Quarterback Jon Kitna is a familiar face to Browns fans due to his time as the Bengals signal caller. This time around, Kitna is leading arguably the most impressive receiving corps in football. Kitna provides a solid veteran presence for a young team ready to break the chains of the NFC North.
The season-ending knee injury suffered by Lions second-round rookie quarterback Drew Stanton has opened up a stiff competition for the backup position. Veteran J.T. O'Sullivan is coming off of an outstanding year in NFLE and he showed a great deal of confidence against the Bengals in his first preseason appearance.
Dan Orlovsky is a young man that I fully believe in time can become the starter for the Lions. He was put in a bad position to begin with and it stunted his growth. Give him another year or two in this system and he will be a good quarterback in this league.
The biggest question surrounding the Lions offense is their running game. Kevin Jones remains on the "PUP" list but could be ready for the season opener. Meanwhile, former Bronco Tatum Bell has appeared both confident and comfortable in the Mike Martz offense. Tatum is a dangerous back due to his vision to find the hole and how quickly he can accelerate through that hole. The key to stopping Bell is in creating hesitation by getting that early penetration and forcing him to consistently bounce the play outside.
One area that is set in stone is the Lions receiver corps. Calvin Johnson is the most talented receiver that I ever had the pleasure of watching at the collegiate level with his soft hands, solid route running and a tremendous work ethic. He is also the anti-NFL receiver with his workman like attitude without the "Me Me" personality.
Roy Williams is a nightmare to cover due to how quickly he gets out of his breaks. He loves to set up the defender with a couple of early inside moves forcing the defender in close and then he goes for the deep strike.
Mike Furry doesn't have the size or the speed of the big two but he brings a different skill set to the table. Furry will always come back for the ball. He fights off the defender with his hands and body as he simply outworks defensive backs.
The Lions offensive line was a revolving door last year with injuries as well as in their pass protection. This year, however, they are relatively healthy. The key road grader additions of former Bronco George Foster and rookie Manuel Ramirez should open up the running game and that in turn should help the passing game as teams will now be forced to respect the run.
The Detroit Lions will only go as far as the Rod Marinelli defense can carry them. The interior of the line should be outstanding especially in holding up against the run but the defensive end position has yet to show that pass rush which allows the Tampa 2 scheme to be effective. This should give rookie Ikaika Alama-Francis an excellent opportunity to not only push for playing time but possibly push for a starting position.
With a year under his belt in the Tampa 2 scheme, look for Ernie Sims to become a household name across the league. Sims is a suicide assassin bent on dealing out punishment. The key for the Browns is to take advantage of that aggression and to use it against him; this can be especially effective with the screen pass.
The Lions secondary should be much improved with Daniel Bullocks entering his second year along with veteran Kenoy Kennedy. Although improved the secondary should remain a focus for opposing offenses as they look to make the run after the catch. It will be very interesting if they become matched up against Jamal Lewis early in this contest.
Pieces of the Browns quarterback puzzle are starting to fall into face... or rather... fall on their face. That falling piece would be the media darling Derek Anderson proving why we write articles instead of designing plays. One piece that has yet to be taken out of the box is rookie Brady Quinn. The one piece that no one knows just how it fits is Ken Dorsey.
Then there is the Charlie Frye piece. While it fits, it just doesn't look right especially in the red zone and at crunch time. This will be Quinn's opportunity to present a challenge to Frye.
Thus far, the Browns receiving options have remained as inconsistent as expected. That may change this week with tight end Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards receiving more playing time. The number 3 position behind Joe Jurevicius is open as no one has stepped up to claim the job. If the players currently on the roster do not step up soon, Phil Savage will be looking to fill the void from outside the Berea Complex.
Jamal Lewis may have lost a few pounds to regain some of that lost speed, but it doesn't appear as if he has lost any of his power. Look for Lewis to receive a great deal of early work as the Browns attempt to get their run blocking on par with their pass blocking. Backup running back Chris Barclay will likely receive an additional look this week after his game-winning kickoff return last week.
The top performer of week one for the Browns was by far the pass protection of the offensive line. Tackles Kevin Shaffer and Joe Thomas were outstanding. This is especially the case with their ability to provide a pocket as well as their blocking into the second level.
The real question is in run blocking. The starting five must improve, especially at the point of attack, by getting penetration. That will not be easy against the front four of the Lions. The two best run blockers were backup guards Ryan Tucker and Fred Matua. Tucker will return after his 4 game suspension while Matua is fighting for a roster spot.
The new additions, Shawn Smith and Robaire Smith, are proving to be the right fit for Romeo Crennel's 3-4 scheme. They were able to consistently force the double from the Chiefs line which allowed the linebackers space and gave them angles to seal the inside run. It also freed up the outside backers by forcing protection inside.
Outside linebackers Kamerion Wimbley and Antwaan Peek must get into the face of the quarterback early and often if the Browns have any chance at taking the Lions out of their game plan. If Kitna has time, he will pick apart the secondary.
The hot player to watch is David McMillian. David is becoming Mr. August as he tears up preseason only to vanish during the regular season.
Competition could be heating up at the inside backer position as Andra Davis recovers from an injured ankle. The additional reps received by backup Leon Williams could be all it takes to move him into the starting role opposite D'Qwell Jackson. D'Qwell and Leon look to be well adjusted to the 3-4 and are no longer showing that slight hesitation that we saw last year. They see the hole and attack with aggression.
The Browns secondary will be in for one of the biggest challenges that they will face all season. Leigh Bodden is suffering from a sore ankle but should be ready for Saturday. Eric Wright will be targeted early and often as every opposing defense will look to take advantage of his inexperience. Daven Holly will receive a great deal of playing time as the number 3 corner as well as the nickel back. If the Browns can produce a pass rush, Kitna will put a few up for grabs and finding the ball is rapidly becoming Holly's bread and butter.
The safety combo of Sean Jones and Brodney Pool will be in for a tremendous test with the multiple receiver packages. They will be forced to cover the likes of Calvin Johnson in a one-on-one situation as well as provide over the top support to the corners as they attempt to corral Roy Williams and Mike Furry.
The heart of the Browns team is in special teams. If the Browns go anywhere this season they will need the same type of consistency they have shown with excellent coverage and big returns. The key battle is for the punt returner position. Syndric Steptoe was very hesitant last week although Dustin Colquit was notorious coming out of college for giving returners nightmares.