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NFL Preview - Cleveland (1-8) at Detroit (1-8)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Arriving this week at Ford Field? An opportunity for a measured degree of progress for the Detroit Lions.
Such indicators have been in short supply for Jim Schwartz's 1-8 team, which has lost six straight since a Week 3 win over the Redskins, including last week's 27-10 loss at the Minnesota Vikings.
The Lions enter Week 11 ranked last in NFL scoring defense (29.3 points per game), passing defense (271.7 yards per game), and opponents' completion percentage (71.0), and rank near the bottom of the league in several other offensive and defensive categories.
But Detroit will have a great chance to improve many of those numbers this week, when the Cleveland Browns visit the Motor City.
The Browns have dropped four in a row since a Week 5 win at Buffalo, and Monday night's 16-0 loss to the Ravens means they have been outscored, 77-9, in their last three games.
On one side of the ball, the numbers are grisly. The Browns are last in the league in total offense (214.3 yards per game), passing offense (116.2 yards per game), completion percentage (47.3), scoring offense (8.7 points per game), turnovers (25), turnover margin (-13), offensive touchdowns scored (5), and rushes of 20 yards or longer (2).
A quarterback switch back to opening day starter Brady Quinn did little to reverse the Browns' course on Monday, as the former first-round pick was just 13-of-31 for 99 yards with two interceptions against the Ravens.
But Quinn will be the most experienced quarterback in Sunday's contest, as the Lions will again roll with rookie Matthew Stafford. Stafford recovered somewhat from a five-interception meltdown in Seattle in last week's game against the Vikings, completing 29-of-51 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown without an interception, but leading just one TD drive on the day.
In addition to its quarterback problems, making matters worse for Cleveland was a concussion suffered by Browns kick returner/wide receiver Josh Cribbs on the final play of the game against the Ravens.
Cribbs was carted off the field and required hospitalization, and a timetable for his return has not been set.
The Lions lead the regular season series with the Browns, 13-4, including a 13-10 road victory when the teams last met, in 2005. Cleveland won the previous meeting, a 24-14 affair in C-Town in 2001. The Browns are 0-3 in Detroit since last winning there in 1983, with their most recent Motor City loss a 38-20 setback during the 1995 campaign.
In addition to the regular season edge, Detroit also holds a 3-1 advantage in the postseason series. The Lions and Bears met for the NFL Championship four times between 1952 and 1957, with Detroit taking the title in 1952, 1953, and 1957 and Cleveland prevailing in 1954 title game.
Browns head coach Eric Mangini is 1-0 in his career against the Lions, with the win coming for his Jets team during the 2006 season. Detroit's Schwartz will be meeting both Mangini and the Browns for the first time as a head coach.
The teams also met during the 2009 preseason, with the Browns prevailing, 27-10, in Cleveland on Aug. 22nd.
WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL
Quinn (508 passing yards, 1 TD, 5 INT) will head to Detroit looking to snap a five-game losing streak as the Browns starter, with his only win at the helm of the offense coming in a 29-27 victory at Buffalo last Nov. 17th. Quinn has not looked good in his four starts this season, compiling a miserable 51.0 passer rating and 54.6 completion percentage, while not showing much of a deep arm. Not that Quinn has many weapons to work with either, though rookie wideout Mohamed Massaquoi (20 receptions) has shown some promise and ex-Lion Mike Furrey (21 receptions) has good hands. Furrey had a season-high six catches against the Ravens, though his grabs totaled just 30 yards. A better mode of travel for the Browns might be the running game, where Jamal Lewis (385 rushing yards) still has some life in his legs and is looking to finish his NFL career on a strong note after announcing his upcoming retirement earlier this month. Also an option on the ground is rookie Chris Jennings, who carried seven times for 18 yards in his first extended action as a pro on Monday night. The Browns line has not been awful this season, but allowed four sacks of Quinn against the Ravens and has now surrendered a total of 23 on the year.
A Lions team that has played poorly for most of the season took on more water this week, when it was announced that starting safety Marquand Manuel (shoulder) and newly-signed cornerback Jack Williams (knee) would both miss the remainder of the season. Additionally, linebacker Ernie Sims (hamstring) is expected to remain out this week, and safety Kalvin Pearson (hamstring) and end Dewayne White (toe) each missed practice time. None of that is good news for a defense that allowed nearly 500 yards to the Vikings last week. Seeking to attack Quinn will be a pass rush led by outside linebacker Julian Peterson (42 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and end Cliff Avril (18 tackles, 2.5 sacks), with safety Louis Delmas (47 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) and cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon (25 tackles) and Will James (35 tackles, 1 INT) among the able-bodied Lions guarding against the big play on the back end. A run-stopping group that allowed 133 yards to Adrian Peterson will be glad to see the less fear-inducing Browns rushing attack. Tackle Grady Jackson (18 tackles) will be among those looking to stop Lewis at the point of attack, with middle linebacker and leading tackler Larry Foote (59 tackles, 1 sack) working behind him.
