BY GEOFF HOBSON
Receiver Yancey Thigpen is a no. Defensive end Jevon Kearse is a go. Old friend Carl Pickens is maybe go-maybe no for Sunday's 1 p.m. game at Paul Brown Stadium.
Such was the state of the Titans' injury situation Friday after Kearse (strained quad muscle) practiced, Pickens (strained hamstring) didn't work and Thigpen (hamstring) was made inactive for the game.
The Bengals won't know if Pickens will line up at receiver until game time. But they expect he wouldn't miss this one for all of the $8 million they gave him last year.
The Bengals know better than any one that he doesn't miss many games. He played in 120 of a possible 128 games during his eight seasons here.
Pickens may have to play simply because the Titans are so thin at wideout. The 5-10 Derrick Mason (11 catches, one TD) would start in place of Pickens. Chris Sanders (seven catches, no TDs) goes in place of Thigpen. Behind them are two rookie free agents who don't have a catch in Bashir Yamini and Chris Coleman.
MATCHUPS: Bengals RT Willie Anderson (sore knee) and Titans LE Jevon Kearse (strained quad) are both dinged up as Kearse tries to break a freak of nature with no sacks in back-to-back games . Bengals DTs Oliver Gibson and Tom Barndt vs. Titans QB Steve McNair as Cincinnati attempts to close down run alleys up the middle. Bengals WR Ron Dugans vs. Titans CB Denard Walker and Bengals WR Peter Warrick vs. Titans nickel back Dainon Sidney when Tennessee's numerous blitzes allow man-to-man coverage. Bengals OLB Steve Foley vs. Titans TE Frank Wycheck, but various Bengals will have their shots at trying to contain the Titans' leading receiver. Bengals QB Akili Smith vs. Titans SS Blaine Bishop: as Smith (in his ninth NFL start) has to read the moves of Tennessee's defensive captain (in Bishop's 93rd start), knowing that Bengals QB Jeff Blake rushed for 90 yards in Nashville last season.
ANDERSON VS. KEARSE: The Titans are trying to move around "The Freak," but 85 to 90 percent of time he's over the right tackle. Two of his rookie-record 14.5 sacks came against the Bengals last season, but none off Anderson.
The Bengals may try to help LT Rod Jones with a back or tight end if Kearse comes his way. But the sacks aren't the only way Kearse kills you. He forced three fumbles against Cincy last year.
GIBSON, BARDNT VS. MCNAIR: Miami quarterback Jay Fiedler, not exactly Marion Jones – or even Dub Jones _ killed the Bengals on three scrambles for 44 yards by stepping up through the middle of the pocket.
The Bengals' interior people have to focus on tightening down the alleys because McNair is simply the best running quarterback in the game. Just check Dick Vermeil's pulse. He's already got 86 yards on 15 carries this season and the Titans are undefeated in games he throws and runs for a touchdown.
DUGANS-WARRICK VS. WALKER-SIDNEY The Bengals split end has always had a shot at production vs. Jeff Fisher's defense. The only problem is that guy was Carl Pickens, who now plays for the Titans. From 1994-96, Pickens had 34 catches for six touchdowns in five games against the Oilers. In last year's opener, Willie Jackson started in place of Pickens and had five catches for 60 yards and a touchdown.
Tennessee could tie up the speed guy in double coverage, so Warrick should get a lot of attention while Walker deals with Dugans. If Dugans can't make hay 1-on-1, look for Craig Yeast, and if he can't, here comes Danny Farmer. When Yeast goes into the slot in three-receiver set, it will be interesting to see how Sidney deals with Warrick. **
FOLEY VS. WYCHECK:It won't just be Foley covering Wycheck because the Titans do a lot of double tight-end formations. It could be rookie MLB Armegis Spearman or SS Cory Hall at any point. Wycheck's head coach at Maryland is now the Bengals linebackers coach: "A very good athlete, very instinctive. He knows how to flow into the creases and find space. Because they do a lot of things, we always have to be aware of where he is," said Mark Duffner.
