MIKE O'HARA

O'Hara: Lions took a step back against the Browns with the absence of Calvin Johnson

Posted Aug 16, 2013

Without Megatron, the Lions are no match for mere mortals ... at least that's the way it looked in Thursday night's 24-6 preseason loss to the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium

CLEVELAND – The easy way out for the Lions to explain why they took a step back in their second preseason game when they were supposed to move forward is that their woeful performance is evidence that they should give the team MVP trophy to Calvin Johnson.

Do it now. Don't wait for the start of the regular season – or even the next practice.

Without Megatron, the Lions are no match for mere mortals, let alone superheroes. At least that's the way it looked in Thursday night's 24-6 loss to the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium.

That ultimately may prove to be true, but it's a copout that nobody is buying – including the Lions – as a credible explanation for their poor performance.

Johnson sat out the game as a precaution because of a bruised knee. He has played with far worse injuries in the regular season. Had it been Sept. 8, and the Lions were opening the regular season against the Vikings, there's no doubt that Johnson would have played. And there's little doubt he would have made an impact on the game.

They ran 59 plays against the Browns, and only two gained more than 10 yards. Both were pass receptions for gains of 13 and 18 yards.

And for the second straight game, the No. 1 offense failed to produce a touchdown. In seven series – two in the opening-game win over the Jets and five in Thursday night's debacle – the starters have produced two field goals.

Not having Johnson in the lineup is no excuse for Thursday night's poor performance.

"We should still be able to put up points," Bush said. "In football, people get injured."

Without him in the lineup, the Lions didn't make a dent anywhere -- except on the line of the box score that records penalties. They had eight for 68 yards, and the disturbing part was the batch of personal fouls that indicated a lack of poise and self control.

Ndamukong Suh got one for a late hit after Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden had thrown an incomplete pass.

Tackling(Photo: G.Smith/Detroit Lions)

Bush got one for retaliating when no flag was thrown after a Cleveland player clipped him in the back.

Willie Young got a holding penalty and a personal foul on the same punt late in the first half.

There are no excuses for those penalties, including the retaliation penalty on Bush.

"It doesn't matter what happens out there," Coach Jim Schwartz said. "Last week we did we did a much better job of controlling the game and our emotions, and this game we didn't."

The Lions didn't do anything well enough against the Browns to indicate that the score would have been much closer if they had played a penalty-free game.

Schwartz didn't have to look hard or far to see where his team fell short.

"There's plenty to go around," he said. "We played poorly in all three phases. We played poorly on offense. Dropped balls, didn't execute, didn't move the ball, didn't have any explosive plays – didn't score any touchdowns.

"Defensively we made some critical errors. We punted the ball poorly. We didn't kick the ball especially well."

The offense takes the biggest hit because it failed to establish anything. The offense went three and out on the first three possessions, netting 13 yards on nine plays.

"As an offense, we can't have that," Bush said. "You can't win with three three-and-outs."

The fourth possession was slightly better – very slightly. It lasted four plays and produced a first down, thanks to an 18-yard dash by Bush after catching a flare pass on first down.

Stafford finally got the Lions on the board on the fifth possession. It was hardly a thing of beauty – 47 yards on 13 plays. The 14th play was David Akers' 48-yard field goal.

As Schwartz said, all three phases played poorly, not just the offense. Schwartz was unhappy with the team's tackling in the first game, and he didn't see any improvement against the Browns.

"The point we made was, we need to see improvement from last game to this game, and we didn't see that," Schwartz said. "It's something that we definitely need to do better on."