Traditionally preseason rivals, the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns renew their regular season rivalry on Sunday afternoon. For two teams that have been more accustomed to mediocrity lately, a pair of 3-2 starts is a breath of fresh air.
One team, though, will fall to .500 by Sunday afternoon. The Lions, without Calvin Johnson last week and perhaps this week, need to find a way to create offense, or it could be them. The Browns, after losing Brian Hoyer, must get a positive game out of Brandon Weeden. With plenty of variables determining victory, which are the most important to watch? Here's five for this week.
1. Calvin Johnson. Will he play this week? How effective will he be? If he doesn't play, how will the Lions' offense look in his absence? Last week, it was a very poor showing from Matthew Stafford and Reggie Bush on down. This time around, the Lions have to be better prepared to play without Johnson, or at least get by with a player who might be severely limited by a knee injury if he should play. The effect of Johnson's reappearance or disappearance will be a big factor.
2. Matthew Stafford's Supporting Cast. With the exception of Brandon Pettigrew (who knew) and a late touchdown pass to Kris Durham, the Lions' receivers did nothing of note last weekend. Whether Johnson plays or not, a much better effort will be needed for the Lions' offense. Not only must the receivers catch the ball better than they did last week, Stafford must put them in a better position to succeed with good decisions and solid throws.
3. The Trenches. The Browns have allowed 22 sacks this season, which is the highest amount in the league. Last week, the Lions allowed the Packers to sack Stafford five times, which was more than the three sacks Detroit had allowed through their first four games. Given both Cleveland and Detroit have fantastic defensive lines, chances are, quarterback pressure could decide the game. The Browns offensive line has been consistently bad, so the Lions' line will have to prove last week's effort was merely a fluke.
4. Cleveland's Running Game. The Browns haven't done much on the ground since dealing Trent Richardson. Despite that, the team still has a solid passing attack with Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon. If Willis McGahee is able to pose a threat, Cleveland could get the play action game going, which would be tough for Chris Houston and a dinged up secondary. The Lions have to stop the Browns up front and prevent McGahee from getting the offense any added momentum.
5. Red Zone Efficiency. Detroit has struggled putting the ball in the end zone with a short field much of the season. They're only scoring touchdowns on 55 percent of their red zone trips this season, which is 16th in the league. With offense a problem last week, the Lions will need to make sure they score touchdowns in the red zone this weekend. Considering the Browns score on 58 percent of their red zone possessions, this statistic is even more vital for Detroit.
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