AFC North: Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions finalized their practice squad on Sunday afternoon, and they didn't really venture too far from the players they already knew.

All 10 of the team's signings were players who were cut during the day Saturday. Here's the complete list:

Running back George Winn, fullback Emil Igwenagu, wide receiver Andrew Peacock, tight end Jordan Thompson, offensive guard Rodney Austin, offensive tackle Michael Williams, defensive tackle Xavier Proctor, linebacker Julian Stanford, cornerback Mohammed Seisay and safety Nate Ness.

Looking at this group, the first thing standing out is the Lions knew what they were doing when they claimed Igwenagu off of waivers early in the week. They wanted to get an extended look at him over other players they had no real interest in keeping. He has some experience in NFL games, too, so that makes him attractive at a position where a late-in-the-week pickup could be difficult.

Winn, Peacock and Seisay seemed targeted for the practice squad from the middle of camp, although Winn and Seisay made runs at the 53-man roster at points during camp. Austin and Williams were players I thought would end up on the final roster and gives Detroit some backup in case a lineman goes down during the week.

With Austin, this feels somewhat like his last chance considering the team signed him during the season when Tennessee expressed interest in bringing him up to its 53-man roster. Detroit did instead, and that he dropped back to the practice squad screams that he still has to prove something.

Williams is a player the Lions like, but he is still learning how to play offensive tackle as he makes a transition from tight end. Should he improve, he'll be competing for a roster spot in 2015 without question. The Lions also kept a tight end, Thompson, but he didn't do much to distinguish himself in camp. It will be interesting to see if Michael Egnew, who the team picked up earlier in the week, ends up with another team.

Proctor ends up on the practice squad again and Stanford, who the team signed last season and did well on special teams, comes back as a practice squad linebacker. Stanford, especially, could be a quick call-up if the team need special teams help.

This is going to be a fluid list, though, and this is definitely an area in which the Lions won't stay firm in depending on what happens around the league and with their own 53-man roster.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Two of the Detroit Lions' biggest targets returned to practice Friday morning, but it is unclear if either will actually play a snap Saturday night (7:30 ET) against Cleveland.

Calvin Johnson returned from an excused absence Thursday. Eric Ebron missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with an undisclosed injury. Considering the Lions' were essentially just doing walk-through-type motions Friday, there was little harm in either player being out there.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell, though, continued to be coy whether either would play against the Browns. He was like that for all of his players, including how long the starters might end up being on the field.

"It depends, you know. We talk about it in a couple different ways," Caldwell said. "We talk about it in both regards actually because you can't tell. If the opposition gets the ball and they have an eight-minute drive and you’re only going to play a group the first quarter, you’ve got to re-think it. There’s just it kind of depends. We have our parameters set."

While Johnson and Ebron returned to practice, running back Joique Bell was absent with what Caldwell said was a non-injury excused absence for "personal reasons."

No matter who plays and who doesn't, it would be surprising to see any Lions starter on the field for more than a couple of offensive or defensive series during the preseason opener.

As for what fans could see offensively from Detroit, expect a lot of different formations and personnel packages.

"Pretty versatile offense but efficiency is the thing that we’re looking for, putting points on the board," Caldwell said.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- There were times Joique Bell would come to the Detroit Lions' practice facility on his off days, back when he worked as a security guard during training camp, and stare at what he saw on the field.

Even then, he knew he wanted to eventually play for the Lions. Even then, he kept telling himself that one day, he might get his chance. His shot to show that he could belong in the NFL. He was a Division II player at Wayne State, a school that doesn't typically produce NFL players.

[+] EnlargeJoique Bell
Icon SMIDetroit Lions running back Joique Bell has signed a contract that will keep him in his favorite city for at least three more years.
Yet Bell said Wednesday he still believed as he viewed practice during breaks from his Lions training camp security duty.

“I would just sit down and watch in awe,” Bell said Wednesday afternoon. “And say ‘One day. One day.’

“That ‘one day’ finally came.”

