The third game of the NFL preseason is usually the best game to evaluate a team. The Detroit Lions' contest against the Cleveland Browns was no exception.
Both teams had their starters playing deep into the game, and for the most part the offenses won the battles.
The Lions showcased an explosive offense against the Browns that will be capable of scoring quickly and frequently.
Jahvid Best only touched the ball twice before the Lions coaches had seen enough to protect their prized rookie running back by having him watch from the sidelines.
In those two plays Best managed to run for 51 yards and catch a pass for 10 yards. Bryant Johnson followed the plays by Best with a touchdown catch, and the Lions had moved 68 yards in only three plays.
Both offenses were able to move the football with a number of different personnel packages and convert first downs seemingly at will.
The only thing that really stopped either offense were mistakes such as penalties and fumbles. Both defenses scored a touchdown on fumble recoveries.
The consistent pressure that the Lions defensive front had shown in previous games was notably absent against the Browns. That probably had something to do with players like All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas, who anchors a very good Cleveland offensive line.
Jake Delhomme helped his cause by repeatedly making the Detroit defense jump early on hard counts. This made it more difficult for the Lions to get a good jump off the snap.
A variety of Cleveland screen passes also served to keep the Lions from rushing the quarterback too aggressively. Without pressure, Delhomme was able to pick apart the Lions defense with a variety of well-executed short and medium passing routes.
It is fortunate for the Detroit Lions that most teams they play in the regular season do not have an offensive line that compares to the Browns.
But when they face a team that does have a good offensive line, the Lions will be forced to outscore the other team if they want to win.
The Lions special teams also faced a challenge. Joshua Cribbs, the Cleveland return specialist, is one of the very best. The Lions did a good job of containing Cribbs and not allowing him to give Cleveland a short field for their drives.
Steve Hauschka was a weapon in the thin air of Denver when he repeatedly boomed kickoffs deep into the end zone. But Hauschka lost distance on his kicks in Ford Field and was not able to prevent returns.
While Hauschka did not hurt his case to be an NFL kicker, he did not justify a roster spot based on his kickoff prowess.
Aaron Brown stepped forward and made plays down the stretch to fuel drives for the Lions. His two late touchdowns and steady kickoff returns may have earned Brown a roster spot.
The most significant result of the game is that we know the Lions are the team we thought they would be. They will have a quality offense and a shaky defense. The defense is still a few players from being able to stop good offenses.
We need to settle our minds into the idea that the Lions will often make the upcoming season more exciting than we would like it to be.
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