#1 - Calvin Johnson's Status for Sunday: The biggest question for this Sunday's game is whether or not Calvin Johnson will suit up on Sunday against the Browns. Johnson's absence was felt last week in the Lions' 22-9 loss to the Packers. With Johnson, Detroit has an offense that can easily throw 30 points on the board. Without him, it seems like everything could fall apart: they really have no other wide receivers, and teams can key in on the likes of running back Reggie Bush and tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
My hunch is that Johnson will play this weekend, but he might not be himself until he has more time to recover from his knee injury. If that's the case, the next receiver up for the Lions is Ryan Broyles, a second-round draft pick in 2012. He seemed to have a lot of potential during his rookie season, but tore his ACL. In 2013, he's had trouble getting involved on offense, posting just 5 catches for 61 yards on the year. The other receivers for the Lions include Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree, and Patrick Edwards. Those are a bunch of castoff players who really wouldn't be seeing much playing time with the majority of NFL teams.
#2 - A New Edge at Running Back:
The Lions do a good job of getting backup running back Joique Bell involved in the offense. He is only averaging 3.0 yards per carry, but can grind out some of the tough yardage. Believe it or not, he actually has more receptions and yards receiving than Bush this year. Together, the Lions' running backs have 37 receptions for 441 yards this season. That is an average of 7.4 catches for 88.2 yards per game for the Lions' running backs in the passing game. Cleveland is known to be a very effective screen team, and Rob Chudzinski acknowledged that this week in his press conference. The Browns will no doubt have tried to gameplan against it, but sometimes it's just too enticing to fall into the trap of thinking you are getting a free rush at the quarterback.
#3 - Difference Makers on the Defensive Line: The Lions have three very talented individuals up front on their defensive line: tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah. A lot of Browns fans wanted the team to draft Ansah back in April, but instead, we got Barkevious Mingo. It actually ended up being a win-win for both teams, as each player has displayed impressive pass-rushing abilities. Suh and Fairley are tough to handle up front, and right guard Shawn Lauvao will face a big test in his second game back trying to keep Brandon Weeden protected.
There shouldn't be a misconception about the Lions' defense, though. Although Suh, Fairley, and Ansah have impressive spurts, if you gameplan to stop those players, there aren't enough other impact players on the rest of the defense to pick up the slack. The Lions rank 27th in the NFL in sacks per pass attempt. They rank 27th in the NFL against the run.
#4 - A Healthy Secondary for Once: For two weeks in a row, the Browns faced banged up secondaries in the Bengals and the Bills. That isn't the case this week -- the Lions' secondary, including cornerbacks Chris Houston and Darius Slay, and safeties Glover Quin and Louis Delmas, are all good-to-go. Is that trouble for Brandon Weeden and the Browns' offense? Not necessarily. Whereas the Bengals and Bills were missing top quality talent, the Lions secondary is relatively average at their best. Most of the unit has veteran experience, except for Slay, who is a second-round draft pick who has now been thrown into the starting lineup.
#5 - Special Teams Overview: With Jason Hanson departing from the kicker position after so many years, the Lions added veteran David Akers as their new kicker. I predicted a rebound season for Akers, and so far he has done well, connecting on 9-of-11 attempts.
Akers doesn't handle kickoffs for the Lions: that gig belongs to fifth-round draft pick Sam Martin, the team's punter. Martin is in the top 6 in the NFL when it comes to net average on punts. On kickoffs, Martin averages a touchback about half of the time, so Greg Little may have some more opportunities this week. The Lions' kick and punt returner is Michael Spurlock. Spurlock made some big plays for the Chargers in the return game in 2012, but generally, he is more of a player who is an average returner; if he gets the big return, it's not because of anything special that he did.