Bell’s one day, his day of validation and security, his day of showing he belonged in the NFL on a permanent basis, officially came Wednesday, when he signed a contract that will keep him in Detroit for the next three seasons and will pay him a little more than $9 million.

This had been Bell’s plan all along, well before he was an actual player on the Lions. He remembered after he finished his career at Wayne State that he told a local reporter one day he would be with the club. Wasn't sure when. Wasn't sure how.

Only that it would happen.

Then he bounced around from team to team in the NFL, often being cut, often sent to the practice squad. Despite the lack of actual playing time and a 53-man roster spot, teams kept him around and told him he could one day be of value to a team.

Then it came. He was brought in by the Lions in late 2011. He didn't play a game that season, but in 2012 he received his first chance, rushing 82 times for 414 yards and three touchdowns.

A season later, in 2013, he had a breakout year -- carrying the ball 166 times for 650 yards and eight touchdowns in a two-back system with Reggie Bush. It set up his chance at staying with Detroit and receiving the contract he always dreamed about in the city he grew up in; the city that gave him a shot to even reach the NFL both in college and then in the actual league.

“I went to a school yesterday and a kid asked me why do you love Detroit,” Bell said. “I go, ‘I love Detroit because Detroit loves me.’ Flat out.

“Like I said, I came here as an 18-year-old not knowing what to expect and now, nine years later, I’m signing the biggest deal of my life. So many emotions.”

Bell had been campaigning for this deal since the end of the season, when he said he wanted to remain in Detroit long term. His bosses, general manager Martin Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand, had also said they wanted Bell with the Lions long term.

So the actual negotiations took, in Bell’s estimation, about two weeks before they settled on a number he believed both sides felt was fair. And that was it. Everything he worked for temporarily culminated with one agreement and one signature.

And now, one more goal.

“This is more than football. This is more than a game, more than a paycheck,” Bell said. “Like I said, look at the teams around the league and Detroit is one of two or three teams that has never won a Super Bowl. Ever.

“I want to bring that here. I want to bring that Lombardi here to Detroit. It’s been long overdue. We've earned it. We've worked for it.”

MNF live blog: Ravens at Lions

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
7:00
PM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts for "Monday Night Football" between the Baltimore Ravens and the Detroit Lions.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET. See you there.


[Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect Sunday's results.]

For the Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions, the playoffs are beginning well before the actual postseason starts. In reality for both teams, they begin Monday night.

Both the Ravens and Lions are fighting for playoff berths and are hanging on to those spots by head-to-head tiebreakers -- in the Lions' case for the NFC North title and for the Ravens, the No. 6 seed in the AFC.

The Ravens need to win to keep pace with Miami, which beat New England on Sunday, for a wild-card berth. The Lions need a win to keep pace with Chicago, which won Sunday at Cleveland.

ESPN.com Detroit Lions reporter Michael Rothstein and Baltimore Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley break down what might happen Monday and who might leave "Monday Night Football" still with a playoff berth in their hands.

Rothstein: Up until Sunday, Detroit's run defense had been very, very good. Add to that Ray Rice appears to be struggling this season. What's going on with Rice and does the Lions' stout run defense mean more of Monday night's game is on the shoulders of Joe Flacco?

Hensley: Rice's best two games over the past eight weeks have come against NFC North teams, but a lot of backs have had success against the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings this year. The Ravens would love Rice to duplicate what LeSean McCoy (217 yards rushing) did against the Lions, but I'm pretty sure there's not going to be any snow in Ford Field. Getting the run game on track has been the biggest challenge for the Ravens, who are averaging a league-worst 3.0 yards per carry.

Baltimore hasn't abandoned the ground attack. The Ravens, though, haven't shown much confidence in it either. They have put the ball in the hands of their $120.6 million quarterback to win games. Flacco has thrown over 30 passes in nine of the past 10 games. The problem with that strategy has been the increase in turnovers. Flacco has thrown a career-worst 17 interceptions, including three Sunday. Only two quarterbacks -- Geno Smith and Eli Manning -- have thrown more.

Speaking of turnovers, why have the Lions had so much trouble holding onto the ball this year?

