Lions Struggle Mightily in 27-10 Loss to Browns

After the Lions opened the preseason with an exciting comeback win, it was only natural to feel excited about Detroit's prospects for 2009.  Matthew Stafford looked good after an interception, and even Daunte Culpepper played relatively well.  Sure, it was the backups that won the game for the Lions against Atlanta, but a win is a win.

Week 2 of the preseason brought about a very different feeling.  Unlike last week's comeback win, the Lions reverted back to their 0-16 style of play by getting blown out by the Browns.  Like many games last year, the Lions got down early and ended up getting beat rather handidly.  In this case, the Lions trailed 20-0 after just 11 minutes or so of play.  The starters -- both on offense and defense -- looked awful, and this game was really over before it even got started.  The Lions' 5-game preseason winning streak came to an end, as the Browns went on to win 27-10

1st Quarter

  • Joshua Cribbs set the tone at the very start of this game by returning the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.  A holding penalty brought the return back and negated the touchdown, but the tone was still set.  The Browns quickly marched down the field with ease, as Derrick Anderson completed passes to open receivers and Jamal Lewis ran through open holes.  Lewis was the one that capped off the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run, putting the Browns on top 7-0.
  • Matthew Stafford's first ever start with the Lions did not go well at all.  The very first pass he threw was intercepted, putting Cleveland at Detroit's 20 after a penalty.  Stafford faked a handoff, rolled to the right, and threw to who he thought was an open target.  Eric Wright, however, jumped the route after reading the play perfectly to get the interception.  The Browns only got a field goal out of the turnover, so it wasn't a total disaster.
  • The hope now was that Stafford would respond to the interception like he did last week and lead the Lions down the field for a touchdown.  That didn't happen, though, as the Lions' drive went nowhere after two 4-yard runs by Kevin Smith.  Stafford dropped back to pass on 3rd and short, and with no one open downfield, he basically threw it away.  The ensuing punt was returned 84 yards by Joshua Cribbs for a touchdown, and this time there were no flags.  Cribbs basically made a few men miss and then was gone.  He essentially turned the punt coverage team around by making a move to the left and had nothing but open field in front of him.  It was yet another pathetic coverage attempt by the Lions on a punt/kick, just like we saw multiple times last year.  I know I've said this a lot already, but Stan Kwan really ought to be out of a job.
  • The Lions failed to provide an answer to the return, as it was three and out again.  This time Kevin Smith got the ball and only picked up 1 yard on two carries, forcing the Lions into a 3rd and long situation.  Stafford completed a pass to John Standeford, but it was only for a gain of 4 yards.  Even if the Lions had moved the chains, an illegal formation penalty would have negated the play.
  • There was no big punt return for the Browns this time, but it seemed like the offense moved the ball down the field almost as quickly.  Braylon Edwards caught a pass for a gain of 34 yards, and then Anthony Henry got called for pass interference on the next play, giving Cleveland 17 free yards.  The defense did a nice job of shutting Lewis down on the next two plays and causing an incompletion thanks to heavy pressure on 3rd down, but the Browns did come away with a field goal to take a 20-0 lead.
  • The biggest similarity this game had to the Falcons' game was the ridiculous amount of drops by Lions receivers.  Keary Colbert had the most last week, bringing down Stafford's stats.  Although Stafford struggled this week, Standeford did his best Colbert impression in this game, first dropping a wide open pass down field that would have been a big swing of momentum for the Lions.  Stafford rebounded with a nice pass to Kevin Smith to move the chains, and then Smith ran for 9 yards.  It looked like the offense was finally going to put a nice drive together, but then Smith fumbled the handoff on 2nd and 1.  He recovered it, but on 3rd and 3 a Stafford pass to Adam Jennings was dropped.  To be fair to Jennings, he heard footsteps and probably wouldn't have picked up the first down anyways, but it was still another drop.

