TIM AND MIKE: What will it take for the Lions to win at Cleveland?

Posted Oct 9, 2013

After a loss in Green Bay, Tim Twentyman and Mike O'Hara declare the Lions "have to win" at Cleveland

Jim SchwartzPhoto: G. Smith/Detroit Lions

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's weekly comprehensive review of the Packers' latest game had this conclusion on a 22-9 victory over the Lions:

"The Green Bay-Detroit game basically was over before it began Sunday at Lambeau Field."

The statement was made because the Lions played without Calvin Johnson, their mega-star wide receiver, and No. 2 receiver Nate Burleson.

Is that an accurate statement, and what does it mean if the Lions have to play more games without Johnson, beginning Sunday at Cleveland?

Mike: I wouldn't say it was over before it began, but the Lions were severely handicapped on offense without Megatron. The Lions' offense is built on the threat of big plays – big receptions, and big runs by Reggie Bush.

Johnson's absence allows defenses to play the Lions' straight, instead of focusing most of their attention on Johnson, and that allows them to key more on the running back – Bush or Joique Bell.

However, the Lions were 10-point underdogs without Johnson. They're favored to beat the Browns, even though both teams are 3-2 and it's against a Browns team that has won three straight.

I have a hard time saying any pro football game is over before it begins – unless Jacksonville is playing Denver.

Tim: It really comes down to other players stepping up and making professional football plays. Other players are getting paychecks, too.

Some of the role receivers have to start winning one-on-one matchups in man and finding the open spots in zone coverage. Also, get their timing down with Stafford. The Packers played a combination of zone and man Sunday and I didn't see a whole lot of open Lions receivers running around Lambeau Field.

You'd hope that and extra week will give Patrick Edwards' ankle a chance to get close to 100 percent, for Ryan Broyles' knee to get closer to 100 percent and for Kevin Ogletree to learn the playbook and be a bigger factor.

The Lions can win without Johnson if the defense can force a turnover or two, the offensive line plays much better than it did in Green Bay and if some other players step up and make the plays they're being paid to make.

Am I expecting too much here, Mike?

Mike: In theory, you're right, but we aren't talking about computer chess. Every play is a contest among world-class athletes, and the Lions are short-handed at receiver without Johnson and Burleson.

Next up on the depth chart are Kris Durham and Edwards, who were on the practice squad last year, Ogletree, who was signed last week after being cut by the 0-4 Tampa Bay Bucs, and Broyles, who's had season-ending knee injuries the last two seasons. All have value as secondary targets. Teams don't adjust their schemes to account for them.

If the Lions can win Sunday in Cleveland, they'll be 4-2 and already have played half their road games.

All personnel issues aside, this is a pivotal game – bigger at this point than the Green Bay game.

Patrick EdwardsPhoto: G. Smith/Detroit Lions

Tim: I agree that Durham, Edwards, Broyles and Ogletree are all complimentary parts with a defined role. They simply have to make the plays when they're there to be made.

This week's game in Cleveland means a little more because it's a streak stopper. It's a bounce-back game coming off a loss. The Lions got into trouble last year when losses started piling up on each other.

If they beat Cleveland on the road, then they come home for two consecutive games -- vs. Cincinnati and Dallas -- with a 4-2 record before the bye week.

They won't be on the road again until Nov. 10 in Chicago.

Detroit needs to start stacking wins on top of each other. If they're able to do that the next few weeks then they're in good shape with four of their last six games at home.

Mike: Right about a streak-stopper. They've been season-wreckers for the Lions. From 2001 through 2012, they've had a losing streak of five games or longer in every season except 2011, when they made the playoffs at 10-6.

This team should be too good to go on a long losing streak. At this point, and the way the schedule is set up, I'd say a two-game losing streak is too long. They cannot take the Browns for granted, but look for a much better performance than what they put forth in Game 2 of the preseason. To me, that game is meaningless for both teams.

Do you see any connection between the two games?

Tim: Some. There were some trends from that game I think the Lions are very conscious of, certainly. They gave up a long punt return for a touchdown in that game. It was called back because of a hold, but special teams coordinator John Bonamego told me Monday that this game could be the toughest test for his coverage units all year outside of maybe Chicago and Devin Hester.

The Lions offense generated only 217 yards in that preseason game. So far in the regular season, the Browns defense ranks fourth in yards allowed per game (301.8). The Lions know how good that front seven is and Stafford admitted Tuesday that a lot of the personnel is the same.

The Lions saw firsthand in the preseason the Browns are pretty good on special teams and on defense and that's held serve during the regular season.

There were certainly things to gain for both teams.

Finish this line. The Lions win in Cleveland if ...

Mike: After my pick last week -- Lions 37, Packers 33 -- will you settle for "How the heck should I know?"

But that was made before anyone knew that Megatron wouldn't play.

For Sunday, they need better play at wide receiver and from the tackles on the offensive line, to eliminate penalties that let Green Bay continue two drives that ended in field goals, and -- overall -- play consistently well on offense.

That isn't asking a lot. Come home with a 4-2 record, and the Lions will be right where most people predicted after six games. Can they do it? They have to. It's that simple.

Tim: The offensive line can do Stafford and those receivers a favor by playing much better in Cleveland. That was their worst performance of the season in Green Bay, by far.

I think some of the onus needs to be put on the defense, too. When the offense is a little down, it's up to them to force a turnover or two or make an impact play. The Lions didn't turn the ball over on offense last week, but the defense didn't force any turnovers, either.

It's yet to be determined if the Lions will have Calvin Johnson or not. If they don't, they need their other receivers to step up and their defense to make more impact plays.

It's a team game.