We previewed the trenches between the Browns Vs. Lions, both offensives lines versus the opposing front sevens. Today we complete our game match-up preview by looking at the offensive weapons versus those called to defend them. Each of the weapons are impacted by the quarterback throwing the ball. Instead of matching Matthew Stafford up against Brandon Weeden we will compare them against each other and then note how the QB could impact the offensive weapon.
Matthew Stafford versus Brandon Weeden
Stafford is a big armed veteran quarterback. Like all QBs he is dependent on the playmakers around him for success as well as his offensive line. Prior to last week his line had protected him well, until giving up 5 sacks against the Packers. That game also saw Stafford trying to run an offense without his top 2 receivers, Calvin Johnson and Nate Burelson. For the year Stafford has completed 64% of his passes with 8 TDs and 3 INTs for a total QBR of 55.4. Of his 8 TDs, 4 have gone to Johnson who could miss the game. Stafford is big and strong standing in the pocket but will face a stout Cleveland defense.
With Brian Hoyer injured Brandon Weeden led the team to a win last week against the Buffalo Bills. Weeden has had his struggles starting his NFL career. While known for a good deep arm Weeden has struggled staring down his receivers, waiting for the receiver getting open before making the throw and overthrowing his receivers. Last week he did all of these things but a beat up Bills defense couldn’t take advantage. Against the stout Lions defensive line he could be under pressure often.
Advantage: Lions - Given the same weapons Stafford would be the choice of all GMs and analysts. Stafford may have limited weapons this week which could mean the stats between the two are closer though the talent is not so.
Willis McGahee versus Linebackers
McGahee will be joined by rookie Bobby Rainey and converted fullback Chris Ogbonnaya as the backfield by committee. Last week these McGahee ran for 72 yards. Rainey has the speed to get outside against the tough front 4, but lacks the experience of either of the other two backs at finding creases and in pass protection. None of the 3 will scare the Bengals linebackers but could be used on screens and draws to take advantage of an aggressive defense.
The Lions linebacking core starts with 8 year vet Stephen Tulloch. Tulloch has 2 sacks and an interception to go along with his 39 tackles. DeAndre Levy is another solid starter with 42 tackles and 2 INTs. Ashlee Palmer is the other starter but plays much less then other two as the Lions are in Nickle or Dime. Tulloch and Levy have enough veteran savvy to keep the Browns running backs from making a huge impact in the running or passing games.
Advantage: Push - Neither team has a decided advantage in this matchup. The Browns run game will be dictated by the Lions defensive line. The Browns, especially with Brandon Weeden, don’t use the running backs often in the passing game. The Lions linebackers should keep things simple and in front of them.
Reggie Bush versus Linebackers
Bush is a unique running back in the league. He can have games running in between tackles and getting tough yards, while also bouncing outside and being used in the passing game. In other games he can be stuffed at the line and lose yards trying to bounce the ball outside. Bush is very dependent, in the Lions offense, on Calvin Johnson’s availability. With Johnson on the field Bush could be used in multiple ways with attention towards Johnson. Without Johnson Bush is the best weapon and would get the attention of the Browns primary defenders.
The Browns linebacking core is solid to great in multiple ways. DC Ray Horton uses them to rush the passer, cover backs and tight ends and moving them all over the field. Jabaal Sheard and Quentin Groves return from injury which should provide more energy and rest for the linebackers. Like last week, holding the edge against Bush will help keep the defensive line involved with the running game. Bush is a tough cover in the passing game. Veteran D’Qwell Jackson will have alot of responsibility in this area.
Advantage: Lions (Barely) - Bush is such a dynamic back that he is a tough cover in the passing game. In the run game, if the Browns hold the edge they will limit Bush. If Johnson is out this advantage swings to the Browns.