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
Sunday should represent a golden opportunity for Stafford (1489 passing yards, 6 TD, 12 INT) to show some progress, and to gain a measure of confidence in the form of just his second win as an NFL starter. Stafford has turned the ball over too often during his rookie season and has shown hot-and-cold chemistry with top wideout Calvin Johnson (32 receptions, 1 TD), but took a step forward with his turnover-free effort against the Vikings last week. Johnson also got back in the swing of things, catching eight passes for 84 yards in his best showing since injuring a knee against the Steelers on Oct. 11th. Dennis Northcutt (23 receptions, 1 TD) added value with six catches totaling 48 yards, and tight end Will Heller (14 receptions, 2 TD) caught Stafford's only touchdown of the day. Rookie TE Brandon Pettigrew (23 receptions, 1 TD) was quiet in the loss, following up a seven-catch, 70-yard day against the Seahawks with just two receptions for 23 yards in Minnesota. The Lions have rarely run the ball well this season behind a poor offensive line, with Kevin Smith (515 rushing yards, 3 TD, 29 receptions) having been held under 70 rushing yards in each of his last six games. The Lions are 21st in NFL rushing offense (103.1 yards per game). The aforementioned o-line has surrendered 29 sacks - fourth- most in the league - including three last Sunday.
As bad as the Browns offense has been this season, the Cleveland defense has rarely been a credit to the cause either, ranking last in the league in total defense (394.1 yards per game) and interceptions recorded (4). That said, the Browns posted one of their strongest defensive showings of the year in the Ravens loss, holding Baltimore to just one offensive touchdown and keeping Cleveland in the game prior to a disastrous third-quarter stretch for the team. One Browns defender the Lions will have to worry about is defensive tackle Shaun Rogers (32 tackles, 1 sack), a second-round pick of the Lions in 2001 and member of the team from 2001-2007, who will face his former team in a meaningful game for the first time since being traded to Cleveland in 2008. Rogers had two tackles against the Ravens and helped limit Baltimore rushers to just 3.7 yards per carry. Inside linebackers Kaluka Maiava (28 tackles) and Jason Trusnik (24 tackles, 2 sacks) combined for 12 stops behind Rogers. The Browns pass rush also showed some life on Monday, with outside linebacker David Bowens (42 tackles, 2.5 sacks) coming up with two of the team's three sacks on the night and fellow OLB Kamerion Wimbley (44 tackles, 5 sacks) managing five stops in the game. The Cleveland secondary has not made many big plays this season, but cornerback Brandon McDonald (40 tackles, 1 sack) had a sack against the Ravens. Either he or Eric Wright (29 tackles, 1 sack) will have primary responsibility against Calvin Johnson.
Some fantasy owners who are trying to outsmart the world might actually have a member of the Browns in their lineup this week, and there's a chance that the likes of Lewis, Massaquoi, and perhaps even Quinn will have uncharacteristically big games. But it's more likely that, as Cleveland has done all year on the real-life field, the Browns will leave those who have confidence in them disappointed.
On the Lions side, Calvin Johnson might be this game's one legitimate play, and Pettigrew could be a decent option as well depending on how devoted the Browns are to stopping Johnson. Kevin Smith hasn't run well all year and probably won't have a huge day against Rogers and the Cleveland rush defense.
Anyone who tuned into that debacle on Monday night can tell you that the Browns are setting back offensive football about 50 years with their performance this season, but they should also admit that the Browns do have a bit of talent and energy on the defensive side of the ball. That defense should keep things interesting here, as Cleveland will attack the young Stafford and undoubtedly force him into a few mistakes. Given that probability, Quinn has a chance to lead the Browns to some rare points with the short field or two he'll have to work with, and the weak and battered nature of the Lions secondary won't hurt him in that regard either. Still, Detroit is slightly further ahead in its rebuilding effort than Cleveland, which seems to find a new layer of bedrock every week, and the Lions will have the final word in a game that could leave viewers clamoring for the better-polished product of the UFL.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Lions 16, Browns 13
11/19 13:17:02 ET