The Cleveland Browns offense will have had a week and a half to prepare for the Detroit Lions. A week and a half to get Brandon Weeden comfortable after not practicing basically at all the previous two weeks. It also is time for Shawn Lauvao to get comfortable at right guard and the Browns to work to improve an anemic running game. All of that is happening and then they are also preparing for a Lions defense that is statistically poor but has some incredibly talented players that can disrupt a game plan.
Weeden has shown some interesting wisdom when asked about the fans in Cleveland. Basically, he did not blame them for booing and said they were smart. It would be easy for him or anyone really to be annoyed or take it personally. No one likes being booed by their home fans. Weeden seems to be taking it in stride and just trying to play better and give them more reasons to cheer.
He not only has to get acclimated to the Browns offense again, now with Josh Gordon a part of it, but they are also putting more emphasis on getting rid of the ball quicker. Considering that Weeden does not move well, when he holds the ball too long, he becomes a sitting duck and the Browns offensive line gets a bad rap because Weeden is the reason he gets killed. If he can be more decisive with the football and quicker with his reads, he can really make life easier on himself and his blockers.
The Browns are thrilled to have Lauvao back in at right guard and after the Bills game, Lauvao talked about how much he pulled during that game; that it was like the offense got a new toy. Lauvao is terrific with his ability to pull and should be a positive when it comes to running the ball but the problem he has been facing in his career has been lateral agility and being able to slide in pass protection.
With the Lions coming to town, that means that Lauvao will be facing Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley this week. The combination has been able to rack up 3.5 sacks but they draw a lot of attention that opens up opportunities for other players in the defense to make plays. They play a different style as Fairley has gotten much bigger since entering the league while still being able to move extremely well. Suh is a little sleeker and more athletic but has remarkable strength.
Nevertheless, the Lions are 26th in the league when it comes to stopping the run. The Browns will have opportunities but they are only 24th in rushing yards. This might be the best week for the Browns to get the running game going and Willis McGahee has been able to improve, but he has not broken through with a big performance. If it is going to happen, this would be the time. The next few weeks will be extremely difficult against the Packers, Chiefs, and Ravens.
With Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon, the Browns have two extremely difficult matchups for any team and put stress on the opposing defense to stop them. Weeden seems to like throwing the ball to Greg Little which was effectively last week for a few big plays. They need to keep getting the ball to Davone Bess with his ability to pick up first downs and keep drives going. If Weeden can use all of these weapons, it could be difficult to stop, but it all comes back to Weeden getting rid of the football.
The Lions have the ability to cause turnovers and put pressure on the quarterback but overall, they tend to give up a lot of passing yards and only rank 20th in the league in pass defense. If Weeden can be decisive with the football while not putting it at risk, he can be extremely effective. The problem is that he has not shown that ability to this point and with a defensive line like the Lions have as well as mixing in some blitzes, he could be picking himself up off of the ground quite a bit. If he is decisive but wrong, he could end up making some bad throws right into coverage and end up turning the ball over to the Lions.
This is a big test for Weeden, but also a big opportunity. There will be plenty of plays to be had on this Lions defense, but if he falls into old habits, he could end up getting himself killed. While the hope is the running game can be more effective this week, the trend is not looking good. In that situation, the Browns would find themselves in a lot of obvious passing situations with the Lions able to pin their ears back and rush the passer. Weeden is just going to have to step up and make the right throws.
The Browns offense has not been overwhelming in any game this year. This would certainly be the week to do it as this might be the weakest defense the Browns have seen all year. The key will be avoiding making stupid mistakes and turnovers. The Browns have been able to do that in stretches but sustaining it over an entire game, with Weeden under center, has eluded them. Weeden needs to prove he can do that if the Browns are going to do anything but struggle the rest of this season. If he cannot be effective this week, the Browns might be in a nosedive until at least the bye week.