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Short turnaround tough for injured Browns

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BEREA, Ohio — This is not an ideal time for the battered, reeling Cleveland Browns to have to play a game on a short week, but with a game set for Paul Brown Stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday they have no choice.

Quarterback Josh McCown is fighting through a rib injury and cornerback Joe Haden, wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, wide receiver Brian Hartline and safety Donte Whitner are all in the concussion protocol. Hawkins was injured in St. Louis on Oct. 25. Whitner, Hartline and Haden were knocked out of the 34-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Head coach Mike Pettine has all but written off Haden and Whitner. Haden especially is a tough loss for Pettine because he has had success against Bengals receiver A.J. Green. Last year when the Browns beat the Bengals 24-3 in Cincinnati, he held Green to three catches for 23 yards.

“It’s a huge challenge,” Pettine said. “I have a feeling a lot of people outside of this building aren’t going to give us much of a chance. To me, that’s the beauty of sports. We get to go down there and play. Just like last year, similar circumstances and we went down there and played one of our best games.

“We know that when our minds are right and we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing and playing at a high level emotionally and physically that we can play with anybody. We have to go down there with that mentality.”

The concussion suffered by Haden on Sunday is especially concerning because it was his second in a span of three weeks. He was concussed Oct. 11 in a game with the Ravens, sat out the next two weeks and was concussed again in his first game back. Pettine could not recall another time in his coaching career when a player suffered two concussions so close together.

“Anytime the concussions come up, it’s always concerning to a coaching staff, always,” Pettine said. “You do everything you can to help prevent them, and I think the league has done an outstanding job in recent years with recognizing the importance. That’s why they developed a protocol and that’s why I think it’s very cautious with getting guys back.”

Free safety Tashaun Gipson can’t believe his partner at the back end, Whitner, was injured like that.

“Usually he’s the one giving the concussions,” Gipson said. “It’s a huge blow. You’ve got two guys who are tops at their position, but the saying in this league is ‘Next man up.’ We can’t harp about it. We’ve got a super short week and the guys who are replacing them have big shoes to fill.”

Rookie Ibraheim Campbell will likely start at strong safety.

“IC has done some good things for us,” Pettine said. “He does a great job in practice, whether he’s playing scout safety or special teams. I think his physicality is one thing that sticks out when he’s out there. I thought he made some real nice tackles in space. He’s not afraid to stick it in there.”

GAME PLAN

–The Browns want to establish a running game to make the Bengals think twice about blitzing Josh McCown (or Johnny Manziel) and ignoring the run. For the plan to work they might have to be more patient than they have been when they fall behind early in the third quarter.

Head coach Mike Pettine wants rookie running back Duke Johnson to get more involved in the game plan. Johnson touched the ball only three times in a 34-20 loss to Arizona on Sunday.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Browns CB Pierre Desir vs. Bengals WR A.J. Green.

Green has to be excited to go against someone other than Joe Haden. Haden held him to three catches for 23 yards and five for 49 yards in the two matchups last year, but Haden likely won’t play Thursday because of a concussion. The Browns will plug in Johnson Bademosi if Desir struggles.

–Browns PR Travis Benjamin vs. Bengals P Kevin Huber.

The Browns’ chances of scoring increase when Benjamin breaks a long return. He is averaging 13 yards a return at the midpoint of the season. It won’t be an easy task Thursday; the longest return allowed by the Bengals this season has been 21 yards.


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