Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  By DAVE DYE  |  Last updated 10/11/13
It's a rematch of that August 15 preseason thriller. This one means just a little bit more. The Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns - a couple of 3-2 teams trying to prove they're playoff contenders regardless of what anybody else thinks of them - meet Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. (The Browns, by the way, won the exhibition game, 24-6, on the same field). Here are five storylines to follow for the game that counts: 1. TAKEDOWN TIME Despite some impressive performances from their defensive line, the Lions still rank only tied for 27th in the league with 10 sacks. Some of that is because quarterbacks go into the game expecting intense pressure and know they have to get rid of the ball a little quicker against Ndamukong Suh and company. Still, this is a chance for the front four to finish the job with some takedowns. The Browns rank second-worst in sacks allowed with 22, largely because quarterback Brandon Weeden lacks mobility and hangs on to the ball too long. Weeden, a first-round draft pick last year, reclaims his starting job this week because of an injury to Brian Hoyer. Weeden started the first two games before getting replaced by Hoyer. When Suh was asked about Weeden being "slow," he said, smiling, "That's not nice." "I do know those stats and that he has been taken down quite a bit," Suh added. "It's something that obviously we look forward to. Hopefully, we will be able to recreate those same successes that other defenses have." 2. EYES ON PETTIGREW With Calvin Johnson ailing, the Lions' pass game needs others to produce more than ever. One player who has started to come through a little more is enigmatic tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who has suffered from inexplicable drops and fumbles during much of his career. Over the last two weeks, however, Pettigrew has caught 11 of the 12 passes thrown to him. The highlight was a 25-yard gain last week when broke a tackle and hurdled a defender to get some extra yardage. Can he show that type of consistency for the third straight week? "Everybody goes through ups and downs," Pettigrew said. "It's about coming back week to week and answering the challenge." Matthew Stafford is likely to keep looking in Pettigrew's direction more this week if the big tight end continues to hang on to the ball. Pettigrew isn't a fan favorite, but the quarterback likes him. "Pettigrew is the guy that I have the ultimate trust in," Stafford said. "He was a guy that was a focal point for me early on in my career. Anytime you've got a great tight end, as a young quarterback, he can be your best friend. "He's a guy that works extremely hard. We see the work that he puts in week in and week out no matter what his role is in the offense (blocking or pass catching). He's ready for anything. "The last two weeks have proved that. He's a guy that has been asked to do more. He's making plays for us." 3. PHYSICAL DEFENSE After the Browns lost their first two games and then gave up on running back Trent Richardson, a first-round draft pick last year, by trading him to Indianapolis, most people totally wrote this team off. Everybody, apparently, but the guys inside their locker room. "They've gotten better," Lions center Dominic Raiola said. They have indeed, winning three straight against Minnesota, Cincinnati and Buffalo since the shocking trade. What stands out is the defense, which ranks in the top-10 in points allowed, total yards, passing yards, rushing yards and sacks. They're tied for No. 3 in sacks (18) and No. 4 in total defense (301.8 total yards per game). "Desmond Bryant is relentless," Lions offensive guard Rob Sims said of the Browns' defensive lineman who has 3 12 sacks. "I'm going to have a long day with him. Their whole front is playing really well." Stafford got sacked five times last week at Green Bay after taking only three in the first four games. This is a physical defense that is going to test him severely. 4. OUTSTANDING ROOKIES With the Lions needing a strong pass rusher in last April's draft, one of the top prospects mentioned was LSU's Barkevious Mingo. Mingo, however, is more of a 3-4 linebacker at this point because of his size than a true defensive end, which is what the Lions needed for their 4-3 scheme. So Detroit opted for BYU's Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah (6-foot-5, 271 pounds) with the No. 5 pick overall and Mingo (6-4, 240) went one spot later to Cleveland. Both teams are delighted. Ansah leads all NFC rookies with 3 12 sacks while Mingo, despite missing the opening game, leads all AFC rookies with three. Both are blessed with tremendous athleticism. Which one is going to make the bigger impact this week? 5. THE STAFFORD SHOW Remember Stafford's rookie year in 2009? It was four days before Thanksgiving and Stafford threw five touchdown passes, including one to Pettigrew as time expired, to beat these Browns and give the Lions one of their two victories that season. That's the last time Detroit played Cleveland in the regular season. Many believe it's the day that Stafford truly arrived as a NFL quarterback, winning over fans and teammates with the way he came back after taking a hard hit to his shoulder on the winning drive. "That was a big moment for me and for our team that year," Stafford said. Stafford's performance went to another level after that effort. He's in his fifth year now and needs to go even further. It's time that he begins to make others around him better and find a way to lead the offense, even if the star receiver isn't full strength or doesn't play. Could the Browns be the turning point again for him? INJURY REPORT Johnson, who missed last week's game with an injured right knee, is expected to be a game-day decision again. PICK: LIONS - 2 12 (Dye's season prediction record: 5-0)
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