Rothstein: It's a combination of factors, starting with Matthew Stafford. In some ways -- and yes, weather is an excuse here -- Sunday's "fumbleathon" against Philadelphia can be attributed to the weather because so many of those miscues happened when visibility was nil and in blizzard-like conditions. But Stafford has thrown a lot of interceptions in the second half of the season and some of those are just poor reads with which he should be doing better. Others are the fault of his receivers, who lead the league in drops with 41, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Reggie Bush has had some fumbling issues, too, and that has been a major problem for the Lions' top free-agent acquisition. It really comes down to Bush improving his ball security and Stafford making smarter decisions.

You mention the Jimmy Smith-Calvin Johnson matchup in the video. Every team has kind of schemed differently for Johnson this season. What do you think the Ravens will do?

Hensley: The Ravens don't have their cornerbacks shadow the same receivers, but they will want Smith on Johnson as much as possible because he's their most physical defender. Smith is going to have to play better against Johnson than he did in the 2012 preseason. In the game, Smith was beaten by Johnson on a leaping, 18-yard touchdown. He later held Johnson when the receiver went past him on the next drive.

But Smith is playing with more confidence and more aggressiveness in his first full season starting. He has allowed only 22 catches over his past 10 games. That is an impressive total when you consider he has covered the likes of Cleveland’s Josh Gordon, Cincinnati’s A.J. Green, Chicago’s Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown during that time.

The Ravens have some speedy receivers as well with Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. Of course, Flacco will need time to get the ball to them. How difficult will it be for the Ravens to slow down the Lions' pass rush?

Rothstein: Depends which pass rush shows up. If it is the one that played in the last Green Bay game (seven sacks), then Flacco's success will be predicated on whether he can make the first read correctly. If the pass rush is less successful, then Flacco could have a big day. Much of it will depend on how many people Baltimore keeps home besides the five offensive linemen.

If Baltimore decides to try to block Ndamukong Suh one-on-one, it'll be a long night. The pass rush's success also will depend on rookie end Ziggy Ansah. If Ansah is healthy enough to play, he becomes a huge difference-maker for the Lions as teams have really struggled to deal with Suh on the inside and Ansah outside. If Ansah can't play -- he injured his shoulder against Philadelphia -- then that's a big bonus for the Ravens.

The Ravens were a Super Bowl team last year. Now, they appear to be very much in the middle of the pack. Did Ray Lewis and Anquan Boldin make that big of a difference?

Hensley: I would argue that the Ravens have missed a healthy Dennis Pitta (out 12 games with dislocated hip) and Jacoby Jones (injured knee in season opener) more than Boldin and Lewis. You can throw in there that the Ravens have missed the same production from Ray Rice as well. Offensively, the Ravens haven't had as much of a void with Boldin as previously thought. Torrey Smith has assumed the No. 1 receiver job, and rookie Marlon Brown has been a weapon in the red zone with six touchdowns. And defensively, there hasn't been much talk of the loss of Lewis because Daryl Smith has played so well in the middle. The Ravens defense is statistically much better than last year's group.

So, why has there been so much of a drop-off this year? The offensive line and Rice have been major disappointments. There have been too few running lanes and too many sacks allowed. The lack of a running game and the inability of Rice to make plays in the open field have hamstrung this offense. The other problem has been coming up short in close games. Last year, the Ravens had the NFL's most wins in games decided by three points or fewer. This year, Baltimore has the second-most losses (four) in such games. The Ravens have begun to find a way to win those close games recently, which is why they're back in the playoff race.

The Ravens have historically come through in these December games, which is why they've made the playoffs in each of the past five seasons. Do the Lions feel added pressure in times like these because they've made the playoffs only once since the 1999 season?

Rothstein: I don’t think they do, but there is a lot at stake for Detroit over these last three games. Besides the Lions' second playoff appearance in three seasons, this is a chance at Detroit’s first division title since 1993 and if the Lions don’t make the playoffs, there probably will be at least a conversation about Jim Schwartz’s future in Detroit.

