Detroit Lions: 10 keys against the winless Cleveland Browns

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 08: Cornerback Darius Slay #23 of the Detroit Lions waits in the tunnel before the start of the game against the Carolina Panthers at Ford Field on October 8, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 08: Cornerback Darius Slay #23 of the Detroit Lions waits in the tunnel before the start of the game against the Carolina Panthers at Ford Field on October 8, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Lions are currently on a three-game losing streak at home. There is no better formula to fix that than the winless Cleveland Browns.

Yes, Detroit Lions fans are thinking the same thing. “Yes! We get the Cleveland Browns! Go ahead and mark this as a victory!”. Honestly, I do not blame people thinking that thought.

On the other hand, the Cleveland Browns are an NFL team. They have talent and ability. The Lions need to hunker down and focus on a victory in week 10.

1. Contain Duke Johnson Jr.

The Browns’ best offensive player is running back Duke Johnson Jr., who can run or catch out of the backfield. Johnson is averaging 5.2 yards per carry and leads the Browns in receptions with 36. The Browns love to use him on third down as a safety valve and Johnson is dangerous in the screen.

The Lions have done fairly well guarding running backs out of the passing game. Johnson is a nuisance with his ability to make defenders miss. When Johnson goes out wide, it will be key to identify the motion or formation and line up correctly. With Johnson, I expect a lot of chances for Jarrad Davis to corral him.

2. Let Matthew Stafford loose

Since the bye week, the Lions are focusing the offense more towards the passing game. Stafford has attempted 78 passes the past two weeks while looking more comfortable in the pocket. He is developing chemistry with Marvin Jones and making correct decisions. Stafford is doing a better job protecting the ball too.

The other reason? The Cleveland Browns are excellent in stopping the run. They lead the NFL in opponents yards per carry at 2.9. Trevon Coley and Danny Shelton are big, physical run stuffers, getting penetration on every running play. The Browns have an athletic back seven that keep contain and tackle well. There is no reason to be cute in this game. Let Matthew Stafford continue his hot streak and run the offense through him.

3. Keep Deshone Kizer in the pocket

Kizer is not much of a passing threat, throwing eleven interceptions and completing 52% of his passes. One strength he does bring is athleticism and scrambling ability. Kizer has 33 rushing attempts with 144 yards in his rookie year and can get outside the pocket. When the pocket collapses, it’s paramount to keep contain and tackle.

4. Target tight ends

A huge weakness of the Browns defense is guarding tight ends, where they are ranked 30th in the league. We know the Lions do not have great targets at tight end, but in this case look for Stafford to use the middle of the field. The Browns are aggressive and leave the tight end open. They give up 75.4 yards per game at the tight end position. Both Darren Fells and Eric Ebron should prepare to get a lot of targets in week 10.

5. Force early turnovers on defense

The Cleveland Browns are the worst team in football protecting the football. They turn it over 2.6 times per game and have 17 interceptions in eight games. The Browns are terrible throwing the football, and forcing a couple first-half turnovers will put Cleveland in a hole. The more the Cleveland Browns throw the better for the Detroit Lions.

6. Send help to Brian Mihalik

With Myles Garrett fully cleared from concussion protocol, he becomes the most dangerous player on the Browns defense. Garrett has four sacks in three games and becomes a terror on third down. My best guess is that Taylor Decker sits out one more week, which means Mihalik gets the nod. Mihalik has been decent at left tackle, but he has a big challenge Sunday. Jim Bob Cooter is keeping the running back in more to the offensive line, and with Garrett healthy, that should continue.

The Lions did a really nice job giving Mihalik help when needed. Ameer Abdullah is improving as a pass protector and Darren Fells is really good giving help on a chip then running his route. Above all against the Browns is keeping Stafford healthy. There is zero reason to leave Mihalik on Garrett alone a majority of the time.

7. Expect the cornerbacks to play press

This point goes with #5 with how aggressive the Lions should play. In any case, Detroit will be playing close to the line of scrimmage with the lack of playmaking for the Browns at wide receiver. Seth Devalve leads their wide receiver group in catches with only 17. With little production from that spot, the Lions can play press and snuff out the short passing game. Ultimately, I expect the Lions to try and jump any slant or hitch routes.

8. What will be the status of T.J. Lang?

Unfortunately, T.J. Lang is experiencing concussion symptoms currently and I expect him to sit out Sunday. This most likely means Emmett Cleary will get the start in his place at right guard. The right side has been the stable part of the offensive line and most running success has been to the right. With Lang out, it will be interesting to see how the Lions react. This could mean for draws and screen plays to slow the Browns pass rush.

9. What will Golden Tate‘s impact be?

Golden Tate has really performed well the last two weeks, and I thought his game against Green Bay was his best. However, he has an incredibly tough matchup this week. Briean Boddy-Calhoun is not well known yet is becoming an elite cornerback. Despite the lack of recognition, Pro Football Focus has Boddy-Calhoun as their top slot cornerback in 2017.

No doubt Golden Tate is an elite slot wideout, but he will face a lot of press one-on-one coverage. Stafford loves going to Tate in key situations, but Tate might not be open. The key will be for Stafford to look at other options and not force feed Tate. This will be a key game for the tight ends and Theo Riddick to convert third downs.

10. Focus on the task ahead and win

First and foremost, everyone knows what the Cleveland Browns are. They are the worst team in the NFL and (to put it bluntly) a trainwreck of an organization. The Lions have the better coaching staff and clearly more talent. There is absolutely zero reason Detroit should slip up at Ford Field.

Next: 10 thoughts from Lions' win over Packers

There is no need to get fancy or try new things. Play to your strengths, keep everyone healthy and get the victory to focus on Chicago next week. Let Matthew Stafford continue his success and get over .500 with a home victory. The Lions have lost their last three home games, and it’s a perfect game to stop that streak. I expect a pretty easy Detroit Lions victory in Week 10.