The Cleveland Browns are in the midst of getting back to a regular week of preparation ahead of Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions after playing on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football last week.
And for the coaches and players, returning to a regular work schedule is a good thing because it gives them a full week to prepare for the many challenges presented by the Lions, who enter the game at 3-2 after a 22-9 loss to the Green Bay Packers last Sunday.
“As you look at their team, (they’re) leading the NFC North, and are an extremely talented, well-coached team,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. “Offensively, loaded with weapons, they’re an explosive group that has gotten a lot and have been able to generate a lot of big plays.
“This game is going to be a tremendous challenge for us again. We’re going to need to be at our very best.”
Despite missing last week’s game against the Packers, Johnson still leads the Lions with 312 yards and four touchdowns on 21 receptions.
In seven years with the Lions, Johnson has turned 509 passes into 8,148 yards and 58 touchdowns. Johnson has four 1,000-yard seasons to his credit, scored 12 or more touchdowns in three different years, and set an NFL record with 1,964 receiving yards in 2012.
“Matt Stafford is playing very well, distributing the ball to a lot of different targets,” Chudzinski said. “Obviously, Calvin Johnson is a big part of what they do and the best in the business at his position.
“Skill-wise, they have a lot of different options and a lot of different guys that have been able to make plays and hurt you.”
Offensively, the Browns will face another talented defensive front.
Led by the defensive-tackle combination of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, the Lions’ defensive line has registered eight of the team’s 10 sacks through the first five games of the season. Coupled with Suh and Fairley, the Lions have the NFL’s rookie sack leader, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah.
Ansah has 3.5 quarterback sacks, which is just ahead of the total Browns outside linebacker
“You start with their defensive line, an outstanding defensive line,” Chudzinski said. “Everybody knows about Suh and Fairley. Those guys are forces in the middle, and Ziggy Ansah is having a heck of a year and really coming on as a pass rusher.
“They have a good group of linebackers, active group of linebackers and a very good secondary. You look at (Chris) Houston and you look at (Rashean) Mathis at corner, those guys are playing good ball. Their safeties (Louis) Delmas and (Glover) Quin are playing good, as well. From an offensive standpoint, we have another test.”
After tying the NFL record for the most touchdown receptions in the month of September with five scores, Browns tight end
Chudzinski sees that as a product of the opposing defenses adjusting where their safeties are aligned.
“That’s the good thing when you have some other guys that are able to make plays when the defense focuses on one guy,” Chudzinski said. “We talk about balance. You talk about balance between run and pass, but you balance within your passing game, as well.
“We’ve been able to do that. One guy has a big game one week; the next week, it might be somebody else; and different guys are making plays. That’s really what you like to see.”
BETWEEN THE TACKLES
The Browns have been able to move the football down the field through the air, but the ground game has been “a work in progress” according to Chudzinski. But all that work is starting to pay off, as veteran running back
“I think we’re making strides in that area,” Chudzinski said. “I know it didn’t maybe show up in yards per carry. I think we had a number of carries inside the three-yard line, and those always throw off the averages quite a bit, but you’re seeing some signs and some progress. You’re seeing Willis getting better every week out here. Every time he’s out here practicing, I think he’s getting better and back into it. It’s a big challenge for our offensive line this week.”
“As far as today, just from an injury standpoint, we’re going to have Sheard and Groves back at practice and we’re going to work them back into practice,” Chudzinski said. “Winn will be out of practice today.”