So there are, without question, a lot of things weighing on the Lions. But for them it has been all about the mistakes they have been making and what they need to correct. Whether they do that over the last three games will essentially decide their fate.

Calvin Johnson and Troy PolamaluGetty ImagesCalvin Johnson's Lions look to continue their success against Troy Polamalu's struggling Steelers.


The respective histories of the Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers suggest that the latter would be 6-3 and the former 3-6 heading into their game Sunday at Heinz Field.

But it is the Steelers who have scuffled this season, and they are still trying to dig out from an 0-4 start. The Lions, meanwhile, sit atop the NFC North and have the pieces to make a lengthy postseason run assuming they can keep up their winning ways.

The Steelers have little margin for error as they try to stay on the fringes of the AFC playoff picture, and the Lions will try to maintain their grip in first place in the NFC North when the teams meet at 1 p.m.

ESPN.com NFL Nation reporters Michael Rothstein (Lions) and Scott Brown (Steelers) take a closer look at the first matchup between the two teams since 2009.

Brown: Michael, I'm not surprised that the Lions are playing so well this season, and my question for you is, what has the signing of running back Reggie Bush done for the offense?

Rothstein: It's been huge, Scott. Bush's signing in the offseason spreads defenses out and forces teams to make a choice. Either double Calvin Johnson or continuously roll safety coverage Johnson's way or bring a defender down into the box to stop Bush -- but that leaves things open for Matthew Stafford to find Johnson. He has the ability to take a dump-off play and turn it into a massive touchdown -- something he has done twice on screens this season. While he doesn't change the offense the way it would if Stafford or Johnson were missing, he's a massive cog there.

Speaking of that -- and I feel as if I've asked this question weekly -- how do you think Pittsburgh handles that matchup against the Detroit offense?

Brown: Michael, it's hard to like the matchup if you are the Steelers. Speed in their secondary has been an issue this season, particularly at safety, and I'm not sure anyone can run with Bush if the Lions isolate him on linebacker or safety as a receiver.

The Steelers are going to have to pay Johnson the extra attention he demands, and last I checked they will only be allowed to have 11 defensive players on the field. Assuming the Steelers use a combination of double and bracket coverage on Johnson, there are going to be some one-on-one matchups that the Lions may be able to exploit.

The Steelers haven't generated a consistent pass rush this season, but it will be absolutely essential that they do so against Stafford. If he is allowed to get comfortable in the pocket Sunday it will be a long day for the Steelers.

The best thing the Steelers can do for their defense is to control the clock, but it won't be easy to run on Detroit's front seven. Does it start on the Lions' defense with tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and how have other teams tried to neutralize those two?

Rothstein: Yes, most of what Detroit does defensively starts with Suh, and to a lesser extent, Fairley. Suh is having one of the most consistent seasons of his career, this despite the constant presence on double teams each week. The attention Suh is given opens rush lanes for Fairley, but he hasn't been completely consistent taking advantage of them.

For every game he has like Sunday's against Chicago, he has a game where he disappears. But the pressure Suh, Fairley and the defensive line put on quarterbacks has led to incomplete passes and interceptions often.

If there is a concern with the Detroit defense, it is with its cornerbacks, who have been inconsistent. Can Ben Roethlisberger take advantage of this with his current crop of receivers?

Brown: Antonio Brown has really emerged as a No. 1 receiver and made the Steelers look smart for not overpaying for Mike Wallace. That said, Emmanuel Sanders has not been consistent enough to give the Steelers a receiving option to pair with Brown.

Sanders has a ton of talent, and he is a big-play threat. I keep waiting for him to break out. This could be the week for him to do it as the Steelers are going to have to score their share of points to keep up with the Lions. Lost in the Steelers' 55-31 loss at New England a couple of weeks ago is how much success the Steelers had attacking the Patriots' cornerbacks.

If the Lions' cornerbacks are vulnerable, the Steelers will go after them, and Detroit has to be mindful of the middle of the field where tight end Heath Miller and Jerricho Cotchery work and are trusted by Roethlisberger.

