Fresh off a convincing road division win over the Green Bay Packers, the 4-4 Detroit Lions will return to Ford Field Sunday to go head-to-head with the bottom-feeding 0-8 Cleveland Browns. This will be the first matchup between these two teams in Detroit since 2009, when then-rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford famously threw a game-winning touchdown with a separated shoulder.
The Lions already received good news before the game even started, as offensive tackle Taylor Decker has been cleared to return and looks to potentially start at left tackle on Sunday. This is a huge addition for a Detroit offensive line that has allowed 26 sacks this season, tied for sixth-most in the entire NFL.
While the return of Decker and a matchup against a winless team may seem enticing for the offense, the Browns defense has quietly had a solid season and is vastly improved from last year. Cleveland has allowed the third-lowest total rushing yards in the NFL, thanks mostly to rookie No. 1 pick defensive end Myles Garrett. The Browns are also allowing the fewest yards per carry average in the entire league at just 2.9.
This does not bode well for a Lions run game that ranks 30th in the league. Lions backs are averaging a putrid 3.2 yards per carry and that’s not going to change this week. Running backs Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick are going to have their work cut out for them running the ball.
Despite this tough Browns run defense, it is still crucial the Lions get their running backs involved in the game. Abdullah, who has been the Lions’ lead back all season, fumbled twice last week, so we could be seeing more of Riddick this game, which will play to the Lions’ advantage.
Riddick has long been one of the best pass-catching backs in the league. He ranked seventh in receptions for running backs in 2016 despite missing six games. Since the Browns run defense is so stout, it’s imperative the Lions use Riddick in the short passing game to keep things less predictable.
Since Riddick was drafted by the Lions in 2013, Detroit is 10-3 in games which he records at least 50 receiving yards. If Riddick can make tacklers miss and be productive in the short pass game, the deep ball will be easy pickings all day.
On the flip side of the ball, a hot Lions defense will face off against one of the worst offenses in the league, led by 21-year-old rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer. Kizer has struggled mightily this season and has been benched numerous times, but the Browns have named him the starter for Week 10.
Kizer could be a solid quarterback one day, but this season, he’s been dreadful. He has the second-lowest completion percentage in the league, 52.1 percent, is tied for most interceptions, 11, and has the lowest number of passing yards out of any starting quarterback in the league, 1,144.
Kizer hasn’t been sacked an abnormal amount as his 15 sacks ranks 20th in the league, but when he is under pressure, he tends to make mistakes. The Lions pass rush hasn’t been great this year, registering only 15 sacks thus far, but even with defensive end Ezekiel Ansah doubtful due to injury, the Lions need to get a pass rush going against a depleted Cleveland offensive line.
If the Lions pass rush can force Kizer into errant throws, the secondary will reap the benefits. The Lions have forced 10 interceptions this season, tied for fourth-most in the NFL. If the Lions can get a big game out of second-year defensive end Anthony Zettel, who leads the Lions with five sacks, it’s going to be a long day for the young Kizer.
Keys to the game
- Use Theo Riddick in the short pass game. Riddick showed his explosiveness last week in Green Bay with a 63-yard catch-and-run. The run game has a tough matchup against a strong Cleveland front, but it’s important the Lions don’t become one-dimensional and find creative ways to get their running backs involved.
- Ride the hot hand of receiver Marvin Jones Jr. Jones Jr. has been a bona fide stud the past three weeks, recording 19 catches for 331 yards and three touchdowns. The Browns defense is tied for third-most passing touchdowns allowed this year, 16, so it’s a good idea for quarterback Matthew Stafford to keep feeding Jones Jr. the ball until someone proves they can stop him.
- Put pressure on DeShone Kizer. The Lions defense has proved they can force turnovers, but they haven’t proved they can consistently get to the quarterback. It may be tough without Ansah, but defensive ends Zettel and Akeem Spence need to step up and make the rookie quarterback uncomfortable. If this happens, there will be a turnover party at Ford Field.
On paper, this should be a blowout, but if there’s one thing we know about the Lions, they love to make games closer than they should be. Both teams boast solid defenses and nonexistent run games, so this game shouldn’t be a shootout. It all boils down to this: Detroit has a Pro Bowl quarterback, and Cleveland has a quarterback who’s thrown three touchdowns in seven games.
Lions 24, Browns 16
Back-to-back weeks that the Lions have a gimme of a game. The Browns are one of, if not, the worst in the NFL right now. They have no quarterback, their leading receiver, receptions and yardage wise, is a running back and their defense has more holes in it than swiss cheese. Detroit should dominate this game more than they did last week in Green Bay.
Lions 31, Browns 10
This will be a very one-sided game and a good confidence builder for a struggling Detroit team. Look for Stafford to put together another phenomenal showing to put his team back over the .500 mark.
Lions 34, Browns 10