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Cleveland Browns vs. Detroit Lions: Week Six Preview
The 3-2 Cleveland Browns look to extend their winning streak to four games, something they haven’t done since the last four games of the 2009 NFL season. Standing in their way are the 3-2 Detroit Lions. The Lions are definitely banged up on the offensive side of the ball, specifically at the wide receiver position, but they will still present a challenge to Brandon Weeden and the Browns offense as their defensive front four are capable of disrupting any offensive game plan. Here’s a look at this week’s keys to the game for the Browns as they host the Lions this Sunday at First Energy Stadium.
Shut Down the Pass
The Detroit Lions are currently 6th in the NFL in passing yards per game, averaging 291.6 yards through the air. A key element to the Lions aerial assault is wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Johnson missed last week’s game against the Green Bay Packers and the offense suffered mightily, only scoring nine points and lacked any big play ability. Johnson (knee) has been a limited participant at practice and is said to be a game time decision. To make it worse for Detroit, Nate Burleson (forearm) is also ruled out for this Sunday’s game. If Johnson cannot go Matt Stafford will be without his top two receivers.
Regardless of whether Johnson plays or not, the Browns must shut down the pass. If he plays, Johnson must be double teamed all afternoon forcing somebody else to step up for Detroit. If Johnson misses this week’s game the focus must then turn to attacking Stafford, which is no easy task. The Lions offensive line has only surrendered 45 QB pressures coming into week six, so getting to Stafford will be difficult. If the Browns front seven can create ample pressure they can derail the Lions quarterback. Stafford’s completion percentage (currently at 63.8 percent this year) drops to 49 percent when under pressure. Furthermore, two of his three interceptions have come while opposing defenses blitz the Lions. The Browns front seven can pressure Stafford into making mistakes, but they will have to be persistent.
The Browns pass defense will also have to lock up the middle of the field as the Lions will use tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler as well as running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell in the passing game, especially if Johnson cannot play. So far this year the Browns have struggled to secure the middle of the field, the worst offender being Craig Robertson. Robertson has seen 24 passes come into his coverage and has allowed 21 receptions for 181 yards.
Inside the red zone the Browns must also watch out for 6’7” tight end Joseph Fauria. Fauria, a rookie out of UCLA, only has four catches on the year (five targets) but two of them are for touchdowns. His height creates an obvious mismatch.
Stop the Front Four
It’s no secret Ndamukong Suh is an offensive lineman’s worst nightmare.
He’s big, quick, physical and downright nasty. What’s even worse is that he has friends with him. Suh might be the most well known part of the Lions defensive line but he surly isn’t the only one capable of creating pressure. Nick Fairley and rookie Ziggy Ansah both have a knack for getting after opposing quarterbacks. Combined, Suh Fairley and Ansah are accountable for eight sacks, nine QB hits and 36 QB hurries. As a unit, the Lions front seven have racked up 11 sacks, 19 QB hits and 77 QB hurries. The offensive line, specifically the interior (guards John Greco, Shawn Lauvao and center Alex Mack) must be on their game as Suh and company will be bringing the heat all afternoon. If these three fail it will make absolutely no difference how long Weeden holds the ball or not as Suh and Fairley can collapse a pocket faster than a quarterback can set his feet in a three step drop. Simply put, the Browns offensive line must be better in week six.
Start the Second Half
Here are the results of the Browns first drive of the second half in each of their first five games – punt, punt, interception, punt, punt. Collectively the Browns first offensive drive in the third quarter has yielded 24 plays, 75 yards and no points. Take away a six play 68 yard drive against Minnesota (which resulted in an interception) the Browns have only amassed seven yards on 18 plays on their first offensive drive in the third quarter. What’s worse is that the Browns have gone into halftime with the lead in each of their five games this year. They cannot continue to come out of the locker room stagnant to start the second half.
While the Lions rush defense isn’t spectacular their pass defense is equally as shaky. Currently they allow 268.2 yards through the air, so big plays can be had against them. While the Lions secondary hasn’t given up a great deal of touchdowns they do surrender a lot of yards. DB Chris Houston has allowed 21 receptions and 312 receiving yards to receivers in his coverage, including two long passes of 44 yards while Dwight Bentley has surrendered 227 receiving yards on 24 receptions. While neither has given up a touchdown in their coverage clearly big plays can be had on these two players.
The x-factor to this game is Johnson. If he plays Sunday, even at 50%, his presence changes what the Browns do on defense. Joe Haden has never squared off against Johnson and this matchup would be one of, if not the biggest of Haden’s career. The offensive line, specifically the interior, must protect against Suh and the Lions pass rush while the offense must take shots down field and not get cold to start the second half.
This is a winnable game for both teams. However, the Browns have been playing fantastic team football these last few weeks and might get a few of their players back from injury while the Lions may be without their top offensive weapon. Cleveland wins by a score of 24-17, extending their winning streak to four games.
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