Monday, September 28, 2009

Browns’ offense hurting

Lewis, Dawson could be sidelined

By Mary Kay Cabot

September 26, 2009

(Plain DealerCleveland Browns running back Jamal Lewis might miss sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens with a hamstring injury.)

The Browns might have to face the Ravens Sunday without two of their best offensive weapons: running back Jamal Lewis and kicker Phil Dawson.

Lewis is doubtful to face his former team with a hamstring injury suffered last week in Denver, meaning there's only a 25 percent chance he'll play. He hasn't practiced all week, including Friday's final full workout before the game. If he can't go, he'll be replaced by the combination of Jerome Harrison and rookie James Davis.

Dawson was added to the injury report on Friday as questionable with a right calf injury, meaning there's a 50-50 chance he'll play. He was limited in practice and afterward the Browns worked out four free-agents kickers, both on kickoffs and field goals. They were Shane Andrus, Matt Bryant, Brandon Coutou and Billy Cundiff.

The Browns can sign a kicker on Saturday if Dawson isn't ready to go. They could also use punter Dave Zastudil on kickoffs, although he's been battling an injury to his right (non-kicking) knee. Zastudil is listed as probable for the game.

The loss of Dawson would be huge because he's been so good against the Ravens. In 19 career games, he's made 24 of 26 field goals against Baltimore. The highlight was his 33-yard game-winning field goal for a 33-30 overtime victory in Baltimore on Nov. 18, 2007. That kick followed a bizarre 51-yarder that sent the game into OT -- the one that smacked off the left upright, hit the gooseneck support and then bounced out in front of the goalposts and onto the field, confusing the fans and the officials.

Browns coach Eric Mangini wasn't available after the injury report came out to comment on Dawson's status.

The loss of Lewis would also be monumental, considering that the Ravens are No. 1 in the NFL against the run, yielding only 41 yards per game. Even with a healthy Lewis, the Browns were 27th in the NFL in rushing with an average of 71.5 yards per game. The Ravens haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 37 games, the NFL's longest current streak.

Harrison missed the opener with a knee injury but came back against the Broncos to gain 8 yards on three carries. He also caught four passes for 24 yards. Davis sat out last week's game against the Broncos with a shoulder injury suffered against Minnesota. In that game, he gained 5 yards on four carries and caught three passes for 4 yards.

"It's going to be a task for everybody, not just those two guys," said offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. "This is an outstanding defense and these guys have worked during the week. They know what our expectations are. This is a tough, hard hitting linebacker core, front core with (Haloti) Ngata and Trevor Pryce in there. These guys understand what the expectations are and they're going to go in and give their best effort, and whoever is in there that's what we expect."

Mangini acknowledged that Lewis' absence would be felt on the field and on the sidelines.

"Obviously his experience with playing there, with understanding the things they do is helpful," said Mangini. "It's helpful not just from his personal playing, but also to share that experience with guys like Jerome (Harrison) or James (Davis). It could be Cedric (Peerman) or Lawrence (Vickers) or any of those guys. I think that his background helps those guys as well. There is a benefit there."

Last season, Harrison scored his first career TD against Baltimore on a 19-yard screen pass from Derek Anderson.

"They have a great defense, very talented," said Harrison. "They're a veteran group and they're in the right spot. They help their offense and it's going to be a hard-nosed, physical game."

He praised linebacker Ray Lewis, who made a sensational fourth-down stop last week against the Chargers to seal the Ravens' victory.

"He's very smart, and he studies formations," said Harrison. "When you play against a guy like that, you just try to be as sound as he is. But it's always fun to line up and go against the best. That's what you live for."

The No. 1 ranking isn't rattling him or Davis.

"We had a good week of practice," he said. "If it comes to us playing, we'll be ready. We'll just have to see what we can do."

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