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Detroit Lions vs. Cleveland Browns Week 10 preview: On Paper

Our statistical breakdown and preview of the matchup between the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns.

Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Welcome back, everyone! After a short week, we’re already just days away from the Detroit Lions’ Week 10 game against the Cleveland Browns. The two teams don’t match up against each other very often—every four years—but when they do... hoo boy, there’s technically football played. I bring up the history, only because I want an excuse to post this video, from nearly exactly eight years ago today.

Anyways, not much has changed for the Browns since then, while the Lions are back to at least mediocrity. The 2017 Browns are still searching for their first win, while the Lions are hoping to keep pace with a competitive NFC. Let’s see what the charts think of this Week 10 matchup.

Lions pass offense (17th in DVOA) vs. Browns pass defense (28th)

Slowly but surely, the Lions pass offense is making a resurgence. On Paper likes Detroit’s passing game a little more than Football Outsiders, seeing as the Lions have outgained the defense’s passer rating average in five of eight games. In fact, they’ve only been held below averages twice. More often than not, Matthew Stafford has brought it on Sundays (or Mondays).

While the charts make this look like an above-average offense, the bare statistics aren’t quite as favorable. Detroit ranks 12th in passer rating (94.4), 18th in completion percentage (62.4) and 13th in yards per attempt (7.3).

But considering how well the Lions are playing as of late, I think it’s fair to consider this passing attack somewhere near, but probably still outside of, the top 10.

We’ve spoken a few times this week about the Browns’ extremely talented cornerbacks, but that hasn’t translated to an impressive pass defense. They’ve only held one opponent significantly under their passer rating average, and six out of eight passers finished with a rating of 95 or higher. That being said, they’ve been much better in their past two games, holding both the Titans and Vikings near their season averages.

The raw numbers show, however, that this defense is vulnerable. The Browns rank 31st in passer rating allowed (103.0), 21st in yards per attempt (7.4) and 29th in completion percentage (68.8).

They aren’t a particularly disruptive defense, as they’ve only forced five interceptions (t-21st) and 16 sacks (t-23rd). However, their premier pass rusher, rookie Myles Garrett, has only played three games this year and he already has 4.0 sacks.

But digging a little deeper, it’s clear the path to beating this Browns defense isn’t with your wide receivers. While Cleveland ranks 32nd in DVOA against No. 1 receivers, they’re actually second against WR2s. They’re particularly vulnerable against tight ends (30th in DVOA) and running backs (27th).

Player to watch: Theo Riddick. Riddick hasn’t been as much of a game-changer as previous years, likely due to Ameer Abdullah taking a portion of his snaps. Still, in the past four games Riddick has 15 catches for 176 yards. Expect at least another five catches on Sunday.

Advantage: Lions +2. Despite Cleveland’s talented duo of cornerbacks in Jason McCourty and Briean Boddy-Calhoun, the Browns don’t possess much of a talented defense. Their front seven, Garrett aside, is not very good. The Lions, on the other hand, are rolling. Their offensive line isn’t as healthy as they’d like—unless Taylor Decker makes his triumphant return, but I still like the Lions chances here.

Lions run offense (32nd) vs. Browns run defense (1st)

The Lions run offense is bad. Very bad. There’s not much else to say. You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. Let’s not talk too much about it.

Detroit is 30th in yards per carry (3.2) and 31st in percentage of rushes that earn first downs (15.2). And with T.J. Lang likely out this week, it’s not likely to get any better this week...

... especially when you consider their competition. They say one of the keys to winning in the NFL is to stop the run. The Browns are the biggest counterexample to that in the history of the league. They are literally the best team at stopping the run and they’re winless. No team has significantly outgained their YPC average against this Browns defense and only two teams have averaged more than 3.0 YPC against Cleveland.

The Browns are first in YPC allowed (2.9) and second in percentage of rushes earning a first down (15.9). And if you’re hoping Ameer Abdullah could break off a long one, don’t bet on it. The Browns have allowed just three rushes of 20+ yard (t-fifth) and zero of 40+ yards.

Player to watch: Derrick Kindred. Though the Browns’ safeties aren’t all that good in coverage, a guy like Kindred is the Tavon Wilson of the Browns. He actually leads the entire team with nine tackles for loss and represents a pretty solid tackling secondary.

Advantage: Browns +2. There’s no hope for the Lions in this matchup. I’ve tried to look at this from any angle possible to find even a little bit of a vulnerability here, but it’s just not there. Thankfully, Detroit has proven they can win games without the help of a running game, but that’s not going to stop them from trying... but it won’t work.

