Detroit Lions vs. Cleveland Browns: Full Lions Report Card
This game was a tale of two halves. Cleveland won the first half, 17-7, on the strength of efficient running, tough defense and largely avoiding mistakes.
Detroit dominated the second half, winning that part of the game 24-0. Matt Stafford played outstanding, while the defense ratcheted up the pressure.
With the win, the Lions improve to 4-2 and are tied with the Chicago Bears atop the NFC North. The Browns fall to 3-3 and a game behind the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North. Cincinnati heads to Detroit next week in what figures to be a major challenge for the Lions.
The grading scale here is subjectively based on my expectations for player performance. As an example, if Ndamukong Suh gets three tackles and one quarterback pressure, that will grade lower than C.J. Mosley doing the same things. Impact plays like turnovers, touchdowns or other big plays rate highly. Penalties, blown assignments and giveaways really hurt the grade for a player.
Here are my grades for the Lions.
Even though this wasn't his most prolific game by any means, the second half of the Cleveland game saw Matt Stafford at his best. I broke that down extensively in the game recap, which you can read here.
Grade: B overall, A+ in the second half
It's important to consider Reggie Bush's total yardage and not just his running yards. Not that 78 yards on 17 carries is shabby, but it looks even better with the 57 receiving yards on five catches factored in. One of those was his patented inside screen from the slot, which he took to the house for a touchdown.
Joique Bell continues to be a tough nut to crack. His strong effort converted a short third down, and he broke at least two tackles in accumulating 25 yards on seven carries. Yet it always seems like he could break one or two runs for a lot more than he does.
Mikel Leshoure saw his first two carries of the season. He gained nine yards on them, showing a hard-charging style that made him tough to tackle. It was nice to see him make a positive contribution.
He was questionable with a knee injury after missing last week's game. The rust showed, as Megatron dropped two balls and clearly lacked the explosive speed that makes him an elite talent.
After playing sparingly early on, he worked himself back into a groove later in the game. Still, three catches for 25 yards on eight targets is not an impressive outing.
Once again, Kris Durham stepped up his game. He is quickly becoming a very good blocking wideout; I noted his blocking prowess several times. I wrote a lot about Durham in the game takeaways.
Another largely invisible week for the Lions' primary slot receiver. Ryan Broyles failed to catch either pass thrown his way, including a drop on a slant route. On just the first viewing of the game, I do not recall ever seeing Broyles open.
One reception for five yards was the production total for the Lions' fifth wideout. I noted his quickness off the line being something to build upon going forward. If Broyles continues to struggle, Kevin Ogletree could very well usurp his role.
Patrick Edwards failed to catch a pass on three targets. Two of those came on the fateful final drive of the first half, on the exact same play call. He could not reach the first attempt despite being open, and he dropped what would have been a difficult sliding catch on the other one.
The renaissance continues. Brandon Pettigrew once again played a very good all-around game. He threw a devastating block to spring Bell for a positive gain and another on Bush's 39-yard scamper where he pancaked his man. Pettigrew caught all four passes thrown his way, his second perfect week in a row.
What earns Pettigrew extra credit was the run after the catch to convert a 3rd-and-12 to set up a Joseph Fauria touchdown catch early in the third quarter. The spin move and subsequent powerful run helped set the tone for the rest of the half.
Three catches on three targets produced three touchdowns. As if that troika isn't impressive enough, I also noted positive blocking on a couple of early occasions.
This was his biggest role so far, and he nailed it. Look for his playing time to increase against Cincinnati and beyond with more performances like this.
As for his celebrations, the thunderous throwback dunk over the goalpost makes up for the cheesy dance moves. At least he's enjoying himself.
After a rough outing last week, Riley Reiff looked much better against Cleveland. He was more assertive off the snap and maintained leg drive while engaged in run blocking, something he failed to do last week.
In my notes I typically make + and - marks for the offensive linemen on blocking. On the live viewing of the game I had seven pluses for Reiff, a very high number, against just one minus.
Rob Sims also played better than a week ago, though his range in run blocking continues to come up lacking. He was rock-solid in pass protection, as we've come to expect from the veteran left guard.
Dominic Raiola typically struggles against 3-4 fronts, but he was largely invisible in this game. When a center is invisible, that is generally a positive development.
As I mentioned with Reiff, I use pluses and minuses in my notes to help me assess the linemen. Larry Warford wound up with two minuses for overrunning his target in the run game. The rookie right guard did make a great lead block on a Bell run, and he pulled quickly across the formation to help pave the way for Bush's long burst.
I didn't note the right tackle very much. I had him for a strong blitz pickup once, but also for falling off a run block that got Bell stuffed. It's hard to give real accurate grades to the offensive line on just one viewing.
I only noticed Dylan Gandy in the game for one play, as an extra tackle in a red-zone situation. The Lions scored a touchdown on the play, so he must have done something right.
