3TFO: Lions @ Browns, Week 6
This Sunday the (3-2) Detroit Lions head to Cleveland to take on the red hot (3-2) Browns. The “red hot” Browns sounds strange, but the Browns are winners of three straight after an 0-2 start. The Lions come in looking to stay on top of the NFC North and hold off the Bears and Packers.
Detroit is 3-2 because of an explosive passing offense led by Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush. Their formidable front four has also caused problems for opponents as their +18.1 team pass rush grade is fifth in the league. The Lions’ problems revolve around the running game. They struggle offensively, ranking in the bottom quarter of the league in yards per game and carry. Defensively they also struggle with the run. They allow 5.3 yards per carry (31st) and have been gashed for nine runs over 20 yards (only Jacksonville has allowed more).
The Browns’ overall defense has been their calling card. They rank fourth in yards and ninth in points per game (18.8 allowed). Their PFF team defensive grade (+28.5) is sixth and they don’t have a glaring weakness. They allow only 4.26 yards per play, the lowest in the league. The offensive side of the ball is a different story. Brandon Weeden gets his first start after being benched after Week 2. He played pretty well last week, and the Browns now get to see how he responds with Brian Hoyer out for the year. A lot of the Browns’ other issues start with the offensive line. They have -8.0 or lower grades in both run blocking and pass blocking. They are hoping Shawn Lavao can use his second game back to settle into the right guard spot that Oniel Cousins so badly struggled with. This leads us to our first matchup.
Ndamukong Suh vs. Shawn Lavao
Ndamukong Suh has been absolutely dominant this year as his +17.2 grade and 29 pressures lead all interior linemen. He also leads our Pass Rush Productivity signature stat. He has only two sacks on the year, but when you look at the pressures he’s generated, you see how misleading sacks are. He had his first negatively graded game last week. Look for him to bounce back.
Shawn Lavao is making his second start of the season at RG and he has his hands full. His first start netted him a -5.8 grade as he completely struggled in the run game. This week he faces a destructive force that can dominate and be in the Cleveland backfield all game. He was a decent player a year ago having a positive pass blocking grade over the last 15 weeks. We’ll see this week if he can get back to his end of 2012 form.
Jabaal Sheard vs. Riley Reiff
The Browns’ Jabaal Sheard will be returning to action this week. Sheard has struggled with inconsistency in his career so far with a lot of up and down grades. He seems to be coming into his own this year. After struggling with his pass rush last year (-18.4) he has started this season with a positive grade in all three games. Despite missing a game he is third in our 3-4 OLB rankings at +10.8 and has 13 pressures. He might split some time with Barkeveious Mingo this week on the right side, with Paul Kruger on the left. Look for Sheard to make some plays this weekend and, down the road, expect the Mingo/Sheard combo on the outside as it offers much more explosiveness.
After a solid job in spot duty last year Riley Reiff has taken over the LT spot for the Lions. The results haven’t been terrible, but definitely need improvement. His Pass Blocking Efficiency clocks in at 92.9% which ranks 46th out of 62. His -2.8 pass block grade is ranked 23rd out of all starting right tackles. Reiff struggled with Nick Perry last week and things don’t get any easier this week.
Calvin Johnson vs. Joe Haden
The Calvin Johnson injury situation seems to be up in the air. It was rumored that he was experiencing swelling in his problematic knee. Then it was confirmed that he did practice on Thursday. I will assume the theatrics are merely gamesmanship and we can expect him to play this weekend. He is still putting up big numbers, with 21 catches for 312 yards and four TDs. Matthew Stafford has thrown seven deep balls (20+ yards) Johnson’s way and they have yet to connect. Compare that to last year when Megatron led the league with 46 deep targets and caught almost half of them. Look for the Lions to take a couple deep shots in this game to get the duo back on track.
Matching up opposite Johnson will be Joe Haden. Haden was banged up last year, but this year he looks healthy and is playing good physical football. He is our ninth-rated CB overall so far (+4.6) grading positively in coverage and against the run. Haden has done very well the last few weeks matching up with top receivers. No WR in the league is as huge as Johnson, but AJ Green at 6’4” is about as close as it gets. If Haden can compete with Johnson the way he did with Green the Browns will be in good shape.
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