Four keys for Detroit vs. Cleveland

October, 12, 2013
10/12/13
12:00
PM ET
The last time the Detroit Lions traveled to Cleveland, the game didn’t count. It was preseason and most of the guys on the current roster barely played in Ohio that night.

One who did, Detroit running back Joique Bell, made a different sort of impact.

Bell leveled a streaker in the game, something that received a lot of attention at the time. When approached about it this week, Bell initially said he didn’t remember taking out the streaker.

Then, when he was asked if he was lying about not remembering it, he laughed.

“Yeah,” Bell said. “Nah, we’re not focused on that. They have a picture, never mind, nobody’s brought that up.”

Streaking aside, here are four keys for Detroit to beat Cleveland on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson
AP Photo/Darryl WebbThe Lions need Calvin Johnson on the field if only to create opportunities for their other playmakers on offense.
Calvin Johnson’s health: This won’t truly be determined until a couple of hours before Sunday’s game, but the Lions need some form of Johnson on the field against the Browns. The chances of him being fully healthy are minimal -- he probably won’t get completely there until the bye week at the end of the month -- but at whatever level Johnson can go at, the Lions need him.

He opens up everything else for Detroit, even if he is only able to run a limited selection of routes. His presence, healthy or not, will force Cleveland to at least shade a safety over toward his side. In doing so, it will open up the running game for Reggie Bush and Bell and open up the opposite side of the field for tight ends and receivers to work. It might not be everything for Detroit, but it certainly is a help. Johnson on the field could also help...

Keeping Matthew Stafford upright: The Lions' offensive line had done a good job protecting Stafford until last week, when Green Bay sacked him five times. Stafford held the ball longer and had more time until release than he did in any game this year. Part of that goes to Johnson’s health, but they have to be able to give him enough time to make his progressive reads, especially if Johnson isn’t in the game. The fifth-year pro has done a good job finding the open man and putting the ball in good spots when the line gave him some time to read what was going on, but they need a rebound performance against a tough Browns front.

Hit Brandon Weeden early: Detroit rarely blitzes -- they send five or more pass-rushers on just 16.4 percent of dropbacks -- and are still able to cause issues for quarterbacks. Weeden is not a fast quarterback; has an average time before the pass of 4.34 seconds on a play. In the NFL, that’s an eternity. For Detroit’s defensive line, that’s a reason to be very, very excited about what could happen Sunday. It is unlikely the Lions’ front four will allow Weeden anywhere close to that time. If they can force him into poor decisions, that could mean big plays for the back seven in terms of interceptions and pass break-ups.

Limit Travis Benjamin’s chances: The Browns have the second-best punt return average in the league and a lot of that has to do with Benjamin, who is averaging 15.1 yards a return. That’s second among regular returners only to Tandon Doss' 16.7 yards a return. So as effective as Lions punter Sam Martin and his coverage team was against Chicago and Devin Hester two weeks ago, they need to continue being effective there this Sunday. Benjamin already has a punt return touchdown this season and could be a game-changer. Martin has to be smart on his targets and his ball placement Sunday.

Or, as Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said, Benjamin is “super fast.”

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter

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