2nd Quarter

  • The Lions' defense immediately started to play better in this quarter, as they opened it by sacking Brady Quinn on 3rd and 1.
  • Detroit's next drive got off to another rocky start, especially when Standeford appeared to fumble away a third-down conversion.  The Lions challenged the call, however, and it was overturned since his knee was down.  That was the lone bright spot of the drive, though.  Stafford nearly got picked off on first down, and Standeford dropped another pass on second down.  The Lions appeared to have moved the chains when Derrick Williams made a juggling catch for a gain of 12, but Jennings was called for offensive pass interference.  On 3rd and 20, the Lions gained only 4 yards on a dump off pass to Smith, meaning they had to punt yet again.
  • The Lions finally caught a break when Cleveland was called for an illegal formation penalty, negating a 13-yard pickup by former Lion Mike Furrey.  The play would have moved the chains, but it instead forced Cleveland to redo third down, and this time around they did not pick up a first down.
  • Matthew Stafford nearly opened what ended up being his final drive of the game with a big play.  Thanks to a great pump fake, Jennings got wide open downfield.  Unfortunately, Stafford overshot his target, leading to an incompletion.  This wasn't exactly a rookie mistake, as QBs overthrow their open receivers all the time.  In this case, I think Stafford rushed his throw when he saw how open Jennings was.  Either way, the drive went nowhere, and Cleveland got the ball back, even after fumbling the return.  (LaMarcus Hicks tried to get the ball, but the returner fought it away from him.)
  • A holding penalty looked like it was going to doom the Browns' next drive, but a 14-yard run by James Davis and a neutral zone infraction on Cliff Avril allowed Davis to move the chains on third and short.  Brady Quinn did his best Stafford impression and overthrew Braylon Edwards downfield, but that was mainly because he was under heavy pressure.  A screen pass went for a small loss on second down, and Furrey couldn't pick up enough yards to move the chains on third down.
  • Daunte Culpepper entered the game and at first did nothing but hand the ball off to Jerome Felton, who moved the chains after having runs of 5, 4, and 2 yards.  Culpepper then moved the chains again for the Lions with a 20-yard pass to Dane Looker, who was just signed earlier this week.  A couple passes and an illegal contact penalty moved the ball all the way down to the Cleveland 36, but the drive didn't go much further than that.  Culpepper connected with Eric Fowler for 9 yards after two incompletions, but Aveion Cason was stuffed for a loss on 4th and 1.  Jeff Backus picked up a holding penalty anyways, but it sure didn't seem like much holding happened based on how quickly Cason was tackled.
  • Derrick Anderson came back into the game to run the Browns' 2-minute drill, but it was cut short when William James intercepted a pass that bounced off the hands of James Davis.  With only 5 seconds on the clock, the Lions decided to just get some points, and Swayze Waters came out and kicked a 51-yard field goal as the half ended, making the score 20-3.

3rd Quarter

  • After already picking up one third-down conversion, Culpepper looked like he was going to move the chains again on a pass to Cason out of the backfield.  Cason had enough for the first down, but he was hit hard and fumbled the ball away to Cleveland, killing the drive before it even had a chance to really get going.
  • Detroit and Cleveland proceeded to trade punts for a good part of the quarter until the Lions' defense stepped it up.  After applying pressure on quarterback Brett Ratliff a couple times, Dewayne White hit him and knocked the ball loose.  Andre Fluellen recovered the ball at the Cleveland 20, giving the Lions a great chance to start another comeback.
  • Drew Stanton came into the game and found Carson Butler wide open in the end zone for a touchdown on the one and only play of the drive.  Butler seems to be Stanton's favorite target, and it showed on that play, though anybody that open would be a favorite target of mine as well.
  • I really was starting to think that the Lions were going to preserve their perfect preseason record with another Stanton-led comeback, especially when they forced Cleveland into a 3rd and 12 situation.  Of course, in typical Lions fashion, they let James Davis turn a draw that should have gone for no gain into an 81-yard touchdown.  Two Lions missed tackles that would have ended the Browns' drive, but instead Davis ended the drive with a big touchdown that put Cleveland on top 27-10.

4th Quarter

  • A rather long drive for the Lions was going to end in a punt that was fair caught inside the 10, but an offside penalty on Cleveland put Detroit in field goal range.  Swayze Waters had enough distance on the ensuing 53-yard attempt, but it went wide right, giving the ball back to Cleveland.
  • The Lions got the ball back after a Browns three and out and started to move the ball.  Felton ran for 14 yards, and Aaron Brown caught a pass for 7.  Demir Boldin gained 15 on a catch, moving the Lions into Browns territory.  That was as far as they got, though.  Drew Stanton threw four straight incompletions, ending the drive and giving Cleveland the ball back.  The Browns ran the final 4:36 off the clock and won 27-10 in impressive fashion.  All it really took was the first part of the opening quarter for the Browns to win this game, but the Lions looked like they were on the verge of another comeback until that big James Davis TD run.  At that point, this game was as good as over.

The starting offense and defense both played very poorly in this game, not that you hadn't figured that out already.  Stafford struggled, and his receivers were even worse.  Culpepper looked pretty good, as did the Lions' offensive line for the most part.  The defensive line finally started to get some pressure on the quarterback after the first quarter, but by then the damage had already been done.  Poor play by the secondary and awful punt coverage led to the Browns' first two touchdowns and put this game out of reach early on. 

The Lions have a lot of work to do, and I am willing to bet practice won't be much fun next week.  Jim Schwartz looked pissed off all night, as he should be.  He got a first-hand look at why this team went 0-16 last year, and although many players from last year's team are gone, things didn't look much different last night. 

Detroit will look to rebound from this loss on next Saturday against the Colts.  Typically the third preseason game is when the starters play the longest, but we will have to wait and see what kind of rotation Schwartz decides to run.  Kickoff is set for 1 p.m., but since this is a home game, it will be blacked out until 7:00 p.m. locally.  You have to love the NFL's idiotic blackout policy that will force fans to watch the game six hours after it actually starts.  Not to mention, it will force fans to watch the low-quality WWJ broadcast instead of the nice HD one on NFL Network.

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