When the Cleveland Browns host the Detroit Lions in an inter-conference game at FirstEnergy Stadium Sunday, they will face multiple challenges on both sides of the football.
Offensively, quarterback Matthew Stafford has the option of distributing the ball to wide receiver Calvin Johnson or handing off to running back Reggie Bush, and both players have been able to move the ball for the Lions.
Despite missing last week’s game against the Green Bay Packers with a knee injury, Johnson practiced on a limited basis both Thursday and Friday. Should he play, Johnson will be a key target for Stafford.
“Calvin Johnson is a difference-maker, and he’s the best in the business at what he does,” said Browns coach Rob Chudzinski. “It’s going to be a challenge for us, and whether it’s Joe (Haden) or anybody else out there, we have to go and do our best to contain him. It’s hard to stop him, and it’s going to be a team effort to do that.”
Johnson leads the Lions with 312 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 21 receptions. During his NFL career, Johnson has gained 8,148 yards and scored 58 touchdowns on 509 catches, and came into 2013 after the most prolific season ever by a wide receiver.
Despite the Lions struggling to a 4-12 finish in 2012, Johnson caught 122 passes, gained an NFL record 1,964 yards and scored five touchdowns. Coupled with the 1,681 yards he gained in 2011, Johnson’s 3,645 receiving yards are the most ever by an NFL player over a two-year span.
And it will be fourth-year defensive back
“If you watch him in practice, he’s always competing,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said of Haden. “No matter what happens in a game, practice, he always competes. He’s one of those rare cornerbacks. Not only can he cover, but he’s willing to throw his pads, willing to hit as well.
“I think this year, (defensive coordinator) Ray Horton has been challenging him. What Joe has to do, and what he has been doing, is playing the game above the shoulders. The quicker you understand that and understand how to study film, his game will go through the roof.”
Bush leads the Lions with 298 yards on 61 carries, and has added 204 yards and one touchdown on 15 catches out of the backfield. Bush’s longest play of the season was a 77-yard reception that went for a touchdown.
“He’s a dynamic back,” Jackson said. “They use him in different personnel groups. Anytime he’s in the game, you’ve got to be aware. He’s probably in to get the ball. Being a veteran guy, I understand how guys are being used in their scheme, and he’s one of those guys that if he’s in the game, expect some type of screen, some type of gadget play, and he’s done a good job these past few weeks of running the ball downhill.”
Horton added, “Reggie’s a threat when he’s on the field, and how they choose to deploy him is up to them. He reminds me of the USC days. He’s a threat to get the ball, and they want to get the ball to him, whether it’s on the long swing pass, a handoff, a toss, a reverse. He’s just a dangerous player in space.”
Offensively, the Browns have to contend with Detroit’s front four, which features three top-10 picks from the past four NFL Drafts in tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah.
Ansah leads the defense with 3.5 sacks, and the Lions’ defensive front four has accounted for eight of the team’s 10 sacks this season.
“They’re a great front four, and they’re deep,” quarterback