OK, Lions faithful, it’s just a preseason game.
The Lions have broken camp, and the boys in Honolulu blue are rediscovering their lives, reintroducing themselves to family and friends, and going out on the town.
For this Lions team it will not be a matter of the final score, which is the ultimate arbiter of success or failure during the regular season.
It will be all about performance.
In the previous two preseason games, the Lions have shown mere glimpses of what we can expect to see in the regular season. Stafford has been Stafford. Best has been Best. The D-line has been the D-line.
To quote Dennis Green, “They are who we thought they were.”
From soup to nuts, the Lions have performed by the book, some surprises, balanced by some disappointments. All that remains to be seen is who wins a roster spot.
This “dress rehearsal” game against the Cleveland Browns will answer many questions. The starters for both teams will likely play into the third quarter and the matchups will be a test for the Lions that they have not seen in the previous two preseason games.
Let’s examine the matchups between two NFL teams who are widely considered to be on the rise, from the Lions perspective.
The Lions offense will take on another 3-4 defense.
Get used to it.
The Browns will be without Shaun “big baby” Rogers, who is nursing an ankle injury. Of course, that’s the least of his problems.
The front three is pretty good in spite of Rogers’ injury. Robaire Smith, Ahtyba Rubin, and Kenyon Coleman do an adequate job of clogging the center, and stuffing the run.
The upgraded LB corps is the star of the show for the Browns. A great mix of veterans Scott Fujita and Matt Roth, and youngsters Chris Okung and D’Quell Jackson provide the back end of a formidable front seven.
The secondary is reminiscent of the Lions secondary.
Last year, that is.
Rookie T.J. Ward has won a starting job at safety, and looks like Delmas Jr. CB Joe Haden, one of two first round 2010 picks is out with an injury.
The remainder of the secondary looks very Lions like. Veterans Eric Wright and Sheldon Brown do not strike fear into opposing QBs.
The Lions should attack the perimeter, and test that suspect secondary repeatedly. Two TE sets will negate the Brown’s strong LB play.
If the Lions O-line can put together a solid effort against the best front seven that they have faced thus far, Stafford will light up the Browns deep, and often.
The Lions running game will face its toughest test of the preseason. This Browns defense prides itself in shutting down the run. Expect a slight fall off in rushing stats.
The Lions defense will contend with a rejuvenated Jake Delhomme at QB. The 12-year veteran has been given his last best chance in Cleveland. He has been doing a fantastic job of keeping the Browns offense on a steady keel. He doesn’t take a slew of sacks, doesn’t throw picks, and chooses his spots wisely.
The Lions will also see QB Seneca Wallace, who is the anti-Delhomme. Wallace is the gun slinging, fast on his feet QB that Delhomme isn’t.
Two quarterbacks who are the perfect complement.
The Browns are featuring a version of the “wildcat” offense that utilizes Seneca Wallace, Josh Cribbs, and a host of role players who will compliment the wildcat scheme of the moment. The Browns have 17 different wildcat sets. So far.
The Browns RBs are deep, and diverse. They went on a late run in 2009 based largely upon the rushing of Jerome Harrison, and Josh Cribbs. The Browns have drafted Montario Hardesty in 2010. He will be sidelined with an injury this week.
The guy that will give the Lions fits will be Peyton Hillis. Hillis is a North/South runner who loves to dish out some punishment along the way. He came out of the mold of Earl Campbell, and will cause the Lions to order a couple of extra Jacuzzi’s to care for the walking wounded post game.
In the wide receiver corps, the Browns employ a ball control, short passing game offense. This allows Mohamed Massaquoi, and Brian Robiskie to do what is needed to move the chains. Another weapon to keep an eye on is TE Ben Watson. Watson could wind up being the Browns leader in receptions in 2010.
Expect to see the multidimensional Josh Cribbs playing at every possible position that does not call for heavy blocking responsibilities. He will return punts, as well as kickoffs. The Browns treat Cribbs like the crown jewels. He may be held back in the preseason to protect his value.
The battle in the trenches between the Browns O-line and the lions D-line will be the best of the preseason. The Browns have All Pro Joe Thomas anchoring the line at LOT. He’s the best in the business. Any questions?
The Browns O-line is the challenge that may determine how good the Lions D-line really is.
Kyle Vanden Bosch will get all he wants from Joe Thomas.
The right side of the Browns O-line is somewhat in flux, as it is here in Detroit. The difference here is that the Browns right tackle and right guard positions are manned by a platoon of worthy veterans.
The Lions have a guard, and a platoon of the mediocre.
The battle between the Lions D-line and the Browns O-line is the key to this game. Unlike Pittsburgh and Denver, this is one solid wall that will give QBs Jake Delhomme, and Seneca Wallace a fighting chance to run a disciplined ball control offense.
We will have a more realistic view of the Lions front four following this game. If they can be disruptive here, they can do so against Green Bay.
The Lions rocky secondary will get the chance to sit on some routes as there is little in the way of a real “home run” threat.
The Lions, who are facing their third 3-4 defense in as many weeks, should have a good handle on how to attack it.
Offensively, the run/pass ratio should heavily favor the passing game.
Defensively, the Lions will have their hands full up front. This will be a good indicator as to how they will handle the better offensive fronts during the regular season.
With roster spots at stake, I couldn’t think of a better showcase.
Just another preseason game. Right?
Mike Sudds is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. Mike is also an analyst and correspondent for DraftTek.com.