Lions at Browns: 10 things to watch in second preseason game

Leon Halip

Here are 10 things I will be keeping a close eye on in the Detroit Lions' preseason game against the Cleveland Browns.

The Detroit Lions continue the 2013 preseason on Thursday night at the Cleveland Browns. Here are 10 things I'm planning to keep a close eye on:

1. Can the No. 1 offense find the end zone?

Slow starts were a common problem last season for the offense, and it was really more of the same on Friday for the Lions. The No. 1 offense opened the game with a punt, and all they got out of the next drive was a field goal despite a couple of long passes to Calvin Johnson. This week, I'd like to see the offense get off to a better start by actually finding the end zone for a touchdown with the starters out there.

2. Which Matthew Stafford will show up?

When Stafford is locked in, the Lions are really unstoppable on offense. He can carve up a defense and move the Lions down the field by throwing the ball to a number of different targets. That wasn't the case against the New York Jets, though. Stafford went only 3-for-8, and all of his completions were to Johnson. It's true that it's only the preseason and we're talking about a small sample size, but there's clearly room for improvement. What would be nice is a performance like the one Stafford had in last year's second preseason game when he went 12-for-17 for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Baltimore Ravens.

3. Can the Lions run the ball at all?

Lions running backs averaged only 2.8 yards per carry in the preseason opener, and the longest run by a running back went for only 7 yards. A lot of this had to do with the lack of open rushing lanes, so it wasn't simply a case of the running backs not getting the job done. Collectively, the Lions need to do a better job of running the ball in order to take some of the pressure off the passing game. This isn't a huge concern in the preseason, but the Lions need to be better on the ground once the regular season arrives.

4. Who will step it up on the offensive line?

As noted by Jeremy Reisman on Monday, the Lions used a lot of different combinations on their offensive line in the preseason opener. Larry Warford and Jason Fox stood out as having pretty good games, but that won't mean a whole lot if they struggle against the Browns. It will be interesting to see which offensive linemen emerge this week as the battle for starting spots rolls on.

5. What will Ziggy Ansah do for his encore?

As a defensive end, you can't begin your NFL career much better than the way Ansah did on Friday -- with a pick six on his first drive. The interception was obviously awesome to watch, but how Ansah is able to follow that up this week is important. Specifically, it will be interesting to see what he can do as a pass rusher going up against Joe Thomas and company.

6. Backups on the defensive line

The Lions really got some solid play out of backups like Willie Young, Devin Taylor, Ronnell Lewis and Jimmy Saddler-McQueen against the Jets. Lewis and Saddler-McQueen are simply trying to make the 53-man roster, and performances like that will go a long way in ensuring they survive the final round of cuts. Another solid performance out of them could make things interesting on the D-line.

7. Can the pass defense slow down the Browns' offense?

The Browns' trio of Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell combined to go 26-for-34 for 238 yards and 2 touchdowns against the St. Louis Rams last week. Against the Jets, the Lions gave up 292 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air to Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith and Greg McElroy. The Browns certainly seem to have more talent at quarterback and in general on offense than the Jets, so the Lions' pass defense will have to rise to the occasion on Thursday to keep Cleveland in check.

8. The kicking battle continues

David Akers and Havard Rugland both went 2-for-2 in the Lions' preseason opener. Akers remains the heavy favorite to win the starting kicker job, but a lot could change on Thursday. If Akers misses a couple kicks, for example, the door could really open for Rugland to make a push to win this position battle. On the flip side, if Rugland struggles, this position battle could be over before we even hit the third week of the preseason.

9. How about a kickoff return?

The Lions' returners didn't get a ton of work on Friday, especially the kick returners. The Lions didn't return a single kick, but I'm hoping that changes this week. You obviously don't want guys to carelessly bring out deep kickoffs, but I'd like to see what Micheal Spurlock and some of the others can do.

10. Will Thaddeus Lewis get a real chance to play against his former team?

Lewis joined the Lions earlier this year after he was released by the Browns. He's returning to Cleveland this week as a member of the Lions, but there's no telling if he will actually get a chance to play for more than a few minutes on Thursday. Lewis didn't even attempt a single pass against the Jets because he entered the game so late, but I'd much rather see him get the third-team reps over Kellen Moore. So far, the Lions haven't shown any interest in giving Lewis a real chance to lead the offense, but perhaps that will change this week.

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