ALLEN PARK — The Lions have been indoctrinated by coach Jim Caldwell to take one game at a time. You can ask players and coaches about the chances of winning the NFC North and they will steer the conversation back to the next game. Period.
One reason that is so important to Caldwell’s philosophy is Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns who are 0-8. He doesn’t want the team to overlook the lowly Browns and it’s not like he has to give them a big reason. He just wants them to stay with the same approach as the rest of the season.
The Lions at 4-4 are behind the Vikings (6-2) in the NFC North and tied with the Packers. Detroit cannot let this game get away. If ever there was a should-win game this is it.
Five things to watch:
1. Short yardage offense has to improve. It’s not like they brought in new running backs this week. Offensive Jim Bob Cooter said they were close but no one can miss an assignment. “This league is complex. You’re going to get multiple looks, you’re going to have multiple different guys moving in different spots, and different style of blitzes, and we got to be able to handle that and sort of do a better job with that. It’s very, very, very tiny details, but it’s the difference between six points and, or I guess seven points, and three points which we got to better,’’ Cooter said. “Now, you get down to the one, I think we had a first-and-goal at the one, maybe the second was at the two or so. It’s pretty fun as a play caller to kind of sometimes be sort of stubborn with the run you know, let’s hammer this thing in. So, we’ll keep evaluating that policy moving forward too, making sure we do whatever we can to score touchdown.”
2. While the Browns are pathetic in many areas, they are ranked fourth in rushing defense allowing just 84.3 yards per game. And — stop me if you’ve heard this before — the Lions’ run game is a concern averaging just 79.9 rushing yards per game. Cooter will stick with it, even if it doesn’t appear to be working early on.
3. Detroit’s defense has been good at creating turnovers. That will be an emphasis again since the Browns rank 32nd in NFL with 21 giveaways. Quarterbacks DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler have combined for 17 interceptions (and only five touchdowns). Also, the Browns have fumbled 10 times, losing four of them. In comparison, the Lions have 10 giveaways (four interceptions, six fumbles lost).
4. Matthew Stafford is coming off arguably his best game of the season in Monday night’s win at Green Bay. The offense, which was a bit sluggish early in the season, needs to keep rolling. Marvin Jones and Golden Tate hauled in picture-perfect passes on Monday night and there’s no reason that shouldn’t continue. Also, there’s a chance rookie wide receiver Kenny Golladay will return after missing five games with a hamstring.
5. The Lions’ offensive line played better the last two games, giving Stafford more time in the pocket. The good news is that left tackle Taylor Decker has been activated so is likely to play in his first game of the season. On the other hand, right guard T.J. Lang is in concussion protocol and has been declared out.
PREDICTION: Lions 31, Browns 15.