Michael, I don't see the Steelers winning this game unless they score a lot of points. What needs to happen for the Lions to lose?

Rothstein: That's an interesting question, Scott, and with the Lions you just never know. I'd probably start with if any of the Lions' starters in the secondary went down with injury. That would necessitate playing either an inexperienced safety or rookie Darius Slay if one of the corners goes down. Roethlisberger is good enough that he'd pick on that side of the field consistently.

Another would be to force turnovers. Stafford has been quite good this season, essentially throwing less than two interceptions per 100 attempts (he has a 1.9 percent rate), which is in the top 10 of the league and tied with Drew Brees. If Detroit's offense can hold on to the ball and everyone is healthy, it'll score points.

I'll close out with this: You mentioned Pittsburgh trying to establish the run first. What's been going on there? It seems as if there has been a rotating cast of players because of injuries and other issues. Do the Steelers even have a reliable running attack?

Brown: Depends on the week, it seems, when it comes to the Steelers' running game. It has gotten a lot better since Le'Veon Bell became the feature back, and the Steelers have rushed for over 100 yards in their last two games.

To put into perspective how important it is for the Steelers to establish the ground game, they have run the ball just over 51 percent of the time in their three wins and around 30 percent of their time in six losses.

The Steelers have to run the ball against the Lions, and a big component of that is not falling behind early, something that has been a problem this season.

Live blog: Bengals at Lions

October, 20, 2013
10/20/13
10:00
AM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Cincinnati Bengals' visit to the Detroit. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.
Ndamukong Suh and Geno AtkinsAP PhotoNdamukong Suh and Geno Atkins lead two of the league's best front fours.
The Detroit Lions have a chance to solidify themselves for a playoff push. So do the Cincinnati Bengals. They may be in different conferences, but this game should be a good test for both teams as to where they stand in the larger picture of the NFL.

Both teams lead their divisions, and both won on the road last week. And in the wacky world of the NFL, Detroit has beaten both teams Cincinnati has lost to (Chicago and Cleveland) while the Bengals have beaten one of the two teams the Lions lost to (Green Bay).

As for this week’s game, Bengals reporter Coley Harvey and Lions reporter Michael Rothstein break down what should be an interesting matchup.

Rothstein: Detroit's cornerbacks continue to either be banged up (starters Chris Houston and Rashean Mathis) or really young (rookie Darius Slay). How much of a problem is A.J. Green going to pose in this situation? Does he feast on these matchups?

Harvey: Given the Lions’ lack of experience and consistency at cornerback, that could be a problem for Detroit this weekend. Or maybe it will be a good thing. Here’s what I mean: Green does well when he’s going one-on-one against particular defensive backs, and he seems to relish having opportunities to expose both really good and really poor corners. Against Buffalo’s Leodis McKelvin on Sunday, Green caught six passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. He was targeted 11 times as the Bengals went more to their receivers than they had the week before. As good as McKelvin is, though, he’s no Charles Tillman, whom Green caught nine passes against in Week 1. He also isn’t Joe Haden, who allowed Green to catch seven balls but held him to just 51 yards in Cleveland three weeks ago. So Detroit having a revolving door at corner could be problematic since Green has had his opportunities against some of the league’s best this season.

As far as the inexperience and inconsistency at the position being a good thing for the Lions, I say that because that might prompt Detroit to double-team Green. As we’ve seen this season, Green struggles when safeties are able to come over the top and help out in coverage against him. If double coverage ends up being a cornerstone of the Lions’ game plan, Green could have a tough day.

We’ll stick with receivers, and I'll ask you, Michael, about Calvin Johnson. We know he’s hobbled a bit with that knee injury, but how much do you think he’s looking forward to squaring off with a guy like Green, who also is considered one of the game’s best receivers?

Rothstein: Johnson seems to enjoy seeing other top receivers on the field, but he gets more excited to see topflight opposing cornerbacks like Patrick Peterson. For instance, he and Peterson swapped jerseys after their Week 2 game.

