The Detroit Lions have allowed more points than any other team this season after nearly setting a modern era record for defensive ineptitude during their winless 2008.
Keeping the Cleveland Browns out of the end zone hasn’t been much of a challenge for anyone.
The Browns are threatening to set a new mark for offensive futility after a shutout loss, and the Lions will try to become the latest defense to take advantage Sunday at Ford Field in a matchup of one-win last-place teams.
Detroit (1-8) surrendered an average of 32.3 points during its 0-16 season, one point per game fewer than the 1981 Baltimore Colts for the Super Bowl era record for defensive incompetence.
The Lions are again on pace to allow the most points in the NFL, yielding 29.3 per game after a 27-10 loss to Minnesota last Sunday, but their defensive assignment this week is far easier.
Cleveland (1-8) has scored five offensive touchdowns this season after failing to find the end zone in its final six games of 2008. The Browns wasted a solid effort from their own much-maligned defense in a 16-0 loss to Baltimore on Monday night.
“We couldn’t protect well enough, we couldn’t sustain drives well enough and we just missed some opportunities,” coach Eric Mangini said after his offense failed to cross the Ravens’ 45-yard-line. “It’s disappointing.”
Mangini gave Brady Quinn(notes) his first start since Sept. 27 after Derek Anderson(notes) averaged 80.0 yards passing and a 25.1 quarterback rating in his last four games, but Quinn didn’t fare any better. The former first-round pick was 13 of 31 for 99 yards and two interceptions.
Cleveland’s quarterbacks have thrown three touchdowns and 28 interceptions as the team has gone 1-14 since Nov. 23, 2008.
The Browns are averaging 8.7 points, on pace for the third-worst average in the modern era. The 1977 Buccaneers averaged 7.4 and the ’74 Falcons 7.9, but those came in 14-game schedules. The ’92 Seahawks have the lowest average in a 16-game season - 8.8.
That futility has Mangini looking for help anywhere he can find it. A day after Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James - an all-state wide receiver in high school - said he could be a good football player if he committed to it, Mangini welcomed the idea.
“I think he should come on down,” Mangini said.
The ’77 Bucs also hold the record for the fewest touchdowns with 11.
Cleveland should have Josh Cribbs in the lineup Sunday, as the Pro Bowl returner said Friday that he expects to play. Cribbs, who has returned a punt and a kick for TDs this season, was briefly hospitalized with a possible neck injury and concussion after being injured on the final play of the loss to Baltimore.
Cleveland is last in the league in total defense, allowing 394.1 yards per game despite the presence of nose tackle Shaun Rogers(notes), who returns to Detroit after spending his first seven seasons with the Lions.
Detroit’s defense gives up 386.2 yards per game to rank 31st and was gouged for 492 last Sunday despite forcing two turnovers for the third time in four games.
Matthew Stafford(notes) threw for 224 yards and a touchdown and was far better than he’d been in the past two weeks, when he threw six interceptions. Still, the rookie often had little time to throw and was sacked three times.
“Matt’s a tough player, and yes, he battled like crazy in that game,” said coach Jim Schwartz, an assistant with Mangini in Baltimore in 1996 and a scout for Cleveland when Mangini was an intern.
“The whole team battled, but that’s not enough. It’s about production. It’s about the score on the scoreboard. I don’t want to give people gold stars for someone playing tough.”
Stafford’s struggles and Detroit’s protection issues also have severely limited Calvin Johnson’s(notes) production. Tied for the league lead with 12 touchdown receptions last season, Johnson has one TD in 2009, though that’s one more than Cleveland’s wideouts.
The Browns haven’t visited Detroit since 1995 and haven’t won there since 1983.
Detroit will be trying to avoid becoming the first team to lose 32 times in 34 games Sunday.