Browns - Lions: Greg's Game Preview

Yes, it's the battle of Lake Erie, as the Browns and Lions tussle over the Great Lakes Cup. Winners get parades and losers get shot at dawn. Alright, maybe not, but some fledgling NFL careers will be made or broken on Friday night. Greg Hensley takes a look at the match-up...

The Lions and Browns are two of the most historic franchises in the NFL but life as a Browns fan - as well as a Lions fan - has not been easy in recent years. Both franchises have turned to former defensive coordinators and first time head coaches to turn things around. Lions head coach Rob Marinelli joined the Buccaneers coaching staff in 1996 and produced one of the best defenses in the NFL over the last 10 years. Rob will be looking to do the same with a very talented Lions defense with the help of new defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson.

Lions Defense

There are certain expectations with the Lions' new head coach. Coach Marinelli is a no nonsense throwback coach. He believes in an extremely disciplined, physical brand of football that holds eleven players accountable for each and every play. His Tampa 2 cover scheme is based upon the philosophy of forcing quarterbacks into making bad decisions due to the front four wrecking havoc in the backfield. The linebackers and corners play the underneath zone, as they attempt to read the quarterback while jumping the hot routes. The safeties play the 2 deep zone, where each is assigned half the field to protect.

The Lions were extremely basic with their defense last week against the Broncos but they may look to add a bit to their defensive playbook this week. They will however be doing this without defensive tackles, Shaun Rodgers and Shaun Cody as well as middle linebacker Boss Bailey.

Detroit's front seven enjoy putting their helmet on the ball and also tearing at the ball as they wrap up. This group can and will force turnovers whenever the ball carrier becomes careless with the football. They managed to force 3 fumbles last week, while recovering two of those.

The Lions defensive ends can be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. James Hall is capable of producing double digit sacks. He is extremely quick off the snap and has the speed to beat the tackle before he sets his feet. Kalimba Edwards brings a relentless pass rush to the defense. He is very effective at dipping his shoulder under the tackle while shooting the inside gap. This pair of ends will be a tremendous test for the Browns' offensive tackles.

Everyone will be watching and evaluating the play of undersized, rookie linebacker, Ernie Sims. Ernie has excellent speed and range but what makes him special is the force in which he delivers hits. Ernie will put his body on the line taking on blockers while flying all over the field. He will likely receive a great deal of playing time as he becomes more accustomed to the defensive scheme. Keep your eye on Ernie because he and fullback Terrelle Smith should provide the biggest hits of this contest.

The Lions secondary is led by one of the best corners in the league, Dre Bly. The Lions will likely look to add more pressure on the quarterback this week, which will truly be a test for the secondary.

Lions Offense

Mike Martz brings the greatest show on turf to Detroit. In a Mike Martz ran offense everyone is a weapon. The general of this offense appears to be former Bengal, Jon Kitna, although Jon was not impressive in his debut against the Broncos. Second year quarterback Dan Orlovsky appears to have a better grasp of the offense and with another solid performance, he could become the starting quarterback of the Detroit Lions.

The Lions offensive line should be solid when everyone gets healthy but that will be a few weeks as tackle Rex Tucker and guard Damien Woody recover from injuries. Despite the injuries, this line is very effective especially at sealing the defensive ends and allowing runs outside the box. Browns fans will also see a pair of former Browns take the field as Ross Verba and Barry Stokes make their return to Cleveland.

The Lions are blessed with a deep and talented backfield that features Kevin Jones and Arlen Harris. Jones must be considered this team's number one threat with his ability to pound the ball inside, run outside the box and become a featured weapon in the passing game.

The Lions are so loaded with receiving talent that former first round picks Mike Williams and Charles Rodgers aren't just competing for playing time but a roster spot. Starting receiver, Roy Williams should become a start in this offense as he has the size to run those difficult routes over the middle but the speed to separate down the field. Former Texan, Corey Bradford looks poised to have an excellent year as the Lions' number two receiver.