His knee is a concern. He didn't quite look like himself against Cleveland on Sunday, dropping a couple of passes and not being his typical deep threat. But when he is out there, teams still have to pay extra attention to him because he is the top receiver in the game.

Johnson's presence changes a lot, even if he can't go deep. Detroit can still use him on underneath routes, and he's still likely to draw the double-team or added attention, especially in the red zone. As long as he can do some things and run some routes, Johnson will be out there and making a difference.

That leads me to this question -- how will Cincinnati's defense handle both the questionable health of Johnson combined with everything else Detroit's offense has to offer?

Harvey: Cincinnati’s top corner, Leon Hall, likely will draw the bulk of reps against Johnson, even though, at 5-foot-11, he stands some six inches shorter than his 6-5 counterpart. It’ll be interesting to see how Hall and the other defensive backs handle the threat of the deep ball, assuming Johnson can run better and get underneath those passes this week. If he’s forced to go underneath, the Bengals feel confident their cover linebackers -- Rey Maualuga, Vontaze Burfict and Michael Boley -- and cover safety Taylor Mays can disrupt short- to intermediate-range passes.

When it comes to stopping Reggie Bush in the run game, the Bengals have the type of defensive front that will make such a matchup intriguing. Last week, against the No. 3 rushing offense in the NFL, they gave up 130 yards on the ground but limited Fred Jackson to just 35 yards on 10 carries. With fewer big-play threats in the Lions backfield, the Bengals have to be glad they’re keying primarily on one running back this week. That said, it’ll be interesting to see what they do with linebacker James Harrison. He factored heavily in the run defense last week, but with the passing threat Detroit possesses, he likely won’t be on the field as much this week.

Speaking of defensive players, Ndamukong Suh continues to be a disruptive force in the Lions’ interior. Statistically speaking, though, it seems he wasn’t very productive last week. Any idea what happened there, Michael?

Rothstein: That hasn't been unusual. His numbers have not been astronomical, but he picks up double-teams on almost every play, it seems. So just the attention he draws assists everyone. There have been hurries that have led to interceptions as well. He is playing extremely well and very consistent.

Has Andy Dalton said anything about Suh this week? They had a prior run-in, and a hit on Brandon Weeden last week is being looked at by the league.

Harvey: Dalton was asked about the body slam Suh gave him during the 2011 preseason opener. But being the polite politician that he is, the quarterback didn’t show any ill will toward Suh. Quite the contrary, actually. Like several of his offensive linemen, Dalton simply called Suh a good player and credited the way he passionately plays the game. Though few linemen wanted to make the Dalton-Suh incident a storyline this week, they will have that play in the back of their minds, rest assured.

Oh, and is there a week when the league isn’t looking at one of his hits?

Final question for you, Michael. Why does Bush have only one rushing touchdown this year? Is that a function of being part of a good passing offense or something else?

Rothstein: It’s a misleading number, Coley. He would have had two rushing touchdowns in Week 1, but both were reviewed and taken away at the 1-yard line. Joique Bell rushed both of them in instead. And he has two receiving touchdowns, so he is finding the end zone. Detroit is more of a passing team that likes to employ screens with its running backs, so that could be why those numbers look strange. But Bush is having a good season, no doubt.

Musings on missing a Megatron

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
9:02
AM ET
Will there be a Megatron sighting in Cleveland this weekend?

More important, would the Cleveland Browns mind at all if there isn’t?

One might think that the Browns hearts' would not really be broken if Calvin Johnson, the super-special receiver on the Detroit Lions, missed his second game in a row. Johnson sat out Sunday’s loss to Green Bay, and the Lions' offense suffered accordingly as Detroit scored just nine points against the Packers.

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson
Tom Lynn /Getty ImagesCalvin Johnson sat out the Lions' last game against Green Bay and he could be a game-time decision to play against the Browns.
“The team and the Browns fans might not want him out there, and I might not want him out there, too,” cornerback Joe Haden said.

Then he smiled, to indicate he was only half-kidding.

