The preseason matchup between the Detroit Lions and the Cleveland Browns is an important one. The two primary areas that the Lions have to improve on will most certainly be focused on during this game. Those areas are the "hit and run" aspects of Detroit's offensive and defensive schemes.
The Lions need to show that they have a legitimate running game and that Ndamukong Suh will stay on his course of striking fear in the hearts of every offensive player he is up against, but without the costly penalties.
Head coach Jim Schwartz was happy overall in the Lions' preseason opener, but acknowledged that the team has weaknesses to address. Schwartz expressed optimism about the team, though, which just adds to the overall feeling that the climate change is being felt at all levels.
According to John Kreger at Rapid Reports:
Jim Schwartz found plenty of room for improvement after Detroit’s win over Cincinnati. “We didn’t run the ball well enough, and didn’t stop the ball well enough,” Schwartz said. “A good feeling is coming out of a game with a win ... and (being) able to find a lot of things you can still improve on.”
The ineffectiveness of the running game on offense and stopping the running game on defense is really what stood out in the Lions game against the Bengals. The Lions front defensive line that is so dominant in rushing the passer still struggles with stopping the runner. As I watched the game over and over (DVR is a little slice of heaven), it was evident that the Bengals ran over the Lions (literally), mostly on the right side.
Suh, in particular, seemed to be getting tripped up by the Bengals offensive line on the right side. Why Suh? Because the Bengals offense was targeting him. The rest of the Lions' right side did not appear to have the ability to stop the run either. What is very concerning is that these were the first-string players and it's the same problem they had last year.
The good news? The Lions may have been gashed a couple of times but they only allowed 70 yards total rushing. They kept the Bengals to only four out of their seven first downs (the bad news was that three of these were a result of Detroit penalties). They also allowed the Bengals to convert only four out of 13 third-down conversions and stopped their only fourth-down try.
However, blocking the runner on defense is a critical part of the game and just as important as blocking for the runner on offense.
The players who seemed to struggle the most on the offensive line were OGs Stephen Peterman and Rob Sims. According to reports coming from training camp, both guards looked much improved in their ability to open holes for the runners in this week's practice during 11-on-11 drills.
The Lions number one running back, Jahvid Best, ran 12 yards on four carries for a three-yard average against the Bengals. The back up RB who broke out for the biggest gain on the ground was Aaron Brown. He carried the ball four times and ran for 21 yards which gave him a 5.3-yard average.
Best and Brown were the most effective runners last preseason also. Best ran for 129 yards on 15 carries for an 8.6-yard average. Brown ran for 92 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries for an average of 4.6 yards.
Schwartz brought in veteran RBs Mike Bell and Jerome Harrison to help with the load after second-round draft pick Mikel Leshoure went down with a season-ending injury. Neither running back did much against the Bengals but they are expected to produce more as they get to know the system better.
Best summed up his thoughts about the running game in this way:
“We’ve only had pads on for a week and a half now,” Best said. “You can’t really practice the run game until (you’re in pads). We know...(the run game’s) going to get better.”
Expect Schwartz to test the run game several times against the Browns. If the run game is not effective this Friday, the alternative will be that the offense will begin throwing short passes to the running backs and tight ends. They did this with fairly good success against the Bengals last week.
You may follow me on Twitter @DLions_1