The Lions are on the road against an AFC North opponent for a second consecutive week as they take on the Browns in Cleveland later today. Detroit is trying to secure their first win of the season after playing to a tie in Pittsburgh last week. Cleveland is trying to get above .500 and stay in the AFC's crowded playoff picture.
Here are five things to watch for in this one:
1. RUN GAME KEY
This goes for both teams in both phases.
Cleveland comes in as the No. 2 rushing team in the league, averaging better than 150 yards per contest on the ground. They'll also have leading rusher Nick Chubb back in action this week after coming off the Reserve/COVID-19 list Friday.
Detroit's defense has struggled to stop the run most of the season. They've allowed 100 yards rushing in seven of their nine games and rank 30th against the run coming into this one.
We saw last week in the cold and rainy conditions in Pittsburgh how Detroit's offense leaned on their run game. They rushed 39 times for a season-high 229 yards. They could also get Jamaal Williams (thigh - questionable) back to pair with D’Andre Swift this week. Williams missed the last two games with the injury. The forecast in Cleveland today calls for cold and rainy conditions again. Will Dan Campbell try to lean on the run game for a second straight week?
Cleveland's defense is allowing just 94.7 yards on average on the ground to opponents this year, which is fifth best in the NFL.
Whoever has the edge in the run game probably has a leg up in this one.
2. REYNOLDS SPARK?
Detroit comes into today's game ranked 25th in passing and haven't gotten the kind of production from their receiving corps they've hoped for. Injuries have certainly played a factor in that, but the team is expected to debut newly claimed veteran wide receiver Josh Reynolds today. The Lions like Reynolds' size (6-3, 196) and skillset, and think he can make some plays for them down the field, which has been seriously lacking at the receiver position this season.
"It makes a bigger target for the quarterback," offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said this week of Reynolds. "He has strong hands. I thought coming out of college he was one of the better 50-50 guys. I kind of compared him to Mike Williams a little bit. Mike's maybe a little stronger, but I kind of see Josh that way. If the ball is in his area code, he's going to come down with it."
3. WHAT DOES BOYLE BRING TO THE TABLE?
Jared Goff threw the football for the first time this week to the side of practice with trainers on Friday after suffering a strained oblique last week, but he didn't actually take part in practice, and is officially listed as doubtful to play today.
That means Tim Boyle is expected to get his first career NFL start. Boyle was a backup in Green Bay the last three years before signing a one-year deal with the Lions this offseason. He completed 22-of-39 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown in three preseason appearances before breaking his thumb in the last preseason game vs. Indianapolis.
He's only thrown four passes in the regular season in his career in 2019. He wasn't shy about throwing the ball down the field in training camp and the preseason, and that could be something he brings to the Lions' offense, though weather conditions aren't expected to be great today, and head coach Dan Campbell did say Friday they wanted to protect Boyle from making mistakes.
4. DECKER AVAILABILITY
Left tackle Taylor Decker suffered an elbow injury this week, but the Lions are optimistic it's not serious. Decker practiced Wednesday, sat out Thursday, and returned returned to practice Friday. Campbell seemed pretty optimistic Decker could play today. We'll know for sure 90 minutes before kickoff when inactives are announced.
Decker missed the first eight games of the season with a finger injury that required a plate and screws to be inserted into his hand. He played really well in his return last week in Pittsburgh, playing every offensive snap and allowing just one quarterback pressure. The Lions are hoping they have their left tackle available in this one against one of the best pass rushers this league has to offer in Cleveland's Myles Garrett (NFL-leading 13.0 sacks).
5. DOUBLE TROUBLE
Asked about Cleveland's defense this week, Lions running backs coach and assistant head coach Duce Staley said the Browns' talented edge-rushing duo of Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney can "wreck a party" if the Lions allow it.
Garrett leads the NFL with 13.0 sacks and Clowney has 3.5 sacks and 12 quarterback hits on the other side. The two are also very good against the run and set really good edges.
It was good news for the Lions to have Decker back at practice Friday. He's listed as questionable today. The Lions could use their two best tackles (Decker and Penei Sewell) in this matchup against Garrett and Clowney.