SMITH VS. BISHOP:** Bishop is the key to what the Titans' aggressive defense does. He's usually blitzing, so Smith has to be able to direct runs away from him and passes into the holes he vacates.
The Titans like "to bracket," outside receivers, meaning they use man-to-man principles to bump them with linebackers and defensive into zones. But that makes them vulnerable to quarterback scrambles, which had Titans coach Jeff Fisher so frustrated in last season's opener that he asked Blake to stop running the ball after one dash ended on the Titans' sideline.
NUMBERS GAME: All the numbers you need for this weekend, like 61-852-6 and 31-363-2. The first set of numbers are the numbers of catches, yards and touchdowns Pickens logged against Houston/Tennessee as a Bengal. The second set of numbers are the catches, yards and touchdowns Cincinnati's four active receivers for Sunday have in the NFL.
61-852-6 – Pickens' catches, yards and touchdowns in 13 games against Houston/Tennessee.
31-353-2 _ NFL catches, yards and touchdowns logged by Bengals receivers Peter Warrick, Ron Dugans, Craig Yeast and Danny Farmer.
23 _ Bengals' points in first four games, lowest opening stretch ever in eclipsing the 37 the 1993 team scored on the way to a 3-13 record.
5.03 _ Average passing gain for Bengals quarterback Akili Smith, lowest in the AFC.
5.28 _ Average passing gain for Saints quarterback Jeff Blake, lowest in the NFC.
18.3 _ Warrick's average gain on third down, fourth best in AFC.
17-2 _ Titans record vs. AFC Central since 1998.
5-16 _ Bengals record vs. AFC Central since 1998.
32:57 _ Titans' average time of possession.
27:21 _ Bengals average time of possession.
FISHER TO PRACTICE: ** The irony wasn't lost on Bengals cornerback Charles Fisher. Next Wednesday, he'll practice for the first time since he ripped up two knee ligaments and partially tore a third in last season's opener against the Titans.
It was Fisher's NFL debut, cut short in the last minute of the first quarter, and anytime he hears about Tennessee and the Titans, his mind flashes back.
Fisher's college roommate at West Virginia, Titans defensive tackle John Thornton, has kept the Titans abreast of Fisher's progress after reconstructive knee surgery.
Just the other day, Titans receiver Kevin Dyson asked for Fisher. A few weeks ago, Dyson suffered a similar devastating knee injury. And, yes, it was Dyson whom Fisher was covering last year when his foot stuck in the end-zone grass.
"Dyson faked inside and the whole time I read the play," Fisher said. "I got a quick break on it, before the ball got there, and I thought I might have a chance to intercept it. But my leg just didn't move."
Fisher thinks Dyson's knee injury is even more serious than his because Dyson tore all three ligaments. Plus, Fisher said it was a contact injury, and no one touched Fisher when his knee buckled.
Fisher is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, which means the Bengals have up to three weeks to decide if they will activate him or cut him. Given the problems at cornerback, the Bengals figure to give him a long look.
"I think my speed is still going to be legit. I just hope my legs don't die, " said Fisher, who had been known for his 4.3-second 40-yard dashes.
" But I don't know how long it's going to take me to get back. It's a mystery what I can do out there. These other guys have been through a training camp.
"I'm hoping I can give the secondary a boost," Fisher said. "At least motivate guys who have an injury like mine that you can come back."
BOOKER READY? The Bengals expect to clear defensive end Vaughn Booker for practice next week after tests seemingly went well at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Booker hasn't practiced since passing out on his way back to the huddle Sept. 17 in Jacksonville.
FRIDAY'S INACTIVES: For the Bengals, MLB Brian Simmons, C Rich Braham, DE Vaughn Booker, WR Damon Griffin. For the Titans, WR Yancey Thigpen, DE Byron Frisch, RB Mike Green, DT Robaire Smith.
WEATHER CALL: How about this? The weather gurus at WKRC-Channel 12 are calling for mostly cloudy skies for Sunday's 1 p.m. kickoff with possible scattered SNOW showers and temperatures in the mid-30s to 40 degrees.