The suddenly resurgent Cleveland Browns have ripped off three consecutive wins to place themselves in a first place tie in the NFC North. Considering that news, it's likely Clevelanders haven't been this giddy about their football since the days of Brian Sipe, Earnist Byner and Ozzie Newsome.
Plenty of factors have led in the Browns' quick turnaround this year, including a young tight end doing his best Newsome impersonation, a defense that's next to impossible to run against and a dangerous return game led by Travis Benjamin. Despite all the uncertainty at quarterback, the Detroit Lions have their hands full thanks to plenty of other factors on Sunday.
What makes the first place Browns different? Here's closer look inside the team.
Browns' Offensive Difference Maker: Jordan Cameron, TE. If not for the exploits of Cameron, a former fourth round pick in 2011, the Browns would likely still be wallowing in the lower half of the standings. With the game on the line in Minnesota, all Cameron did was haul in an impressive touchdown from Brian Hoyer. Overall, Cameron has enjoyed a breakout season, catching five touchdowns and going over 100 yards once, while knocking on the door in several other games along the way. For Detroit, it will be vital to control Cameron over the middle of the field and especially in the red zone. He's a very tough match up for the Lions' linebackers and safeties.
Browns' Defensive Difference Maker: Paul Kruger, DE/LB. Kruger is a havoc-wreaker cut from the same cloth as Jared Allen, Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews. Capable of playing back in coverage as well as rushing the passer, Kruger is a terror for opposing quarterbacks and opposing running games. Though Joe Haden certainly qualifies in this category, the threat of Kruger is especially maximized this weekend, given the potential loss of Calvin Johnson and injury to Jason Fox. The Browns might be able to turn their pass rushers loose against the Lions front, making Matthew Stafford's life a nightmare for a second straight week. Detroit gave up a season high five sacks last weekend.
Browns' Major Problem: Running the football. After giving up on Trent Richardson, Cleveland hasn't had a pulse as far as a ground attack. The Browns have only scored one touchdown on the ground, rate 24th in the league and will throw oft injured veteran role player Willis McGahee at Detroit on Sunday. The mission for the Lions? Simple. Stop McGahee cold, because with a ground game, Brandon Weeden, Josh Gordon and Cameron could get things going in a big way. Cleveland hopes McGahee gives them something, because without the threat of the run, Detroit's defensive line could play a major role.
Browns' Major Strength: Run defense. Cleveland is 10th in the league against the run, which isn't good news for the Lions, considering their struggles against the Packers last weekend, who also feature a top rush defense. If Johnson isn't in the fold, the Browns can sit back and stack the box against Reggie Bush much like Green Bay did. Surprisingly, the Browns are even better against the pass, rating fifth in the league. Either way, the Lions will have a tough time moving the ball Sunday, so they'll have to depend on finding some big play capability against a solid defense, either on the ground or through the air.
Intangibles: Life without Calvin Johnson. Momentum wise, not having the game's best receiver in the lineup would be a huge boost for the Browns. Last weekend, Johnson's absence seemed to rev-up the Packers defense, who shut down the Lions from the get-go. From Detroit's perspective, a second straight week without Johnson would be incredibly deflating, especially on the road. Though they have plenty of capable players that could step up in his absence, two straight weeks could be mentally taxing, given the confidence he brings.
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