MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA'S FRIDAY FOCUS: Lions look within to take care of business

Posted Nov 10, 2017

With no disrespect to the Browns, the Lions are looking deep within themselves to avoid blowing a chance to strengthen their playoff chances.

With no disrespect to the downtrodden Cleveland Browns, the Detroit Lions are looking deep within themselves to avoid blowing a chance to strengthen their playoff chances.

The Lions are in prime position to make a playoff run as they start the second half of the season against the Browns at Ford Field. The Lions have a 4-4 won-loss record and a favorable schedule.

All signs point to an easy victory against a Browns team that is wallowing in one of the worst losing stretches in NFL history. The Browns are 0-8 this year and coming off won-loss records of 1-15 in 2016, 3-13 in 2015 and a finish of 0-5 in 2014.

That adds up to a 4-41 record in the last 45 games. 

Easy game for the Lions then, right? 

Not if you listen to Golden Tate and his teammates. They know the Browns’ record, but they also know what can happen when a team takes any opponent lightly.

“It goes back to what I said in the past,” Tate said this week. “It’s never about who we’re playing. It’s always about us – what type of practices we’re going to have. Are we going to do our assignments correctly? If we do that, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing.

“We’re going to play Detroit Lions football back at home. We shouldn’t need to pump ourselves up, and we shouldn’t need to do anything other than what we’re doing.”

As Tate and others have stressed often, good games begin with good practices, and the Lions looked sharp against the Packers. There’s nothing to say they won’t be sharp enough to beat the Browns.

Only the Lions can beat the Lions Sunday, and that won’t happen.

Prediction: Lions 31, Browns 13.

Series history: The Lions have a 15-4 series lead and a three-game winning streak. They have won the only meeting at Ford Field – 38-37 in 2009. The Lions winning percentage of 78.9 is the second highest of any team against the Browns. Only Denver, at 80.0 with a 20-5 won-loss record, is higher.

Championship battles: The Lions and Browns met four times for the NFL championship from 1952-57. The Lions won three times, in 1952-53 and ‘57. The Browns won the championship in 1954, foiling the Lions’ bid for a Three-Peat.

2009 review – Stafford shoulders load: As a rookie Matthew Stafford won a quarterback duel with Brady Quinn to give the Lions a dramatic 38-37 victory. 

Quinn threw for 304 yards and four TDs. Stafford outdid him, throwing for 522 yards and five TDs.

Stafford’s fifth TD pass came on an untimed down because of an interference penalty in the end zone against the Browns. Stafford’s left shoulder was hurt on the play, and initially Daunte Culpepper was sent into the game for the last play.

However, Stafford talked his way back into the game and hit tight end Brandon Pettigrew for the touchdown. Jason Hanson’s extra point won the game.

Lions focus – QB protection: Stafford has shown again in the last two games how lethal he can be when given a reasonable amount of time to throw, and the Lions want a repeat of what they’ve done the last two games. 

After being sacked 17 times in the previous three games, Stafford was sacked only three times in the last two games combined. He was sacked twice while throwing for 423 yards in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and only once while throwing for 361 yards in Monday night’s road win over the Green Bay Packers. 

Keeping the rush off Stafford is important so he can get the ball to his playmakers. Tate, Marvin Jones Jr. and TJ Jones are leaders of the receiving corps. They make teams defend them from sideline to sideline, and running back Theo Riddick is a threat out of the backfield.

The Browns are solid on defense, especially against the run, and rookie defensive end Myles Garrett is an emerging pass-rush star. The Browns have given up a league-low average of 2.9 yards per carry. Garrett has a team-high four sacks, despite missing five games because of injuries.

“He’s obviously pretty unique,” said Lions head coach Jim Caldwell. “He’s got power, speed – he’s certainly the real deal. He can generate so much force, and he’s quick. He’s unusual.”

Browns focus -- QB consistency: DeShone Kizer is getting an all-around perspective of the Browns’ quarterback position in his rookie season. That includes his own performance on the field, and the franchise’s recent history of how change has been a constant.

Kizer used the bye week to look back at what he did – right, wrong and in between –  in the first eight games.

“Self-scout is the best scouting,” Kizer told reporters this week as he began preparations to face the Lions. “Obviously, this whole season has been kind of a season where you’re always self-scouting.”

Kizer, drafted in the second round out of Notre Dame, has had a tough start. In seven starts he threw three TD passes against 11 interceptions.

Kizer became the 27th quarterback to start for the Browns since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999 when he started on opening day. Kevin Hogan became No. 28 when he replaced Kizer for one game.

If Kizer is going to stop the Browns’ search for a franchise quarterback, he has to make a positive impression in the last eight games. It won’t be easy doing it against the Lions, who have a secondary with talent, experience and depth.

“They complement their offense very well, in that same aggressive fashion,” Kizer said of the defense in general. “They have a very good secondary.”