Lions not looking ahead, focused on Browns
Matthew Stafford doesn’t want to hear how the schedule sets up favorably for the Detroit Lions.
The outlook appears unusually rosy for a .500 team at the midpoint of the season. The Lions only face one more team, Minnesota, currently above the .500 mark. They are also the only NFC North team without any major quarterback issues.
Stafford, who has thrown 14 touchdown passes compared to four interceptions, shrugs off the Lions’ seemingly clear path to the playoffs. They get the juiciest matchup of all, a home date against the winless Cleveland Browns, on Sunday.
“We don’t look that far ahead,” Stafford said. “You do that, you start getting in trouble. I’ve been a part of some really good second halves of the season and some not. The times we’ve played well, we’ve really put our full focus on every single opponent that we play, which is what we’ll do this week and, hopefully, throughout the rest of the year.”
Detroit (4-4), which trails the Vikings by two games in the division, is coming off a rare road win at Green Bay. With Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers sidelined by a broken collarbone, the Lions dominated the Monday night game, 30-17.
Stafford took apart the Packers’ secondary, completing 26 of 33 passes for 361 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. The Browns (0-8) are allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 68.8 percent of their passes and 16 touchdowns.
Cleveland’s defense has been much stingier in the ground game, giving up just 2.9 yards per carry.
“You throw the tape on, these guys jump off the screen to you, especially on the defensive side of the ball,” Stafford said. “These guys stop the run about as good as anybody in the NFL. They’ve got young, really talented guys in the secondary. They’ve got a bunch of first- and second-round picks, guys that have obvious talent and skill.”
The Lions lost their last three home games, in large part due to red-zone woes. They rank 27th at 45.83 percent scoring touchdowns in the red zone, just one spot ahead of the Browns (45.0).
“Got to get better,” Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said. “We got in a couple of times (against Green Bay) but we’ve got to keep working at it. We figured out a couple of things, but we haven’t gotten them all solved.”
Finding a goal line back is one of those unresolved issues. Ameer Abdullah scored a rushing touchdown but also fumbled twice against Green Bay, including one near the Packers’ goal line that the Lions recovered.
Abdullah’s ball-security issue was one of the few negatives to come out of the division win.
“What was encouraging was how we played,” Caldwell said. “That game was one that I think the guys played real well. Beyond that, it’s a matter of keeping our focus narrow.”
The Browns are coming off a bye week. They lost 33-16 to Minnesota in London prior to their break.
Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, who was benched early in the second half the previous week after throwing two interceptions against Tennessee, played the entire game against Minnesota. He completed 18 of 34 passes for only 179 yards but didn’t commit any turnovers.
“There’s a lot of plays to be had out there,” Kizer said. “Obviously, there’s a big emphasis on not turning the ball over and I was able to develop that throughout the first half of the season. Didn’t turn it over against Minnesota, but now there’s big plays that can turn into touchdowns that need to be made throughout the game.”
Kizer, a second-round pick out of Notre Dame, is completing just 52.1 percent of his throws with three touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
He realizes he needs to improve quickly or become just another failed Browns signal caller.
“When you’re in a position where you’re 0-8 and on a club that hasn’t been winning in the recent past and hasn’t had a solid quarterback in a long time, you’ve got to prove (it) every time you step out there,” Kizer said. “It’s going to take a lot for a guy to hold onto this position for a while. That’s why you’ve seen so many guys who haven’t been able to hold onto it. So, there’s definitely a chip on my shoulder to go out and do whatever I can to be the quarterback here for a long time.”
Browns cornerback Jason McCourty (ankle) is questionable after missing the last two games.
Lions offensive tackle Taylor Decker, who underwent shoulder surgery in June, could make his season debut. Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (back) is a question mark after missing practice Wednesday.