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On Paper: Detroit Lions at Cleveland Browns

Our statistical preview, which now sits with a 4-1 record, sees which team has the edge: Detroit Lions or Cleveland Browns.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions head to Cleveland to take on the Browns this week. Both teams sit at 3-2, in the midst of a playoff race. Everything else you need to know about the history of these two teams can be summarized by this video:

Now that you've been properly jacked up, let's go to the charts.

Lions pass offense (6th) vs. Browns pass defense (7th)


It's starting to become clear that the Lions passing game is suffering from the losses of both Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson. Since Nate burned the roof of his mouth on pizza broke his arm in a car accident, the Lions have failed to meet their opponent's averages in yardage or passer rating.

Matthew Stafford's overall numbers are still quite impressive. The Lions rank 11th in passer rating (94.9), 10th in completion percentage (63.8%) and 10th in yards per attempt. Additionally, Stafford has only thrown 3 interceptions (t-sixth least), and has been sacked just 8 times (t-third least).

A big key to this matchup is Johnson's availability. Detroit's lack of a No. 1 receiver last week clearly hurt the offense, both in the passing game and the running game. Johnson practiced in a limited fashion on Thursday, but his status seems very much questionable (his official designation will come Friday afternoon).


The Browns pass defense has been very solid all year, holding their last three opponents below their passer rating average and holding all of their opponents fairly near their yardage averages. It needs to be noted, however, that the best statistical offense they have played to date was Baltimore, which ranks 14th by yardage.

Cleveland is allowing an average of 69.3 passer rating (fifth), 5.8 yards per attempt (first) and 58.2% completion percentage (eighth). They've also allowed the fewest passing touchdowns in the league, with just 2. Additionally, they have the third-most sacks, with 18.

Again, it's important to put all of those stats in context. The Browns have yet to face a pass offense anywhere close to as good as the Lions pass offense yet. Still, it's hard to not be impressed by those statistics. I think it's fair to call the Browns pass defense well above average.

Player to watch: Barkevious Mingo. This year's sixth overall pick has already tallied 3 sacks on the year. Given that the Lions' offensive tackles struggled in protection last week, Mingo could cause problems again this week. Also, look out for that Joe Haden guy.

Advantage: Lions +1 with Calvin Johnson, push without. This will be both the Lions' and the Browns' biggest test to date. The return of Johnson would be huge, if for no other reason than to keep Haden busy. I can't give the edge to Cleveland in this matchup, even without Johnson in the lineup, because the Lions are still playing at a fairly high level without him and have not been very turnover prone.

Lions run offense (22nd) vs. Browns run defense (8th)


I've given up trying to figure out this run offense. Surely they were hurt by the absence of Johnson, but overall, the numbers just aren't very good. The Lions are averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, which is tied for 25th in the league. Reggie Bush is still averaging an impressive 4.9 a carry, but against solid run defenses like the Cardinals and Packers, he was woefully ineffective.


Cleveland will be another solid run defense the Lions will have to face. They've held four of five opponents at or below their yards per carry average. They are giving up just 3.3 a carry (second-best) and only one rush of 20+ yards or more. However, they've strangely given up the most rushing touchdowns in the league, with 8.

Advantage: Browns +0.5. I can't fully commit to an advantage either way, since the Lions run offense is wildly inconsistent. It would obviously help if Calvin is playing, keeping the Browns' safeties playing deep. But, either way, I wouldn't expect the Lions to hit the century mark on Sunday.

Browns pass offense (17th) vs. Lions pass defense (20th)


The Browns pass offense has been pretty poor all season. The one impressive week against the Bengals was with Brian Hoyer at the helm. Unfortunately for the Browns, Hoyer was injured early last week and will be out for the remainder of the season. Instead, the Lions will see Brandon Weeden this week. Weeden managed the game well against the Bills last week, but he is overall unimpressive. He's completing just 56.9% of his passes in his short career and has more interceptions (20) than touchdowns (16).

In terms of receivers, the Browns' biggest threat is tight end Jordan Cameron. Cameron leads the team in receptions, targets, yards and touchdowns. The Browns, overall, are a short-passing team. They only have 15 passes of 20+ yards (t-18th), and they're averaging just 6.4 yards per passing attempt (26th).


While it appeared the Lions took a step back last week, they actually held the Packers at or below their season averages. Overall, only one team has significantly outgained their passer rating average against the Lions.

The Lions' overall statistics still look somewhat impressive. They rank ninth in passer rating allowed (75.1), 17th in completion percentage (61.5%) and third in interceptions (8).

However, the defensive line seems to have taken a bit of a step back. They only have 10 sacks on the year, which is 27th in the league.

Player to watch: Cameron. The Lions have done a fairly decent job at holding opponent's tight ends in check. In fact, Martellus Bennett is the only tight end to have tallied more than 55 yards against the Lions this season. Still, Cameron is a stud and will see many targets this game.

Advantage: Lions +1.5. While the Lions have been susceptible to the long play, Weeden and the Browns don't really have big-play capability in the pass game. The Lions defense has been very opportunistic against the pass this year, which is perfect against a team that has been sacked the second-most times (22) and thrown the seventh-most interceptions (6).

Browns run offense (24th) vs. Lions run defense (26th)


The Browns haven't been able to get much going on the ground all season, barely reaching 100 yards in just one game this year. As a result, they traded away first-round pick Trent Richardson. In his place is Willis McGahee, who is averaging 2.6 a carry, which is just awful. Overall, the team is averaging 3.5 yards per carry (t-25th).


Just as disappointing is the Lions run defense. They have yet to hold a team below their yards per carry average, and they've held just the Vikings below their yards per game average.

It's hard to pin down what exactly the problem with the run defense is, but a major culprit is their susceptibility to long rushing plays. They have given up 3 rushing plays of 40+ yards, which is more than any other team.

Player to watch: Nick Fairley. Fairley has been somewhat quiet this season. He has just 9 tackles on the season, and none for a loss. Perhaps he is still being plagued by his knee injury, but he's too good to be stymied this long.

Advantage: Draw. Both of these units are pretty bad. The Lions should be better on paper, but the stats don't show it. I don't really expect either team to shine in this aspect of the game. Cleveland may manage around 80 yards on the ground, but probably won't reach 4.0 a carry. Expect something similar to the Cardinals game.

Off paper:

Punt returns. Cleveland's punt returner, Travis Benjamin, splashed on to the scene last week with two long punt returns, including a 79-yard touchdown. Overall, the Browns rank second in punt return average. The Lions' punter, Sam Martin, has done a brilliant job with distance and hang time. So this should be an interesting matchup. It's worth mentioning that Benjamin returned a touchdown against the Lions in the preseason, but it was called back due to a penalty.

Preseason. There's not a lot to be drawn from preseason games, but it was an awful performance from the Lions' first-team offense against the Browns. They managed just 3 points and went three-and-out twice in the first half.


The Lions come out with a +1 advantage without Johnson and +2 with him. This will be a good challenge for the Lions, but it is still a game they should win. The Browns' offense leaves much to desired, and the Lions should be able to force a few turnovers against them. The big challenge for the Lions will be on offense. Stafford will need to continue to take care of the ball and avoid giving the Browns free points. I think we'll see a somewhat ugly offensive game from both teams this week, resulting in a lot of field goals. Lions 23, Browns 16.

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