Cleveland Browns Vs. Detroit Lions: Can Cleveland Generate a Pass Rush?
When the Cleveland Browns take the field this Saturday against the Detroit Lions, the game will be the so called "dress rehearsal" for both teams.
The projected starting offensive and defensive units are expected to play two to three full quarters, giving the coaching staff a chance to evaluate the progress of the team and improve on any areas that need work.
One area of the Browns' defense that appears to need improvement is the pass rush.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan put together a defense that racked up 40 sacks last season despite struggling overall.
However, in the first two preseason games of 2010, the Browns have only managed to produce one sack, which came against Green Bay backup Matt Flynn.
While Cleveland has made significant upgrades to the secondary, a strong pass rush will be needed to create a successful pass defense this season.
During the preseason, Rob Ryan isn't likely to show the same complicated pass rushing schemes he intends to use during the regular season.
Still, the lack of sack production is cause for concern because the Browns consistently brought extra rushers early and often against the Green Bay Packers and St. Louis Rams.
Even more troublesome is the fact that Cleveland has been unable to create heavy pressure against starting offenses.
To add insult to injury, last week saw Kamerion Wimbley sack Chicago Bears starting quarterback Jay Cutler four times. Wimbley led the Cleveland Browns in sacks in 2009 with 6.5, but was traded to the Oakland Raiders during the off-season.
So how exactly will the Cleveland Browns get to the quarterback in 2010?
One possible answer is by utilizing second-year linebacker Marcus Benard. Benard has been one of the team's bright spots, both during the latter part of 2009 and thus far in the 2010 preseason.
The undrafted rookie free agent was added to the roster late last season and amassed 3.5 sacks in just six games as a backup player in the linebacker rotation.
Benard has elevated his overall play this preseason and is now competing for a starting spot at outside linebacker, meaning he should see plenty of playing time against the Lions.
The Browns could also turn to LB Matt Roth, another late season addition in 2009 who was plucked off the waiver wire and quickly added to the starting lineup.
Roth is a powerful, hard-hitting linebacker who has the size and strength to push through the middle of the offensive line and get into the backfield.
Roth also played six games for the Browns last season and racked up four sacks and 28 tackles during that time.
Defensive leader David Bowens has also flashed the ability to create quarterback pressure, recording 5.5 sacks in 2009, and second-year linebacker Kaluka Maiava also got to the quarterback 2.5 times last season, despite recording only three starts.
Of course, Rob Ryan does like to get creative and bring pressure from all positions in the defense. 16 different players were credited with sacks for the Browns in 2009 and 11 of those players recorded more than one.
Most of that creativity will be saved for the regular season, so the game against Detroit will be a good chance to analyze the pass rush from standard fronts and blitz packages.
Saturday's game could also be the last chance for 2009 second-round pick David Veikune to make an impression on the coaching staff.
Veikune was a high-motor defensive end in college and was expected to become a pass rushing force for the Browns, but he has had a great deal of trouble converting to linebacker in the NFL.
He failed to record a defensive statistic in 2009 and doesn't appear to be much improved so far this preseason.
Veikune is starting to look like a bust and if he is unable to show something against the Lions, he may find himself a casualty of preseason roster cuts.
The Detroit Lions possess a strong-armed quarterback in Matthew Stafford and a solid group of receivers, led by wideout Calvin Johnson.
Detroit's offensive line has only given up three sacks through two preseason games and should provide an excellent test for Cleveland's developing pass rush.
The Cleveland Browns look to be well on the way to fielding a competitive team in 2010 and Saturday's game against Detroit will provide the best look yet of what to expect for the regular season.
Hopefully Cleveland is able to pressure the quarterback and ease any concerns about that area of the defense in time to do some fine tuning in the final preseason game next Thursday against the Chicago Bears.
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