Tight end, Casey Fitzsimmons suffered a wrist injury and will not play but Marcus Pollard is a very effective weapon in the passing game.

Browns Defense

The Browns defense was very impressive in last week's debut versus the Eagles, even with a very basic version of their 3-4 defense. Nose tackle, Ted Washington's presence was immediately felt as the Browns no longer are allowing the guards to push this line into the linebackers. Also defensive end, Alvin McKinley may be one of the most improved players on this defense.The backup positions remain in question, but defensive ends Nick Eason and Simon Fraser are providing a strong pass rush.

The Browns linebackers had an excellent showing especially with David McMillan making 2 sacks while also looking much improved against the run. Willie McGinnest will not play again this week; this should give McMillan and rookie Kamerion Wimbley more opportunity to showcase their skills. Nick Speegle is expected to receiver more playing time as well.

The interior must show improvement. D'Qwell Jackson was impressive in completely shutting down the run to his side but he must show more discipline in pass coverage, as he was beaten for a huge gain. Andra Davis must improve in maintaining his gap integrity. Andra also must show more aggression in meeting the run. Making the tackle 5 yards down field is not what this defense is intended to do. His play thus far has been disappointing. Rookie Leon Williams may benefit from Andra's lackluster play as he was very impressive at meeting the run and ending the play at the line of scrimmage.

The Browns safety positions continue to be topic for debate. Unlike the past this debate is about who is better not who is worst. I believe most are ready to see what the combination of Sean Jones and Brodney Pool can do as the starting safeties. It is not because Brian Russell is playing poorly but because Jones is the best cover safety and Pool is the most physically talented.   Pool had a phenominal game last week and another great performance could push him into the starting lineup.

The Browns corner position is a pure train wreck with injuries. Leigh Bodden is the lone starter. Gary Baxter, Daylon McCutcheon, Demario Minter and Antonio Perkins are likely to be absent this week due to a variety of injuries. The remaining starting corner position is up for grabs amongst a variety of unknowns.

Expect the Browns to blitz more often this week in order to take some of the heat away from this banged up secondary and also to test the pass rush skills of their young linebackers.

Browns Offense

The Lions defense will provide a tremendous test for the Browns offense. Charlie Frye's ability to read the defense and make the proper decision will be tested. Charlie must learn the art of defeating the cover two, which is a pure mental test for a quarterback.

The primary weapon against the cover 2 is the tight end over the middle in the heart of the defense. This takes a speedy tight end that is willing to go over the middle as well as precision from the quarterback to throw over the linebackers and beneath the safeties.

The large receivers for the Browns will also have an advantage against the smaller Lions corners. Joe Jurevicius can be a considerable weapon due to his size but in order for the receivers to be successful, Charlie must avoid locking onto his receivers early and also use the pump fake in order to make the defenders show their zone responsibilities.

Reuben Droughns appeared to be faster and more nimble than ever before but his style of running can be frustrating for the speedy linebackers of the Lions. Reuben may need to return to his philosophy of running over anything in his way this week. Also the play of Terrelle Smith will be vital. If Smith can effectively remove the middle linebacker from the play, this will allow Reuben to use his size to pummel the secondary.

In order for the offense to be effective the Browns' c offensive line must protect the pocket. If they are allowing the quick rush to penetrate it is almost impossible to keep the defense from jumping the hot routes. One vital element, will be the next in line at center, Ross Tucker. Tucker must give the quarterback room to step up and deliver the throw. Also keep your eye on the right tackle position. Nat Dorsey has an injured ankle and his status for the game is uncertain.

Special teams play can win and lose games. While the Lions coverage is solid their return game is a question due to penalties and missed blocks. Also, if Josh Cribbs can make it past the first wave of defenders, he may be able to find the seam to the end zone.

Bottom Line: These are two evenly matched teams and they should produce an excellent game but more of a defensive game than most would expect. This is also a game in which roster decisions will be made. For those bubble players, this may be their last chance to make the team.

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