CLEVELAND – The Detroit Lions are following a familiar path for most weeks this season. They play hard enough to win on defense—and in some cases more than hard enough – but their offensive shortcomings force them to play a conservative game that leaves little margin for error.
They walked that tight rope again Sunday. They put a scare into the Cleveland Browns with a second-half rally but ultimately fell short in a 13-10 loss.
Head coach Dan Campbell's comments in his postgame press conference were similar to what he has said after past games.
"Our defense played their hearts out," he said. "They kept us in the game.
"They gave us a chance.
"Look, it's no secret we have to be better in the passing game."
This week's Monday Countdown looks at Campbell's comments about the offense, and how he felt restricted in what plays he called because of the inexperience of Tim Boyle, who made his first NFL start.
There's also a look at running back D'Andre Swift's second straight explosive game, takeaways on offense, defense and special teams, what's trending and the bottom line.
We start with Campbell's comments.
1. Conservative plays: The Lions didn't score a point in the first half. In fact, they barely threatened the Browns, who scored all their points in the second quarter.
Boyle was playing in place of Jared Goff, who sustained an oblique injury in last week's loss to the Steelers.
Cleveland had a 15-6 advantage in first downs, and 202-80 in yards gained.
Boyle completed seven of 13 passes for 39 yards, with one interception.
That changed in the second half, mostly on Swift's running while Boyle continued to struggle.
Boyle completed eight of 10 passes in the second half, but for only 38 yards – one yard less than he had in the first half.
Except for one deep ball meant for wide receiver Josh Reynolds – which was intercepted – Boyle was restricted to throwing short – often behind the line of scrimmage
"He was solid," Campbell said. "He ran the offense well. We had no communication errors. He was efficient. I didn't want to throw this kid to the wolves. That's not fair to him, either."
Campbell sounded protective of Boyle, saying he was better in the fourth quarter than he was in the first because of the experience of playing, and he will better Thursday than he was Sunday if he starts again in place of Goff.
As Campbell has said often – and repeated again Sunday – the Lions have such a narrow margin for error that they have to be close to perfect to win. They were not close in the passing game against the Browns.
2. Swift runs: After being held to 10 yards in the first half, he broke out with 126 in the second and a 54-yard touchdown run.
He finished with 136 yards on 14 carries. That gave him back-to back games of 100-plus yards – with 130 the previous week against the Steelers.
What turned the switch for Swift after the slow first half?
"A lot more opportunities out there in the second half," Swift said. "The first half kind of went down because of the possessions we had.
"We've got to start better, and sustain more drives. That's for any position. As long as you're out, you get a feel for the game. I feel like I'm not doing enough. We're not winning."
3. Time check: The Lions were dividing a very small pie when it came to getting enough touches for Swift and others such as tight end T.J. Hockenson.
The Lions ran only 46 plays, compared to 66 for the Browns. The Lions had six first downs rushing, five passing and one on a penalty.
4. Takeaways, offense:
- Swift strike: Swift hit the Browns with a 1-2 punch of his own in the second half. He had a 19-yard gain, then followed that with a 57-yard TD run two plays later. That gave him 76 yards on two carries.
- Airborne: It was a tough day for the Lions receivers to gain any yards because of the poor passing game. Hockenson leaped over a defender in the fourth quarter to gain extra yards. He wound up with a 20-yard gain. About a third of them were in the air.
- Sackless: The Browns did not have a sack. Part of that was due to the short, quick passes Boyle threw, but the offensive line deserves some credit for keeping Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney away from Boyle.
5. Takeaways, defense:
- Sackless streak: It ended when outside linebacker Austin Bryant and safety Will Harris combined to sack Baker Mayfield midway through the third quarter. Before that, the Lions had not had a sack in the previous two games, and the first half Sunday. It was the Lions' only sack of the game.
- Pick time: Cornerback Amani Oruwariye got his fourth interception of the season with a pick in the second quarter. Rookie cornerback AJ Parker got the Lions' other interception.
- Tip drill: The Lions made it a tough day for Mayfield. They had four passes defended. Linebacker Alex Anzalone tipped a pass that Parker caught for his interception.
6. Takeaways, special teams:
- On the block: The Lions blocked an extra point after the Browns second TD. That helped them get in range of tying the score with a field goal when it got to 13-10 in the fourth quarter.
- Returns: The Browns returned three punts for 12 yards, and one kickoff for 26. No damage, as usual.
- Up: Swift: A second straight big game – 136 yards rushing and a 57-yard TD run – to back up last week's performance against the Steelers.
- Down: The passing game. It's a weakness the Lions have not solved.
- Even: The defense. It bent for two straight games but did not break. The Steelers scored 16 points in a tie, and the Browns got 13 in a win. That's winning football.
8. Bottom Line: After 10 weeks, the Lions know what they have on offense. So do their opponents. They can play it any way they want with little fear because of that advantage.