The Detroit Lions got their preseason off to a positive start last Friday, throttling the New York Jets en-route to a convincing 26-17 win. Next up is the first team to hang a loss on Detroit last preseason, the plucky Cleveland Browns.
Like Detroit, Cleveland enters this game 1-0, meaning there's an early season clash of the titans set to kickoff at FirstEnergy Stadium Thursday night. All kidding aside, here's five things to watch as the Browns and Lions complete their annual exhibition meeting.
1. Will Larry Warford Continue To Get The Bulk Of Playing Time At Right Guard? Last week, Warford took snaps into the second half, showing what the staff thinks of him and perhaps tipping their hand as to their thoughts about planning for the final roster. Warford didn't look bad in his first NFL start, and held his own against the Jets' tough defensive line. This week, he draws the responsibility of the Browns' revamped rushers. If Warford can keep playing well, he will make the Lions' decision easier, and will help the team from day one.
2. How Will The Defensive Backs Play? Last week, the results were mixed, as starters didn't play long, some back ups were injured and the third string managed to hold up and contribute a win. Still, the Jets moved the ball well on the Lions through the air, piling up 292 yards passing. This week, the challenge is a bit different with the Browns, but Brandon Weeden can pick apart a defense if coverage isn't up to par. It will help if several of the Lions' players get healthy and back in the fold, like Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood. With the in and out shuffle all week, can this group play well?
3. Can Matt Willis Keep The Momentum Going? He's had a fantastic camp and carried that effort over into the preseason with two amazing catches, one for a touchdown. In order to snatch a roster spot, Willis will have to play the same way against Cleveland and continue his amazing, consistent performance. Wills, proving himself as one of the most hardworking Lions, has been showing something. Can the miracle run continue against the Browns? Plenty of Lions' fans are rooting for Willis to play well and make the roster.
4. Mikel Leshoure And Joique Bell. Last week, Leshoure didn't play as well, though he registered 25 rushing yards. He played into the second half, which was odd for a man who is supposed to be a major starter. Bell, meanwhile, quietly played well, looking like a fantastic option in the passing game and running well, too. Will Leshoure continue to struggle, and if he does, will he be on the bubble to see a diminished role with the Lions? Every preseason game represents a chance, and Leshoure will have the opportunity to change things. Bell will have another chance too, and this competition for touches is worth watching.
5. Defensive Ends. No Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch, no problem. It was only a preseason game, but from Ziggy Ansah (interception for a touchdown) to Willie Young (one pass defended) to Devin Taylor (one forced fumble), Detroit's defensive ends were all over the field pressuring the quarterback and making plays. This is exactly what Jim Schwartz and Gunther Cunningham imagined from their group. Can the effort continue though, especially from Young and Taylor, two inconsistent and young players respectively. If the answer is yes, life will be easier for the defensive backs and Detroit might take additional steps toward forming a fearsome defense in 2013.
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