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Lions And Browns... Looking At First Place?

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Matthew Stafford (9) will have to lead his offense past a difficult Browns defense if he wants to leave Cleveland with a win. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.
Matthew Stafford (9) will have to lead his offense past a difficult Browns defense if he wants to leave Cleveland with a win. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

Remember a few weeks ago, when the Cleveland Browns had apparently given up on the season by trading star running back Trent Richardson? Remember how critics (read: just about every Browns fan out there) said that new owner Jimmy Haslam had no idea what he was doing? Classic Browns ownership, right?  

Tell that to their last three opponents.  

Cleveland has won their last three games by a combined score of 85-57, and enters Sunday’s game against the Lions as one of the hottest teams in the NFL. For what many wrote off as an easy win for the Lions at the beginning of the season, this game has a lot of intrigue to it.  

Yes, the Lions and the Browns will actually play a meaningful game in the middle of October. Unfortunately, key injuries to both sides may take away from what would have been a really fun game to watch with both teams healthy.  

The biggest obstacle for Cleveland will be their quarterback play. The Browns rode backup QB Brian Hoyer to wins against Minnesota and Cincinnati, but tore his ACL on a scramble against Buffalo. Former first-round draft pick Brandon Weeden will reclaim his hold on the position after two shaky games to start the season. The Lions certainly aren’t complaining—Cleveland was been a completely different team under Hoyer. In the first two games of the season, the Browns put up these offensive (read that how you like) numbers:  

Brandon Weeden: 54.7% completion percentage, 516 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT, sacked 11 times.

Running backs: 33 attempts, 112 yards, 0 TD, 3.39 yards per carry.

Receivers/TE: Jordan Cameron pulled in over 200 yards with one touchdown, but no one else had more than 10 receptions or 85 yards in those two games.  

After their Week 2 loss to Baltimore, Richardson left for the Indianapolis Colts and Hoyer took over the starting job. Suffice it to say, things turned around a bit.  

Hoyer: 59.4% through the air for 615 yards, 5 TD, 3 INT, sacked 6 times.

RBs: 79 attempts, 283 yards, 1 TD, 3.58 yards per carry.

WR/TE: Cameron has stayed hot, and Josh Gordon has emerged from his early season hibernation to collect 18 catches for 303 yards and a touchdown.  

It wasn’t exactly Tom Brady coming in for Drew Bledsoe in 2001, but this Browns team has turned it around. However, with Hoyer out, Weeden will have to be the one to keep the team afloat, something he hasn’t been able to do throughout his short career.  

On the other side of the ball, the Browns defense has been stellar throughout the first five games, allowing just 301.8 yards per game—good for fourth in the league. Their pass defense ranks 7th, and the Browns run defense sits at 8th. Cornerback Joe Haden has led the secondary against the league’s top receivers—the unit has allowed just two receiving touchdowns all season—and would likely match up against Calvin Johnson if he suits up.  

Speaking of Johnson, his status is still up in the air for Sunday’s game. Jim Schwartz and his staff maintain that Megatron will be a game-time decision on Sunday, and could miss his second straight game, although he did practice without a knee brace on Friday. The Packers exposed the Lions’ lackluster passing attack last week, as Matthew Stafford resorted to running back dump-offs to move the ball.  

In the three games that both Megatron and Reggie Bush have suited up, the team is 2-1, but more importantly, has been able to establish a balanced attack. In the two games that Bush and Johnson have collectively missed, Stafford has played well, but the running game has been nonexistent. The running stats read as follows:  

42 attempts, 127 yards, 1 TD, 3.02 yards per carry.   

Remember, it took 385 yards from Stafford to beat then-winless Washington by just one touchdown. Cleveland’s defense is considerably better than Washington’s, and if Johnson sits, could dominate the Lions offense like the Packers did last week.  

The bright side for the Lions, though, is that Weeden will be under center for Cleveland. What does that mean for Ndamukong Suh and the gang up front? Weeden has been sacked 16 times this year in split playing time, and with the way the Lions front four likes to disrupt the passing game, that number could grow significantly. Weeden is also the more antsy of the Cleveland quarterbacks, and tends to rush throws and make mistakes when under pressure. His receivers are more than capable of bailing him out of trouble, but the more throws Weeden is forced to make, the better the chance the Lions have of capitalizing on a mistake.  

Let’s hope for a good game this weekend. Megatron vs. Haden, Suh vs. Weeden, and Bush vs. the Browns front 7 should be exciting matchups to watch.   

Who ever would have thought the Browns and Lions would both be playing for first place in their respective divisions at this point in the season?