By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor
The first name from the Titans that stands out is not Chris Johnson, who once arguably established himself as the best running back in the NFL and one of the all-time popular fantasy league choices.
No, this player has only been a part of the Titans for three regular-season games.
He is Matt Hasselbeck. And the name stands out because of his long and highly accomplished NFL career. It also stands out because when he was having some of his best days, with the Seattle Seahawks, his coach was none other than Browns president Mike Holmgren.
In the past couple of weeks, Hasselbeck has performed to the level of the passer that helped Holmgren’s Seahawks reach the Super Bowl.
It is fair to say that he likely will give the Browns’ defense the greatest challenge they have faced at the position so far this season.
“He is a very capable player,” said Holmgren, who as coach of the Packers made Hasselbeck a sixth-round draft pick from Boston College in 1998. “Having said that, I hope he doesn’t have a great game on Sunday. But I saw him develop as a player. We were kind of joined at the hip and we had our moments together because he’s a little head-strong and I’m a little head-strong, and it developed into quite a trusting, good relationship between coach and quarterback.”
In the Titans’ victory against the Broncos Sunday, Hasselbeck threw for three 311 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner to Daniel Graham. A week earlier, in Tennessee’s surprising triumph against the Baltimore Ravens, Hasselbeck threw for 358 yards and a touchdown. He also had a pair of scoring throws in the Titans’ season-opening loss at Jacksonville.
Not bad for a 36-year-old player in his 13th NFL season.
“Crazy things happen,” Holmgren said. “A quarterback gets up in age and a team doesn’t think he has anything left in the tank, and now he’s proving them wrong, clearly. He’s a really good player.”
But Hasselbeck is going to be without his best receiver Sunday, thanks to the knee injury that Kenny Britt suffered against the Broncos.
It will be up to the Browns’ defense to continue to get excellent pressure from its front four and try and force mistakes that Hasselbeck doesn’t routinely make.
As for Johnson, he remains mostly a non-factor in Tennessee’s offense with only 98 yards and a 2.1-yards-per-carry average through three games. His 31 yards on 13 carries and 1.6-yards-per-carry average against Denver were his worst numbers of the season.
Cleveland’s defense, which hasn’t exactly slammed the door on opponents’ ground attacks, must make the most of its youth and ability to swarm to the football to prevent Johnson from having his long-overdue breakout game.
Meanwhile, Tennessee’s defense has been fairly stout. The Titans sacked Kyle Orton twice, and they made a huge stop early in the fourth quarter when they stuffed Willis McGahee on a fourth-and-goal.
Like the Browns, the Titans have a first-year head coach in Hall-of-Famer Mike Munchak. Like the Browns, they are looking to find their identity.
Pat Shurmur’s two career victories so far have come on the road and at home.
Although Munchak is still seeking that first road win, he is no doubt feeling a sense of comfort from the fact that the Titans will have an experienced quarterback on their side Sunday in Hasselbeck.
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