Week 2. You can almost taste the street hot dogs and feel the quasi-excitement, right? Anyway, the Browns face the Detroit Lions this week in the always important Great Lakes Classic. The Lions are a regular season opponent this year, but, as always, the preseason game against them is a huge deal for both the organization and the fans.
Alright, that’s all the sarcasm I can muster for week 2 of the preseason. Here’s what to look for tonight.
Detroit Lions (2012: 4-12, 4th in NFC North, missed playoffs)
After making the playoffs (PLAYOFFS?!?) in 2011, the Lions regressed in a major way last season. Matt Stafford still starting under center, but as the season swirled down the drain last year he adopted a sidearm throwing motion that proved to be wildly ineffective. That sidearm slinging even proved tough for Calvin Johnson, the undisputed best wide receiver in the league today. He broke the NFL record with 1,964 yards last season while playing through broken fingers. Good luck to Joe Haden, who will be charged with covering Megatron not only tonight but also when the Browns face the Lions for real in Week 6.
Detroit added Reggie Bush in free agency this offseason. He should be the starter tonight ahead of Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell, who both saw a good amount of snaps last season. Bush has never been a top 10 back in the NFL, but he certainly represents an upgrade over either Leshoure or Bell. His touches will be a good test for the ability of the Browns new 3-4 front to shut down the run.
Nate Burleson occupies the wide receiver spot opposite Johnson. While not a stud by any stretch of the imagination, he does find some openings due to the focus on Megatron each week. Buster Skrine or Chris Owens will have a decent challenge staying with him for however long the starters play. Similarly, the linebacker corps will be forced to run with tight end Brandon Pettigrew. His pass catching ability will be a welcome challenge for either Craig Robertson or any of the outside linebackers who are tasked with covering him.
When the Browns have the ball, fans will get a close look at Ezekiel Ansah, the BYU defensive end whom Detroit picked fifth – one spot ahead of the Browns. He lines up next to two studs in defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Jason Jones mans the other end spot. If Ansah lives up to the hype he earned in the run up to the draft, the Detroit defensive line could easily be one of the best in the entire league. The Browns’ offensive line is obviously a team strength, but they will be tested tonight.
Among the Detroit linebackers, Stephen Tulloch is the name to know. He patrols the middle, flanked by Ashlee Palmer and DeAndre Levy. Hopefully Joe Thomas and company will be able to get a solid push and neutralize the Lions’ second level to provide running room for Trent Richardson, who will be making his preseason debut.
Brandon Weeden and the passing game will also face favorable conditions tonight. The Lions start Chris Houston and Ron Bartell at cornerback, two veterans who have not proven to be lockdown NFL performers. The safeties are stronger with Glover Quin on the strong side and stalwart Louis Delmas opposite him. The Browns passing game will likely get a break, as Delmas is expected to continue his preseason absence after missing eight games last season.
On special teams, the player of note is the ageless David Akers, who the Lions hired just three days after Jason Hanson hung up his cleats after 21 seasons in Detroit. Browns fans should note that Akers was released by the San Francisco 49ers just 13 days before the team signed former Cleveland favorite Phil Dawson to step in as their starting kicker for this season.
The Lions are coached by Jim Schwartz, whose seat is at least lukewarm as he enters his fifth season with the team.
Browns To Watch
Brandon Weeden: He looked great against St. Louis’s stellar corners. Hopefully he’ll perform even better against the questionable Detroit secondary. Ross Tucker will surely be rooting for him. Rob Chudzinski has declined to name a starter at this point, but I don’t see any way that it won’t be Weeden taking the snaps when the Dolphins roll into Cleveland on September 8.
Trent Richardson: Chudzinski announced on Wednesday that the first-string running back will play “a couple of series” against the Lions. The decision to play him surely means that his injured shin is 100 percent healthy, as the team has been exceedingly cautious with him to this point through training camp and the first preseason game. Don’t read too much into his performance, but it will be nice to see him out there.
Dion Lewis: Montario Hardesty returned to practice on Wednesday after X-rays on his injured thumb were negative, but the team revealed that he will have arthroscopic knee surgery on Thursday. Lewis was impressive against the Rams last week, and another solid performance should propel him past the oft-injured Hardesty on the depth chart.
Brandon Jackson: With Hardesty out, Jackson will have the chance to make his own case for the third running back position. The veteran has performed well to this point in camp. If he can carry it into real games he has a good chance to make the 53-man roster.
Jason Pinkston: Shawn Lauvao underwent arthroscopic surgery on his ankle last Friday and will miss the start of the season. Pinkston, last year’s starter at left guard until he was sidelined with blood clots, has a great opportunity to reestablish himself as a starter opposite the recently extended John Greco.
Barkevious Mingo: Can he continue to impress after his performance last week? It is interesting to see that Mingo is getting a lot of time on special teams. Previous Browns coaching staff have declined to insert their top draft picks into those units.
Chris Owens: The game tonight will be his first time in a Browns uniform. It’s not clear whether he or Buster Skrine will start opposite Joe Haden, but the competition for the second starting cornerback will be officially on if Owens stands out tonight.
Brandon Bogotay: Chud stated that the rookie will handle all of the kicking duties on Thursday night. It’s possible that he is getting the opportunity this week and Graham will have the same chance in the next game. Hopefully he performs well enough that special teams coordinator Chris Tabor chooses him over the more expensive veteran Graham.
Other Browns Notes
- As mentioned above, Montario Hardesty will have his knee scoped today. It’s just the latest in a long series of setbacks for the promising runner. Consider his roster spot officially in jeopardy.
- With Lauvao’s surgery, Pinkston and Greco are surely the starting guards for Week 1. Some reports have Lauvao missing up to six weeks, which would include the first two or three regular season games.
Last week I implored you all to watch the Indians and they promptly delivered a 10-3 loss to finish the sweep by the Detroit Tigers. The Tribe is off tonight, so by all means head down to FirstEnergy Stadium and watch the Browns face off against Detroit’s football team. The Great Lakes Classic is on the line, so fans should be in regular season form to cheer on the Browns.