The Detroit Lions are coming off a big win on Monday that arguably saved their season. At 4-4 they still have a long ways to go to establish themselves as contenders, but they’re headed in the right direction. As a reward for their win, they get to come home and host the near-consensus worst team in football.
The 0-8 Cleveland Browns are coming off a bye week, but have little to be optimistic about for the final half of the season. Not only are they winless, but their rookie quarterback is struggling, their franchise left tackle who never misses a snap is out for the year and they’re just coming off the heels of an embarrassing trade snafu that would’ve landed them A.J. McCarron.
But does that mean the Lions have a gimme this week? Let’s take a closer look at the 2017 Browns.
Key additions: WR Kenny Britt, C J.C. Tretter, RG Kevin Zeitler, CB Jason McCourty.
Key losses: QB Brock Osweiler, WR Terrelle Pryor, RT Mitchell Schwartz.
Key draft picks:
- DE Myles Garrett (Round 1)
- SS Jabrill Peppers (Round 1)
- TE David Njoku (Round 1)
- QB DeShone Kizer (Round 2)
- DT Larry Ogunjobi (Round 3)
2017 season results (0-8)
Week 1 - vs. Steelers - Lost, 18-21
Week 2 - at Ravens - Lost, 10-24
Week 3 - at Colts - Lost, 28-31
Week 4 - vs. Bengals - Lost, 7-31
Week 5 - vs. Jets - Lost, 14-17
Week 6 - at Texans - Lost, 17-33
Week 7 - vs. Titans - Lost, 9-12 (OT)
Week 8 - vs. Vikings - Lost, 16-33
Reasons the Lions should be optimistic:
This Browns offense is terrible—easily the worst in the league. By Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, they rank 32nd with a -27.4 percent score. The next-closest offense (next week’s opponent, the Bears) has a score of -21.8 percent.
The aforementioned DeShone Kizer ranks in the bottom three among qualifying quarterbacks in just about any quarterback statistic you want to throw out there: Passer rating (51.1), interceptions (11), touchdowns (four), completion percentage (52.1) and yards per attempt (5.37). He hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since September and he’s thrown four interceptions since.
Their run game is actually respectable, but it hasn’t helped lift this offense at all. They are averaging just 14.9 points per game (second-fewest) and 4.7 yards per play (third-fewest). Also, their -12 turnover ratio is the worst in the league.
Reasons the Lions should be pessimistic
Look at those game scores above. Exactly half of Cleveland’s losses were by just three points. That includes competitive games against the 5-3 Titans, the 6-2 Steelers, and the 4-5 Jets. This is a team that has competed week in and week out.
And the reason they remain competitive? They actually have a pretty good defense. Ranked 18th in DVOA, the Browns defense is led by their No. 1 run defense in the league. As a team, they’re allowing just 84.2 rushing yards per game (fourth) and 2.9 yards per carry (first).
Considering this is a team that is mostly playing from behind, to hold opposing offenses to such low rushing statistics is truly amazing. If you gain a lead on this team, you aren’t going to be able to milk the clock much with your running game.
And with all of Detroit’s current struggles on the ground—compounded by the fact that T.J. Lang could miss this game with a concussion—the Lions offense will almost certainly be one-dimensional on Sunday.
That could be a problem, too:
Both Golden Tate and Marvin Jones have incredibly tough matchups this Sunday facing off against the top graded slot corner in Boddy-Calhoun (85.5) and the 2nd highest graded corner overall in 92.0. Im calling it now that this should be a Riddick, TJ, Ebron game.— Brett Whitefield (@PFF_Brett) November 9, 2017
As Brett mentions, the Lions’ best bet is to get Theo Riddick and Eric Ebron going in the passing game—something they’ve struggled to do recently. But Cleveland ranks 30th in DVOA against tight ends and 27th against running backs in the passing game. This is where the Lions need to attack.
Oh, and there’s Myles Garrett, who has four sacks in three games played.
There’s always a sense of uneasiness facing a winless team. You never want to be the team to give them their first win, especially when you’re a team that can ill-afford a loss at this point in the season.
But for this week, there are some legitimate reasons for concern. This isn’t all that favorable of a matchup when the Lions have the ball. Detroit’s offense has looked great in the past two weeks thanks to Marvin Jones Jr. and Golden Tate. Those two don’t have great matchups this week.
However, the Lions do have the skill players in place to counter that deficiency. It’s time for Eric Ebron to break out, even if for just one game. It’s time to bring back the Theo Riddick angle route over the middle. Heck, why not get Ameer Abdullah involved a little more in the passing game?
As for when the Browns have the ball, there should be little excuse to not dominate the competition. Kizer has been nothing short of horrible, and the Lions have shown they can handle above-average running games.