This was a nice rebound game for Suh after a substandard performance against Green Bay. He only registered one official tackle but was consistently involved at the point of attack. He rocked Brandon Weeden on a scramble (pictured above) and also hammered Willis McGahee on an early run which stunned the Browns running back. Two offsides penalties dock him a full letter grade.
As is becoming his custom, Nick Fairley is an all-or-nothing player. He's either the instigator of the action, as when he forced the hilariously inept Weeden interception late in the game, or a complete detriment like he was on three different runs right past where he was supposed to be in the first half. An offsides penalty costs him a half-grade, but he makes up for it with a forced intentional grounding penalty.
It was a rough day at the office for the rookie. I covered that here in the game takeaways. He will have much better days.
Willie Young continues his very strong 2013 campaign. He recorded a sack, another tackle for loss and clearly bothered Weeden on at least two other throws. Young looked fantastic when playing tackle in the inverted defensive line, something I hope we see more of going forward.
Izzy was once again the weakest link of the Lions' front. He just doesn't have any explosiveness to his game at all. Twice I noted he was easily pushed out of the hole on successful runs by the Cleveland offense. Why he continues to get more reps than Devin Taylor is a mystery; perhaps someone will ask Jim Schwartz about that...
The fourth-round rookie brought some serious juice in limited duty. He bagged a sack after a strong move quickly separated him from the blocking. On another play he was blatantly held to keep him out of the backfield, a hold which went uncalled. Devin Taylor still needs some work but continues to look stronger every week.
The reserve tackle scarcely made an impression. He did show strength at the point of attack on Cleveland's second drive.
The prodigal Lion made the notes twice. He was completely clueless on an end around to Josh Gordon despite being in position to make a big play. The other incidence was also jumping offsides on a play where Suh was flagged. That might be his last performance in the Honolulu Blue.
Once again, Stephen Tulloch led the Lions in tackles, as he does pretty much every week. This game marked an improvement in his coverage from the last couple of weeks; he stuck tightly to Jordan Cameron and Gary Barnidge. He broke up two passes, including a third-down attempt to Cameron.
This was another monster performance by DeAndre Levy. His first interception was an athletic catch, which impressed tight end coaches everywhere. The second interception was making a play by being in the right place at the right time.
That is the most apt description of Levy's performance, both in this game and in the entire 2013 season. He's been very active and rangy in coverage and was here as well. Performances like this will put Levy in the running for Most Improved Player in the NFL.
Ashlee Palmer laid a huge lick on Weeden early in the game. The only other time I noted him was making a tackle seven yards down the field, though he played a lot in coverage and the Browns tight ends were relatively quiet.
He played exclusively on special teams, making one tackle. At least he didn't get flagged for a penalty this week.
The corner had his hands full with Josh Gordon. The physical Browns receiver won more battles against Chris Houston than he lost, though No. 23 did make several tackles. I had him for one missed tackle.
Houston needs to do a better job of anticipating the routes against bigger wideouts like Gordon. He often seemed taken aback by Gordon initiating contact.
Rashean Mathis was not off to a good start before leaving the game in the first half with a groin injury. He did not return. This is the second game he has departed early, leaving his durability a real question as the season progresses. A nice leg-clinging tackle on a third down keeps him from failing here.
Other than being victimized by Greg Little for a touchdown where he was badly beaten from the get-go, Bill Bentley once again played reasonably well. His hard-hitting run support from the slot is well-received. I had him down for two tackles on third downs which prevented conversions. His one pass deflection could have been an interception.
Louis Delmas got sucked up on a play fake and subsequently lost in coverage on the first Cleveland touchdown. He was a count late to help on Gordon more than once as well. The safety missed one tackle because he failed to wrap after a hit. It was not his best game.
It was a very quiet game for the safety. The box score has him down for four tackles, but I only have him listed with two in my notes. He left the game on the final Cleveland drive.
Don Carey was flagged for a penalty on special teams but did chip in two tackles.
One again pressed into extended action, Darius Slay played pretty well. I have three different listings where I praised his coverage. He also blew up a run play and quickly attacked a screen to hold it to a short gain.
But then there were the bad moments, as every rookie corner must suffer. Slay earned his pass interference penalty. He got bailed out on a long completion by an iffy call by the officials, who ruled that Little did not land inbounds.
I give him a half-grade bump for excellent work on the punt and kick coverage units.
His up-and-down rookie campaign continues. He has at least shown enough to merit the nod over Mathis, or at least keep the coaching staff comfortable in replacing the veteran if he's hurt again or struggling on the field next week.
Another perfect week at the office for the veteran kicker. He easily hammered home a 51-yard field goal and put all four extra points through the uprights.
Sam Martin punted five times and put three of them inside the Cleveland 20 with no touchbacks. His hang time facilitated excellent work by the coverage units, as dangerous Travis Benjamin wound up with negative return yardage. All but one of his kickoffs went for touchbacks, negating the strong Cleveland return game.
The return specialist accrued 22 yards on five returns. Half of those came on one solid effort where he slipped a tackle. Simply not being a negative is a positive development for the return man.