Browns pass offense (32nd) vs. Lions pass defense (12th)

Whether it has been Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan or the quarterback the Lions will see on Sunday DeShone Kizer, the Browns passing offense has been embarrassingly awful. Only twice have they finished with a passer rating over 80 and only once were they able to outgain their opponent’s passer rating... and that was way back in Week 1.

Kizer has been the worst of the bunch, throwing for just three touchdowns and 11 interceptions in seven starts. Considering the rest of the quarterbacks aren’t playing very well either, it’s no surprise that Cleveland ranks in the bottom three in nearly every important passing category. They’re last in passer rating (56.1), last in completion percentage (54.4) and t-30th in yards per attempt (5.8).

Cleveland has a pair of talented receivers in Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon, but neither are eligible to play this week. Instead, they’re starting receivers—according to their official depth chart—are people who call themselves Ricardo Louis and Bryce Treggs. Yikes.

The Lions pass defense has cooled down a bit after a hot start. After holding their first four opponents at or below their passer rating average, they’ve only managed to do so twice in the last four. Still, only one opponent has managed to finish with a passer rating above 90.

As a team, Detroit ranks out as a team just above average. The Lions are allowing a passer rating of just 84.6 (12th), a completion percentage of 64.3 (22nd) and 7.7 yards per attempt (26th). Those numbers are a bit all over the place, but are offset by the fourth-most interceptions in the league (10).

Player to watch: Glover Quin. The Lions’ veteran safety makes plays every single week and is tied for the team lead in interceptions (3). He’s going to make DeShone Kizer look bad at least once on Sunday.

Advantage: Lions +3. If/when the Browns fall behind, they’re going to need to throw the ball. Their only hope to win this matchup is similar to the Lions’ path to success: utilizing their running backs and tight ends in the passing game. Cleveland’s personnel works in their favor there, as Duke Johnson Jr. actually leads the team in receptions and yards and rookie David Njoku leads the team in touchdowns. But the Lions haven’t been particularly vulnerable there, and this secondary is too talented to let Kizer burn them.

Browns run offense (10th) vs. Lions run defense (10th)

This is one of the most inconsistent charts I’ve seen in my eight years of doing this. Cleveland has three games in which they ran for over 100 yards at over 5.0 YPC. But they also have three games in which they ran for less than 70 yards at 2.6 YPC of less. It’s... confusing.

The Browns rank t-15th in YPC (4.1), but are averaging a first down in 22.5 percent of carries (eight). I don’t like their running offense quite as much as Football Outsiders, but I think it’s fair to call them slightly above average.

The Lions run defense is definitely above average as well. Only two offenses have rushed for 100+ yards against them and only three have rushed for over 4.0 yards per carry.

As a team, Detroit is allowing just 3.6 yards per carry (t-fourth) and first downs on 20.8 percent of rushes (18th). They, too, are not very susceptible at allowing long rushes, ceding just two rushes of 20+ yards (t-third) and one of 40+.

Player to watch: Duke Johnson. While Johnson is a threat in the passing game, he’s actually the best statistical runner for the Browns, too. He only has 34 carries (to Isaiah Crowell’s 12), but he’s averaging an impressive 5.2 yards per carry.

Advantage: Lions +1. If the Browns have any hope in this matchup, they’re going to need to establish the run. The only teams that have been able to do that this year are teams that have an excellent passing game to supplement the run game. The Browns aren’t that team, so Detroit should be able to successfully load the box and not worry about Cleveland beating them over the top.

Last week’s prediction:

On Paper moved to 4-4 after picking Detroit to edge the Packers. However, my prediction of 23-20 was not too close to the 30-17 final.

In the comment section, however, we had another perfect prediction. Badger Nation 313 benefitted from a last-second Packers touchdown, which is ironic considering Green Bay is right there in Badger Nation.

Assuming you are actually from Wisconsin, you deserve recognition for defecting to Lions fandom. So here is your prize:

That is a piece of worthless Green Bay Packers stock set afire. Based on Packers fans’ reactions to Monday’s game, it may not be the only one set afire this week.

This week’s prediction:

The Lions come out with a +4 advantage, which seems about right. It’s interesting that the Browns are pretty good at running the ball and stopping the run, yet can’t seem to pull off a win. They’ve proven they can keep it close, but when it comes down to it, you need to be able to pass the ball or stop the opposing quarterback, and the Browns can’t do either.

The Lions offense is trending in the right direction, and even though they’re a little beat up in terms of injuries, they should pull away in this one. Lions 30, Browns 13.