Because there is no doubt that the Lions without Johnson are a completely different team than when he plays. Johnson opens up the field for Reggie Bush. He spaces the offense properly. And with second receiver Nate Burleson also hurt the Lions lack a legitimate threat at receiver without Johnson, which makes them a lot easier to defend.

“If you’re missing him,” Haden said. “It’s going to be a completely different offense.”

Because Johnson is that good.

“Look at the dude,” Haden said. “He’s huge, he’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast. There’s nothing else you have to really know about how he’s so good.”

Haden will be the guy assigned to cover Johnson. That’s his role this season. The Browns defensive staff finds the other team’s best weapon in the passing game, and says “You go, Joe.”

“He’s got the ability and the mindset to accept that challenge,” defensive coordinator Ray Horton said.

Haden was given the role against Cincinnati’s A.J. Green. The Browns corner kept Green out of the end zone, and limited him to just more than seven yards per catch in a seven-catch, 51-yard game. Green congratulated Haden on playing so well.

Now comes one of the few players better than Green, the guy whose freakish abilities earned him his nickname.

The Browns do not wish injury on any player. But might they not be broken-hearted if Megatron is watching the way he was in Green Bay?

“I like seeing teams at full-strength when we play them,” linebacker Paul Kruger said. “I think it’s always nice to see the most competitive team against ours.”

D’Qwell Jackson wouldn't even touch the question.

Haden, the guy most affected by Johnson’s absence and presence, did.

“It’s always good to go against the best,” Haden said. “But if he doesn’t it’s a big help (to the defense) and a big knock for their offense.”
The Browns will pursue Lions pass-rusher Cliff Avril in free agency, a league source told The Plain Dealer. For this to happen, the Browns would have to be willing to offer a contract that averages about $10 million per season and Avril would have to be comfortable with a position change.

Avril
Landing Avril would be a boost to Cleveland's pass rush and represent a big free-agent splash for the team's new regime. Avril is considered one of the top five free agents available this year after recording 29 sacks and nine forced fumbles over the past three seasons.

Avril's production, though, came as a defensive end in the Lions' 4-3 defense. The Browns would be making a big investment in Avril while asking him to shift to an outside linebacker in Ray Horton's new 3-4 defense.

There's no question that Avril would make an impact on a defense that finished 11th in sacks last season. The bigger question is whether the Browns would be overpaying for a defender who struggles against the run and who played only 66 percent of Detroit's defensive snaps last season.

The Browns have to be careful because this is the same situation involving another potential target, the Ravens' Paul Kruger. He's a very effective pass-rusher but doesn't fare well against the run.

According to the Detroit News, the Lions aren't having ongoing negotiations with Avril, who received the franchise tag last year. The paper reported that the Lions may not offer Avril anything more than $8 million per season.

As The Plain Dealer pointed out, the Browns could have the inside track on Avril in free agency. Joe Cullen, the Browns' new defensive line coach, helped draft Avril in 2008 and coached him in his rookie season.

The Browns wouldn't be the only team going after Avril. The Colts could also target Avril after parting ways with Dwight Freeney.

Observation deck: Ravens-Lions

August, 17, 2012
8/17/12
11:34
PM ET

If the Ravens secondary wants to reach an elite level, the defensive backs have to hold their own against the top receivers. Baltimore's 27-12 preseason loss to the Lions on Friday night showed once again that the secondary has a lot of room to improve.

The Ravens allowed Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson to catch five passes for 111 yards and one touchdown. And that was in less than one full half of work. That comes one week after Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones had six catches for 109 yards and one touchdown in a little over one quarter.

Cornerbacks Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith, who are battling for a starting job, both took turns getting beat by Johnson. The Ravens' first defensive series of the second quarter began with Johnson running past Williams for a 57-yard catch and ended with Johnson leaping over Jimmy Smith for an 18-yard touchdown. Smith later held Johnson when the receiver went past him on the next drive.

