The Detroit Lions one year ago were tamed by every single opponent they faced while enduring an 0-16 season. Last week, however, they showed their claws in scratching their way to a win against a very good Atlanta Falcons team.
In their first preseason game, the Browns at times showed glimpses of improvement but despite Eric Mangini's relentless focus on discipline the Browns lost by 17 as they were shut out against the Packers. To make matters worse, discipline and focus were the culprits in that loss as a holding call took a field goal off of the boards. A Cory Ivy penalty led to a touchdown instead of a punt and what should have been an easy Braylon Edwards reception was dropped for no apparent reason. That is a 10 points for and 7 against simply due to mental mistakes.
The Lions are looking to make it two straight wins in preseason with grit and determination, while the Browns look to right the ship. The Great Lakes Classic should be better than most expect.
The Lions appear to have an increased focus on the running game. Kevin Smith is entering his second season and showing all the signs of becoming the franchise back the Lions have sought since the premature retirement of Barry Sanders. Smith has a natural elusiveness combined with deceptive power and burst. He will test the Browns defense.
Rookie Aaron Brown, a 6th round selection from Texas Christian, was very impressive in his debut against the Falcons one week ago. He has a "take it to the house" mentality whenever he touches the ball. Brown could give the Lions a very nice tandem at the running back position.
The big question is at the quarterback position as a rejuvenated Daunte Culpepper attempts to hold off 2009's Number One overall pick in the draft, Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford appears to be a perfect fit for this offense as the Lions will look to run the ball consistently while stretching the field vertically with the passing game.
Meanwhile, Stafford should have little trouble finding an open target in the deep game as Calvin Johnson is quickly emerging as one of the brightest young stars of the game today. Johnson is a physical mismatch for any defensive back and should demand double coverage whenever he is on the field. (Editor's note: Calvin Johnson will not play in Saturday's preseason game against the Browns).
The offensive line play for the Lions one year ago was criminal as this group stole a paycheck for 16 weeks. No communication, lack of discipline and often confused, this group was arguably the worst in football one year ago.
There were bright spots along that line however as Gosder Cherilus emerged as a terrific young tackle that brought power and quickness to the right side of the line. At 6-7 and appearing to be well over his listed weight of 319, Cherilus is a very intimidating figure.
Many may have looked at the defensive statistics and declared last week's game against the Packers a total disaster but there were signs of optimism. The Browns did not disguise anything and when they blitzed it was well telegraphed. Expect much of the same again this week.
The defensive line as a whole must improve. There were very few bright spots a week ago. One of those bright spots was Ahtyba Rubin. Rubin filled in for the Browns best defensive player in Shaun Rogers and he did an admirable job. While he isn't the physically dominant player that Rogers is, he showed tremendous improvement. With each snap, he gains valuable experience and he may receive more opportunity against the Lions as Rogers appears likely to be absent once again.
The big question regarding this Browns defense was who was going to rush passer. While Kamerion Wimbley and Alex Hall were making plays all over the field, it was rookie Marcus Benard that opened many eyes.
Marcus is a player to watch in this contest. His quick initial burst and a knack for finding his way into the pocket are qualities that simply cannot be taught. It was only one game but if he can show those same traits again this week, he will move closer to earning himself a spot on the Browns roster.
D'Qwell Jackson appears to playing with a chip on his shoulder but questions remain as to the player currently slated to line up beside him. Eric Barton's initial performance was reminiscent of Andra Davis and his tackles 10 yards down the field. The rookies Kaluka Maiava and David Veikune have a golden opportunity to step up prove themselves as valuable depth options, if Barton should continue to struggle.
The key battle in this one will be Browns corner Eric Wright facing off against the talented Calvin Johnson of the Lions. This is the kind of matchup that Wright looks forward to but he will need help and safety play was a concern against the Packers.
When the Browns are in an eight man deep zone, no receiver should be allowed to get behind the safeties.
Another youngster that is rapidly gaining a fan following is rookie corner Coye Francies. Not only is this young man pressing for a roster spot but he is displaying the kind of skill set you expect from veteran starting caliber defensive backs. He has solid cover skills and a willingness to sacrifice his body to punish the ball carrier. He has a bright future in this league.
There has been a complete overhaul of both roster and attitude thanks to Jim Schwartz and veteran defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. Swartz has the likes of Grady Jackson and Cliff Avril along his defensive line. Jackson, when well conditioned, is as good a tackle as you will find. Avril is stronger and faster than last year. He could present problems for Browns tackle John St. Clair.
There should be some excitement when former Brown Shaun Smith enters this contest. Enough said on that one.
If there is strength to the Lions defense it certainly has to be the linebacker corps. Larry Foote, Julian Peterson and Ernie Sims provide talent as well as experience. This is a talented trio that should be the strength of the defense for the Lions this season.
Another strong showing by Brady Quinn should end the quarterback battle. I have to agree with Mangini's approach to this one in letting it play out. After Derek Anderson's poor performance against the Packers most Browns fans would like to name Quinn the starter but if it had been Quinn with the bad opener the phrase "it was just one game" would be uttered loudly. By letting this play out, no one will question the decision, especially the players.
The best competition in my eyes remains at the wide receiver position. Joshua Cribbs, Mike Furrey, Brian Robiskie, David Patten and Mohamed Massaquoi are all battling for the starting position opposite Braylon Edwards along with the slot receiver position. Mike Furrey appears to be a small, quicker version of former Browns receiver Joe Jurevicius. He has displayed terrific hands. The forgotten receiver with the big play mentality is Lance Leggett. This game should go a long way in deciding the pecking order at the receiver position.
One area in the Browns can no longer afford to tinker is the offensive line. This group one week ago looked as if they had never taken a snap together. Mangini needs to pick his five and get them as many reps together as he can. Continuity can't be patch worked.
The Browns hoped to be a power running team but with the line being blown up consistently the running backs had no chance to showcase their skills. Last week Jerome Harrison avoided two would-be tacklers and broke a tackle all for a 1 yard gain. It will not matter who the quarterback is, or who is at wide receiver and running back, if the Browns do not do a much better job in the trenches.