calling card?

Johnson is best in space. The Browns are strong up the middle with DTs Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor and MLB D'Qwell Jackson. The Titans probably will test Cleveland on the edges. If DLE Jabaal Sheard and DRE Jayme Mitchell hold up well and Johnson keeps running into traffic outside, it could be another challenging day for the Titans' running game considering Tennessee's issues running inside thus far.

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