Here are some other thoughts on the Ravens' second preseason game of the year:
  • The Ravens continue to show a new look on offense. Baltimore is opening up the playbook with a no-huddle attack that spreads out defenses with three wide receivers. This is the second straight game for the Ravens' no-huddle offense.
  • Joe Flacco played much better than his statistics indicate. He finished 7-of-12 for 79 yards, but his receivers dropped three passes. With Torrey Smith out with a sprained ankle, Flacco went to LaQuan Williams three times in the red zone and didn't connect one time.
  • Undrafted rookie Justin Tucker continues to outshine Billy Cundiff in the kicker competition. Cundiff converted from 33 and 44 yards, but Tucker drew bigger cheers from the home crowd when he boomed a 50-yarder. Tucker later added a 45-yard field goal. Cundiff, though, had more distance on his kickoffs.
  • The best battle of the night was Ravens right guard Marshal Yanda going against Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. There were many instances when they kept pushing and shoving after the whistle.
  • The Ravens are still telling Bryant McKinnie that he has to earn back his starting job, keeping him on the second team. Baltimore started Michael Oher at left tackle and rookie Kelechi Osemele on the right side. Oher hurt one drive when he was called for holding on second-and-goal from the 7-yard line.
  • One of the worst plays in Ravens history has been the end-around to a wide receiver. It never worked with Mark Clayton or Donte Stallworth. But Baltimore finally had success when Jacoby Jones broke free for a 35-yard gain. That's 35 more yards than the Ravens ever gained on that play before.
  • Courtney Upshaw, the team's top pick of the 2012 draft, remained on the second team while Albert McClellan started at outside linebacker. Upshaw didn't help his case with a rookie mistake. The Lions' first drive of the second quarter should have ended with a field goal, but Upshaw was called for offside on third-and-2 from the Baltimore 28-yard line. That led to the Johnson touchdown.
  • It was another frustrating night for Sergio Kindle. His holding penalty negated a 55-yard kickoff return by Deonte Thompson late in the second quarter, and then Kindle left in the third quarter with a left shoulder stinger.
  • It's hard to overlook undrafted rookie safety Omar Brown because he keeps making plays. His fumble recovery in the second half was his fourth turnover (three fumble recoveries and one interception) in two games.
The pressure of making his preseason debut likely won't affect Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden, a 28-year-old who has already had a taste of professional sports as a minor-league pitcher.

But the pressure applied by Ndamukong Suh and the Detroit Lions' pass rush will be unlike anything he's ever faced before. Weeden never played against Suh during their days in the Big 12, but he knows about the reputation.

In the Lions’ 2011 preseason opener, Suh initiated Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to the NFL by dragging him to the turf in a headlock move and ripping Dalton's helmet off. In a 2010 preseason game, Suh grabbed Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme by his facemask and then twisted him to the ground in another headlock maneuver.

“My main goal is -- however long I play -- be 100 percent on my responsibilities,” Weeden told the Akron Beacon Journal. “No missed assignments on my team, and I think it’s going to be fast. Guys are going to be flying around. It’s going to be fun. It’ll be nice to get hit a couple of times.”

Somehow getting hit by Suh a couple of times is probably not going to be "nice."
Who is the best wide receiver in the NFL right now: the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson or the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Wallace?

Johnson can out-jump nearly every defender and pull down the pass with his strong hands. Wallace can outrun nearly every defender and turn short slants into big gains.

While many would call Johnson the best because of his torrid touchdown pace, ESPN Insider KC Joyner Insider sides with Wallace, calling him "the heavyweight champion of NFL receivers."

Here's an excerpt from the piece:
It's one thing to simply subscribe to the numbers and players must also pass the eye test, but these totals show Wallace as superior thus far in short, medium, bomb, vertical, stretch vertical, yards after catch and overall YPA categories. If he's not dominant in one, he's consistently better in all.

Not only that, Wallace has 82 more total yards than Johnson despite having 12 fewer targets.

So is the best wide receiver Wallace? Johnson? Or someone else?

Video: Stafford, Lions drop Browns, 35-27

August, 28, 2010
8/28/10
8:47
PM ET


Matt Stafford connected on 13 of 17 for 141 yards and a touchdown as Detroit improved to 2-1 in the preseason.

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