Winless Or Not, The Lions Are The All-Time Bane Of The Cleveland Browns

Nobody had Paul Brown's number in the 1950s like the Lions under coach Buddy Parker and quarterback Bobby Layne. And that franchise dominance has continued over time. (Detroit News)

Nobody had Paul Brown's number in the 1950s like the Lions under coach Buddy Parker and quarterback Bobby Layne. And that franchise dominance has continued over time. (Detroit News)

Winless or not, the Lions are the all-time bane of the Cleveland Browns

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 Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for and 850 ESPN Cleveland.

Four downs on Browns (5-5) v. Detroit Lions (0-8-1)

First down: A history lesson.

Although Motown’s football team has taken a big jump on becoming the only NFL franchise to suffer two winless seasons – they were 0-16 in 2008 – history screams, “Beware the Lions!” Generations of fans of both teams may not realize the Detroit franchise was the bane of Paul Brown’s football dynasty in the 1950s. No coach in football had Brown’s number other than Detroit’s Buddy Parker, who teamed with quarterback Bobby Layne to torment the Browns with a then-innovative “two-minute offense.” The teams met in three consecutive NFL Championship Games from 1952 through 1954, and Detroit won twice. After Parker resigned, his successor, George Wilson, obliterated the Browns in the 1957 NFL Championship – Brown’s last. In all games, Brown was 1-7 against the Lions. Detroit’s dominance persisted over time. In fact, Detroit’s 19-5 record against the Browns is the Lions’ best against any franchise. Only Denver (24-6) has a better record against the Browns. In the expansion era, the Browns are 1-4 against the Lions, the only win posted by Butch Davis in 2001.

Second down: Welcome back.

For the second time this season, running back Nick Chubb is making a much-needed return to the lineup. He missed Games 6-7 with a calf injury (Browns were 1-1). He came back in Game 8 and was limited to 61 yards rushing in a 15-10 loss to Pittsburgh. After a 137-yard game in a 41-16 rout of Cincinnati, Chubb then missed Game 10 following a positive test for COVID-19. The Browns summarily were slaughtered by New England, 45-7. Chubb has 20 100-yard performances in his 51 games. The Browns are 15-5 when Chubb rushes for 100 yards. With Kareem Hunt still nursing a calf injury, Chubb’s return to form is imperative for the Browns to mount a belated run for the playoffs. He not only fuels the entire team with energy, he gives them the best chance at building a lead and following their blueprint for victory. As offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt pointed out so soberingly this week, “That is not when we are at our best, when we have to throw the football, for whatever reason. We are built to run the football and take what comes off of that.”

Third down: You get a carry, and you get a carry, and you get a carry.

Lions head coach Dan Campbell took over play-calling from offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn prior to last week’s game in Pittsburgh and the result was an all-out commitment to running the ball. Campbell used a sixth offensive lineman and multiple tight ends to execute an unvarnished smash-mouth running scheme that produced 229 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers. Alas, it was only good enough for a 16-16 tie. But the result was promising enough for Campbell to continue, especially after starting quarterback Jared Goff missed the practice week with an oblique muscle injury. Campbell leap-frogged David Blough on the depth chart and will go with No. 3 quarterback Tim Boyle, who will make his first NFL start against the Browns. All the more reason to expect Campbell to hammer backs D’Andre Swift, Jermar Jefferson and Godwin Igwebuike at the Browns’ defense, even though the sixth lineman, Matt Nelson, is out with an ankle injury. “They leaned on the run game [last week],” Kevin Stefanski said this week. “The conditions were not great there in Pittsburgh last week. They are not going to be great here this week, either. I do think it is going to be a lot of the run game, and I think there is multiple tight end usage. They have brought in an offensive lineman who played tight end a bunch of times. I think that is where they have pivoted to, and they had some success doing it.” By the way, Boyle was an undrafted free agent of Green Bay in 2018 after amassing 12 touchdowns v. 26 interceptions in three years at Connecticut and one at Eastern Kentucky. Boyle, 27, attempted four passes in a game in 2019 and completed three. How will he prepare for his first NFL start? He told reporters, “I’ll meditate [on Saturday night].”

Fourth down: Special teams red alert.

A winless team will do anything to end a losing streak, and that puts the Browns’ special teams on red alert. Against the Rams in Week 7, the Lions executed a fake punt and an onside kick on their first kickoff to build a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. When the Lions fell behind, 17-16, in the third quarter, they struck with another fake punt. It didn’t result in points, however, and the Rams outlasted them, 28-19. Ironically, Detroit’s special teams cost them their first win last week. A missed PAT and 48-yard field goal try in overtime resulted in a 16-16 tie in Pittsburgh. This week, the Lions replaced kicker Ryan Santoso with Riley Patterson. Patterson, who has never kicked in an NFL preseason or regular-season game, is the sixth Detroit kicker since the team opened training camp. One of them was ex-Brown Austin Seibert, who is on injured reserve with a hip injury. Browns special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said, “We are preparing for all of the fakes, we are preparing for all of the gadgets and we are preparing for the surprised onside that they have, and everything that they do. They are really well-coached and they are a good football team.” 

The pick: Browns 27, Lions 10.

My record: 5-5.