After trailing 17-7 at halftime, the Lions played their best football of the season and outscored the Browns 24-0 in the second half to seize the elusive road victory.
It's deja vu all over again in Week 7 as, for the second game in a row, the Lions face a first-place AFC North team from Ohio which wears orange as its primary color. The 4-2 Cincinnati Bengals make the trip up I-75 to Ford Field this Sunday.
NFC North Division Standings
|Team||Win||Loss||Points For||Points Against|
|Green Bay Packers||3||2||137||114|
Detroit, Chicago and Green Bay all won over the weekend, keeping the NFC North standings tightly packed at the top. Chicago beat up the winless New York Giants, while the Packers squeaked past the Ravens in Baltimore.
The Vikings were obliterated at home by the Carolina Panthers and at this juncture appear to be well out of the playoff mix.
The Bears travel to Washington in Week 7 to face the 1-4 Redskins, while the Packers host the same Browns team the Lions conquered on Sunday. Minnesota visits the Giants on Monday night.
Cincinnati represents a stern test for the Lions. In fact, they might be the NFL team which is most similar to the Lions in terms of strengths and schemes.
Both teams feature strong, disruptive defensive lines that can really bring the pressure. Just as the Lions have an elite receiver in Calvin Johnson, the Bengals have one in A.J. Green. Both offensive lines are physical and do a strong job in pass protection.
The Lions have played four of the six games this year against 3-4 defensive fronts. The Bengals deploy the same basic 4-3 defense as the Lions, often using the Wide 9 alignment and a mixture of outside man and inside zone coverage.
Here's how the teams stack up in statistical rankings so far:
|Rushing||Passing||Run Allowed||Passing Allowed|
After the Browns game, the Lions ticked upward one spot in rushing offense but plummeted three places in run defense. Cleveland did almost all of that damage to Detroit's ranking in the first half of their matchup.
Cincinnati has a legit Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate in running back Gio Bernard, who made some moves in the open field against Buffalo in Week 6 that were reminiscent of Reggie Bush.
Did I mention these two teams are similarly built?
Detroit and Cincinnati have met 10 times over the years. The Bengals have won seven of those contests, including the last four.
Detroit's last win in the series came in 1992. In that game, Barry Sanders rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown in leading Detroit to a 19-13 victory.
The Bengals captured the last meeting in Week 13 of the 2009 season, 23-13. I was at that game in Paul Brown Stadium, a frigid affair which might be the low point in Matthew Stafford's career. He was just 11-for-26, with a pick-six to defensive tackle Jonathan Fanene, before being replaced by Daunte Culpepper.
These teams have three common opponents so far in 2013. Both have played Chicago, Green Bay and Cleveland. The Bengals lost to Cleveland and Chicago while defeating Green Bay.
The Lions had the complete opposite results against all three teams.
The Lions escaped Cleveland in pretty good shape, with just two new injury additions to the list.
Johnson played sparingly in the first half in Cleveland but was on the field extensively after intermission. In his weekly Monday media session, coach Jim Schwartz reported that Johnson's knee "was sore after the game." (via detroitlions.com)
Schwartz was his typical ambiguous self when asked about Johnson's status going forward, though he did heap praise upon Johnson for making an impact on the game even though he was hurting.
Bell left the game early with a rib injury and did not return. He tweeted out his own injury update on Monday:
Mathis also left the Cleveland game after suffering a groin injury in the second quarter. Schwartz gave no update other than to say the team was awaiting test results.
Darius Slay played pretty well in relief and will once again take over if Mathis cannot answer the bell against the Bengals.
The Scheffler injury could be more long term in nature. Team insider Tim Twentyman reports that Schwartz made no commitment to a timetable for the tight end's return:
Schwartz said the team is still evaluating TE Tony Scheffler and the team hasn't made a determination on any return date or possible IR—Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) October 14, 2013
The fact that Schwartz broached the concept of injured reserve is an indication that we probably won't see Scheffler anytime soon.
Joseph Fauria caught three touchdowns in his stead Sunday, so the second tight end position remains in very good hands.
What Needs to Improve
Coming off such a magnificent second half, it's difficult to look back and focus on the negatives. After all, the defense allowed Cleveland just one first down in the final two quarters, while the offense put up three touchdowns and a field goal.
Yet there were some problems, to be sure.
Dropped passes top the list. The Lions dropped six passes, according to the game charters at Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The Lions themselves acknowledged the issue and tried to send a message about it. On Monday, they released Patrick Edwards, who was responsible for one of those drops.
Edwards was replaced by Dorin Dickerson, who is a hybrid wide receiver/tight end, who played most recently with the Buffalo Bills. He was a seventh-round pick by the Houston Texans in the 2010 NFL draft.
Another area for improvement is the run defense. The defensive line is regressing in gap discipline and run fits up front.
Earlier in the season, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and company were playing the run on the way to the pass rush as they are supposed to. That means staying alert for the potential of a run and locating the football. It does not mean charging up the field and improvising which gaps to attack right off the snap.
That's what we've seen lately from the front, notably Fairley. The Bengals like to run traps and draws, which are perfect calls to use the Lions aggressiveness against them. Detroit must get back to being more fundamentally sound against the run.
The punt- and kick-return games remain broken. Micheal Spurlock has 127 punt-return yards on 16 attempts. That works out to an average of 7.9 yards per return, which is good for 16th in the league.
Yet 57 of those yards came on one return. Take that one away and his average plummets to 4.6 yards per attempt, which would rank Spurlock next to last among all qualifiers, per ESPN's statistics.
Both Spurlock and the blocking in front of him looked better in Cleveland. They need to keep working at it against Cincinnati to help win the field-position battle. The potential is there, as the coverage units, which boast many of the same players, are outstanding.
I brought this up in the weekly takeaways, but cleaning up the jumpiness and lack of discipline on defense is an imperative. Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden used the hard count very effectively, drawing three encroachment penalties on the Lions.
It would be nice for Stafford to revert back to his strong starts to games. He struggled in the first half in Cleveland, struggles which echo back to 2012.
Stafford and the passing offense have largely avoided those problems in 2013, but it's vital to get out to a quicker start versus the Bengals. Having a healthier Calvin Johnson should help.
Cincinnati will not be an easy opponent, but the Lions certainly have the ability to notch the home victory.
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