By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – The Detroit Lions might again head into Sunday without wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and after struggling without Johnson last week at Green Bay, the Lions face what Reggie Bush says is an even better defense.
When the Browns traded star running back Trent Richardson early in the season, it seemed to many like the Browns had already mailed it in. With Cleveland riding a three-game win streak, that clearly has not been the case.
It all starts with the Browns defense, particularly its front seven.
“From personnel to the numbers, it’s a proven front,” Lions center Dominic Raiola said. “They play their techniques … They like to get after the passer. They’re a 3-4 team, but they do have up-the-field pass rushing mentality.”
Thanks to the likes of linebackers Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo, defensive lineman Phillip Taylor and others, Cleveland has 18 sacks through five games, the third-best total in the NFL.
Drafted in the first round this year out of LSU, even as a rookie Mingo is making a significant impact.
“He’s playing with high effort,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said. “He’s a good chase player. He’s active. He’s around the ball. He’s got great length. He’s long. He affects the passer in a lot of different ways. He has either three or three-and-a-half sacks, and I think he missed the first game, so he’s been productive also.”
The final product has been a defense against which teams struggle to run. The Browns have allowed just 94.2 rushing yards per game, eighth best in the NFL.
“Those guys are big and stout up front, so they’re built to stop the run,” Bush said. “Our balanced attack is what helps us to be successful, so we have to do a good job at trying to control that line of scrimmage as much as possible. I have to do a better job running the ball this week, taking it two-yard, three-yard gains, and then everything else follows suit.”
Against Green Bay – and without the distraction of Johnson’s presence – Bush managed just 44 yards on 13 carries. Aside from one 20-yard dash, Bush averaged just 1.85 yards per carry against the Packers.
Bush estimates the Browns defense, with a stronger front, is even better.
“D-tackles, they play more of a two-gap system, so they’re taught to – they’re not really penetrators, they’re not really pass rushers, not going up and looking for the sack,” Bush said. “They sit there and wait on you to make a move and then they kind of throw the tackles or the guards aside and try to make a play.”
The key to success against that kind of scheme, Bush said, is making the most of each run, making sure to get positive yardage each carry, even if it is little by little.
“You just have to be patient,” Bush said. “You have to be patient taking the two-yard gains, the three-yard gains, the two-yard gains here and there, and you hope that one will pop sooner or later, but you know they do a good job stopping the run.
“You can tell that it’s their first thing they try to do is stop the run and then they worry about stopping the pass after that,” Bush added.
If Johnson turns out to be available for Sunday’s game, the Browns will have much more to worry about. If not, Bush will need a much better performance than he had in Green Bay against, as he calls it, an even better defense.