A few days ago, I came up with a list of five things to watch for when the Detroit Lions played the Cleveland Browns. The game has been played and the team is back in town so I thought I would follow up with some comments regarding each of the five things I initially wrote about.
As you can imagine, there is some good and some bad.
1. Mid-season form from Matthew Stafford
No Calvin Johnson, no problem. Stafford’s 6-10, 85 yards and 1 touchdown passing is another good sign. The 60 percent completion percentage is acceptable (20th best among qualified leaders in 2010) but would have been better if Stafford hadn’t made the smart play of throwing the ball away instead of running out of bounds for a small loss on a scramble. It is scary to think what Stafford could be considering he apparently doesn’t need a preseason even when coming back from injury.
2. The Running Game
The good news is that there was some improvement in the running game but the bad news is it came as a result of some of the most irrelevant players on the roster. I don’t want to sound the panic alarm concerning the running game but it is clear that something has to be done. The Lions path to ultimate success doesn’t involve being a completely one dimensional offense. Scott Linehan’s creativity does help, Nate Burleson‘s 26-yard gain on an end around is proof of that. Jerome Harrison looked better than last week but still needs to do more north-south running.
3. Individual performances in the secondary
Chris Houston was scratched and Alphonso Smith remains out with his foot injury so plenty of time was available for other guys to make their mark. The player I came away most impressed with was Brandon McDonald who showed he isn’t afraid to step up and deliver a hit in run support. Nathan Vasher was re-signed following last season because of his solid play down the stretch but his standing has obviously taken a hit as he saw action with other reserves and did not look like the player we saw at the end of last season.
4. The flow of the game
The Lions definitely did not dominate from start to finish like they did against the Bengals. If I had to evaluate the individual battles I would say that the Browns and Lions starters played about even, the Browns won the battle of the twos and the Lions won with the threes.
5. Kickoff Strategy
I’m still looking to see if a team will commit to using the five fewer yards of kick coverage to their advantage on a consistent basis. The Lions’ seven kickoffs resulted in four touchbacks. Buster Skrine was able to return a couple kicks for gains beyond the 20-yard line. Check out my article from earlier in the week for more on this topic.