This is their chance. If the Lions hope to win another game, they had better beat the Browns on Sunday. They're not going to have a better opportunity the rest of this season.
The Lions have one of the worst defenses in the NFL, especially against the pass. In a 27-10 loss Sunday at Minnesota, they allowed Brett Favre to heave deep balls to Sidney Rice. They gave up 10 plays of 20 yards or more.
But the Browns have scored only five offensive touchdowns all season, worst in the NFL, and have scored six points or fewer in six of their last eight games. In a 16-0 loss to Baltimore on "Monday Night Football," they didn't take shots down the field.
"Well, they're going to take them against us," defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. "I would, after what we went through there, and then the Green Bay game we had the same problem. They're going to throw the ball up against us. I know they will."
Cunningham knows there are two sides to this story. Whenever the Lions face another weak team, it seems like they finally have a chance to win. But the opposite is also true. Several teams have fixed their problems against the Lions in recent history. The latest was St. Louis, which snapped a 17-game losing streak Nov. 1 with a 17-10 victory at Ford Field.
The Lions are only the second team in NFL history to lose 31 out of 33 games, after the 1982-84 Houston Oilers. They can't afford to take anyone lightly -- not even the Browns.
So how can the Browns hurt them? It starts with running back Jamal Lewis. He isn't the same player he once was with the Ravens. He isn't the Rams' Steven Jackson, who hurt the Lions badly. But he's more than capable of making the Lions look bad.
"He's one of my favorite backs of all time," said Cunningham, the Titans' linebackers coach from 2001-03. "We played him in a playoff game my last year in Tennessee. We handled him pretty good. I hope he doesn't get mad about that so we can handle him. He's still a good back."
Then there is Joshua Cribbs. Assuming Cribbs plays after being carted off Monday night, he can burn the Lions' struggling coverage units on returns or make plays from the Wildcat formation.
"I may be an older guy, but I remember everything in college," Cunningham said. "To me, what it is, is just the option. It's the option, and you've just got to understand the rules. The problem is, you've got to get ready for it and you've got to spend a lot of time on it and make sure the players are on the same page."
The Browns' defense could present a much stiffer challenge than their offense. Led by former Lions defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, the Browns got after Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco on Monday night. Rob Ryan's group can plug gaps and cause a lot of havoc.
Not good for a Lions offense coming off a rough outing against the Vikings, when rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford was harassed, hurried and hit all game long.
"It's going to be a slugfest," Stafford said. "We're going to get two yards a run, one yard a run, three -- just little chunks. Then maybe we can bust one. You've got to pick your spots. They're a good, sound defense. They're big up front. They can stop the run and get after the passer, too."
SERIES HISTORY: 18th regular-season meeting. Lions lead series, 13-4. These teams met four times in the NFL Championship Game in the 1950s, with Lions winning three out of four. But the glory has long faded, and now they mostly meet every preseason to play for a trophy of a sunken ship, the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The Lions' first issue is on the offensive line. Right guard Stephen Peterman has a significant ankle injury, just in time for a game against Pro Bowl defensive tackle Shaun Rogers. The Lions haven't been able to settle on a left guard, mainly between Manny Ramirez and Daniel Loper. But they likely will play both Sunday -- Ramirez on the left, Loper on the right -- as they double-team Rogers.
The second issue is at safety. Marquand Manuel is on injured reserve, and Kalvin Pearson (hamstring), Ko Simpson (knee) and Louis Delmas (tooth) all are hurting. Pearson seems most likely to sit Sunday. Anthony Henry, who has been benched as a cornerback, could play safety.
"We're going to see him back on the field on Sunday in a lot of different roles," coach Jim Schwartz said. "He's multidimensional. He can play outside at corner. He can play nickel. He could also play safety, and we have some injuries. He may have to play a lot of different roles for us."
Asked if Henry would play safety, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said: "Yeah, we're going to work him in there. We told him to get ready both at corner and at safety. Will James will probably have to play some nickel, probably. If we have anything happen again, if that doesn't work, we'll have to play more linebackers, I guess."
BY THE NUMBERS: 8 -- Defensive backs the Lions have added since Sept. 4, when they acquired safety Ko Simpson in a trade with Buffalo. The latest is DeAndre Smith, signed off Chicago's practice squad to replace safety Marquand Manuel, on injured reserve with a shoulder problem.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I thought it was 800. I guess it's eight." --Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham on the number of defensive backs the team has added since Sept. 4.
- S Marquand Manuel was put on injured reserve with a shoulder problem suffered Sunday at Minnesota.
- DB DeAndre Smith was signed off Chicago's practice squad to replace Manuel on the roster. He can play corner and safety. He also has spent time this season with the Browns, whom the Lions play Sunday.
- S Kalvin Pearson did not practice Wednesday because of a hamstring injury. He plans to test it Friday but seems doubtful for Sunday.
- G Stephen Peterman did not practice Wednesday because of a significant ankle injury. He is out indefinitely but has not been put on IR.
- LB Ernie Sims did not practice Wednesday because of a hamstring injury. He is unlikely to play.
- DE Dewayne White did not practice Wednesday because of a toe injury. He played with it Sunday at Minnesota, though.
- WR Derrick Williams did not practice Wednesday because of a hip injury.