The Cleveland Browns have little time to right what went wrong on Monday Night. To make matters worse, injuries continue to mount on both sides of the ball. With little time to recover and less time to prepare, this should be a great test for the Browns.
The Browns' starting offense will need to recover both mentally and physically from the struggles against the Giants. With RB Jamal Lewis, QB Derek Anderson and WR Braylon Edwards expected to be absent due to injury, opportunity has arisen for several talented backups to showcase their talent.
RB Jerome Harrison has been outstanding thus far in preseason. Harrison is running hard and making big gains out of nothing. He appears to have become a more patient runner but he still possesses the balance and quickness to give opponents nightmares. Harrison is also a threat out of the backfield receiving the ball, and has the opportunity to make a statement for an increased role in this offense even when Lewis returns to the starting lineup.
Quarterback Brady Quinn is having a terrific preseason. With the Browns offense looking confused and erratic Monday, Quinn appeared to bring calmness to the offense in a difficult situation. While the Browns organization has done their best to avoid the dreaded “quarterback controversy”, Quinn is doing his very best to create one by performance alone.
In the first two preseason games, the Browns have struggled to get Donte' Stallworth involved in the offense. That should change this week with increased playing time and also a quarterback that loves to throw the quick slant.
Syndric Steptoe should receive additional playing time this week coming off of a sensational performance against the Giants. Steptoe has incredible speed and quickness. His ability as a return man as well as a seemingly natural gift for the slot position could take him far in Rob Chudzinski’s offensive scheme.
The tight end position for the Browns is considered one of the deepest and most-talented units on the team, but injuries have slowed this group considerably. Kellen Winslow and every other tight end on the Browns' roster is fresh off an injury or fighting through one. Winslow is the Browns' single greatest weapon against the Lions' version of the Tampa 2 defense.
The Browns offensive line is the strength of the offense but coming off of a train wreck of a performance and is looking to rebuild their confidence. Communication appeared to be a problem as the line was slow to adjust to the varying blitz packages. The Lions are blitzing more this year and that will benefit the offensive line as they try to get back to providing the excellent protection that helped the Browns to a 10-win season last year.
The trade of Shaun Rodgers for Leigh Bodden was a trade that has both teams very pleased with the outcome. Leigh is having a terrific camp and preseason for the Lions. His ability to make the solo tackle in space has been a much needed blessing for the Lions. He has helped turn the biggest weakness of the Lions into a considerable strength along with free-agent acquisition Brian Kelly, whose experience in the Tampa 2 is already paying dividends for the Lions.
Safety, however, remains a concern for the Lions. Daniel Bullocks possesses the talent to be one of the better safeties in the league but he is recovering from a torn ACL suffered last year. Getting Bullocks healthy is a top priority for a defense looking to turn things around.
Up front the Lions appear capable of getting more pressure on the quarterback than we are used to seeing. Rookie DE Cliff Avril is developing at a rapid pace and should find himself involved early and often as a pass-rushing threat. He is a good compliment to veteran Dewayne White, who is solid playing the run. Jared DeVries is quick off the snap and while he can get pressure, he has never been one to show up frequently on the sack chart. He could find himself splitting time with Ikaika Alama-Francis, who is a raw prospect but possesses loads of potential.
The strength of the front seven is literally and figuratively in the defensive tackles. They should have a nice rotation with Shaun Cody, Cory Redding, Chuck Darby and Langston Moore. This group really is quick off the snap and they have the potential to create opening lanes for a surprisingly talented group of linebackers.
Linebacker Ernie Sims is a throwback player that plays each snap as if it is his last. He is a hard hitter that is always flying around the ball. Paris Lenon has seemingly come out of nowhere to solidify the middle. Lenon plays from snap to whistle and has helped to instill a gang-tackling mentality for the Lions.
With any offense it all starts up front, and the only real issue with this Lions offense is their offensive line. I have been very impressed with rookie tackle Gosder Cherilus. Cherilus is a huge tackle at 6-7 320 pounds. He is currently the backup at right tackle and taking reps at left tackle but he could easily see his first start this week at right tackle with his incredible ability to open lanes for the running game. This young man has too much talent to be waiting on the sideline.
The running game was a disaster for the Lions last year but, thanks to rookie RB Kevin Smith, there is reason for true optimism. He possesses great balance and a knack for allowing the hole to open in front of him; if there is no hole he will get low and pick up positive yards by driving hard. He doesn’t have the great breakaway speed that you would expect but he is more of the workhorse-type runner that should be productive for many years to come. With a high-powered passing attack and a new zone blocking scheme, Smith is one to watch.
John Kitna has been flawless thus far in preseason. He seems to have an improved comfort level in Jim Colleto’s offense. Kitna is finding his talented receivers with ease. Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson are very difficult to play with single coverage and that should open the flood gates for Mike Furrey coming out of the slot. This offense is capable of hanging with anyone in the league.
Cornerback Eric Wright will be looking to redeem himself this week, but facing the likes of Williams and Johnson won’t be an easy task as he gives up nearly six inches in height to Johnson. Brandon McDonald is looking like the real deal. His solid coverage skills combined with a knack for picking up the ball in flight is catching the eye of everyone in the NFL. For what he lacks in size and experience, he is making up for with toughness and awareness.
One dark horse made a strong impression Monday night as A.J. Davis had a solid performance on a prime time stage. Davis brings attitude and toughness to the secondary. Not only did he show solid cover skills and a hard hitting attitude, but he was getting into the head of the Giants' receivers as they seemed to be looking for him as much as they were looking for the ball.
This could be the first week we get to see the Browns' starting defensive line play together. Shaun Rodgers, Corey Williams and Robaire Smith appear to be healthy are ready to go. Shaun will be looking forward to facing off against his former team.
The Browns linebackers have been relatively unimpressive thus far in preseason. That could very well change this week as rookie Alex Hall could receive extensive playing time as Willie McGinest joins the ranks of the walking wounded. Hall has been exciting to watch due to his all-out hustle. I believe the combination of Hall and Wimbley will improve the pass rush for the Browns due to the added speed from the outside.
FS Brodney Pool suffered a concussion this week and will be out for Saturday’s contest. Mike Adams will get the start and it is a golden opportunity for him to solidify his roster spot. Sean Jones will need a huge game if the Browns are to slow down this potent Detroit offense. Jones will likely spend more time in providing over-the-top help against the Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams than in providing his excellent run support. This is a huge test for the Browns secondary.