Wide Receivers versus Defensive Backs
Josh Gordon, Greg Little, and Devone Bess versus Chris Houston, Darius Slay and Bill Bentley
Gordon is huge, both literal and figuratively, for the Browns. He didn’t play with Weeden in the first two games due to suspension. With Hoyer, and Weeden last week, Gordon opens up the entire offense. With Weeden’s big arm expect the Browns to throw deep to Gordon. Little has been demoted behind Bess but still sees the field often. Bess may struggle with the return of Weeden. Bess is best in short passing timing routes which have been Weeden’s weakness.
The Lions continue to struggle against the pass. This year they rank 21st against the pass even though their defensive line gets pressure often on the opposing quarterbacks. The Lions have to matchup the strengths of their defense with their weakness by getting quick pressure while pressing the receivers.
Advantage: Browns - Gordon’s return has been huge. While the Lions are improved in this area, compared to league worst type defenses, they still struggle in the secondary. Help from safeties will take away from coverage on backs and tight ends.
Calvin Johnson, Ryan Broyles and Kris Durham versus Joe Haden, Buster Skrine and Leon McFadden
The Lions are 6th in passing yardage in the league. Johnson is currently questionable for the game. Johnson is big, strong and fast. He is dynamic with the ball in the air and has amazing hands. His knee injury will limit him today, if he plays. Broyles and Durham are both young receivers. Durham is 6’6″ and could give the smaller Browns cornerbacks a little bit of trouble but so far this year only has 8 receptions. Broyles is a smaller quicker receiver but he only has 5 receptions on the year. The injury to Nate Burelson is huge for the depth of the receiving core.
Haden is a tough CB with great coverage and ball skills. He gives up a few inches to Johnson but should fight with him all game. Haden’s physical game could cause Johnson more issues today with his injured knee. If Johnson plays Haden will get help as the Browns have little worries about the other receivers. Skrine has shown great improvement this year and McFadden, as well as Chris Owens have been solid 3rd and 4th corners.
Advantage: Browns - A healthy Johnson swings this advantage on his own. His questionable status makes his impact questionable. If he doesn’t play expect the Browns to shut down the run and force the 3rd and 4th WRs to try to impact the game.
Tight Ends versus Safety
Jordan Cameron versus Louis Delmas
Cameron has continued to succeed even after the rest of the NFL has taken notice of him. The Browns have done a good job of putting him in places to win his battles, whether on the line, in the slot or split out wide. His size, speed, leaping ability and body control gives him advantages over both DBs and LBs depending on who is covering him. The return of Gordon only increased his play making ability and openness.
Delmas is the best defensive back for the Lions. Delmas will have other responsibilities during the game, especially against Gordon. Delmas covers ground well but gives up size and strength at 5’10 and 202 lbs. Delmas could take advantage of Weeden focusing on his primary receiver to use his speed to win some battles.
Advantage: Browns - Expect Cameron’s breakout campaign to continue. The need to double Gordon and Cameron’s ability to find soft spots in zones will give him multiple opportunities. Weeden should try to find Cameron down the seam with a deep throw or two.
Brandon Pettigrew versus TJ Ward
Pettigrew is normally paired up with Tony Scheffler as a good tight end combo. Pettigrew leads the pair with 16 reception and if Johnson is out he could be a focal point of the offense. Pettigrew is a large target at 6’5″ and 265 lbs. Pettigrew doesn’t have the quick speed to cut in and out of routes but can get to spots and provide a large area for Stafford to throw to.
Ward has shown great improvement in coverage but he will have his hands full here. Ward stands 5’10″ while the other safety Tashaun Gipson stands at 5’11″. The Browns may use linebackers who are a bit taller to keep Pettigrew at bay. Again the availability of Johnson could be decisive here. Ward, as well as ILBs Jackson and Robertson, have played the pass well but been beat over the middle on seam passes. Expect to see 1 or 2 of those to Pettigrew.
Advantage: Browns - The Browns will have the ability to focus on different players if Johnson is out. Even with Johnson on the field expect the Browns to give attention to Pettigrew who would be the de facto #2 receiver.
Totals: Yesterday both defensive front 7s were given the advantage in their previews. Today their is 1 push, 2 wins for the Lions and 4 for the Browns. Overall the Browns 5 Lions 3 in our Matchup Previews.