Detroit Lions vs. Cleveland Browns: Takeaways from Detroit's 31-17 Victory
Cleveland led 17-7 at halftime as the Lions struggled to throw the ball, and the defensive line was outplayed by the Browns offensive line.
Matthew Stafford showed why he's a franchise quarterback in the second half of this game. He was on fire, hooking up with Joseph Fauria twice for touchdowns after halftime. Detroit won the second half 24-0.
With the win, the Lions remain tied for first in the NFC North.
It doesn't get any easier for the Lions next week. Once again they will play a first-place team from the AFC North when the Cincinnati Bengals visit Ford Field. The 4-2 Bengals defeated Buffalo in overtime to separate themselves from the Browns and Baltimore Ravens, who both lost.
Here are my initial takeaways from the hard-fought win.
All stats are courtesy of ESPN.com
Matthew Stafford Won This Game for Detroit
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After a lackluster first half pockmarked with ugly drops and pressured throws, we saw a different Matthew Stafford in the second half.
Look at the disparity between halves for Stafford's passing:
|Attempts||Completions||Yards||Yards Per Attempt||Touchdowns|
The key to the game, however, came on a play where Stafford used his legs. On Detroit's first drive of the third quarter, the Lions faced a 3rd-and-6 at the Detroit 25-yard line.
Stafford couldn't find anyone open, so he tucked the ball and ran up the gut for seven yards and a first down. After the play he spiked the ball and yelled out to his teammates to pick up their play.
The delay of game penalty was well worth the effort. After that exhortation by Stafford, the entire team rallied around the quarterback. It was precisely the sort of vocal and outward demonstration of emotion that many have long wanted to see from Stafford.
Not only was it an inspiring performance, it was the kind of emotional lift that can carry forward. Stafford proved he can lead his team to a tough win on the road despite getting little help from his mates. This could very well be a defining game in the career of Matthew Stafford.
Poor Coaching Cost the Lions Before Halftime
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Detroit got the ball back with 1:16 left in the first half, trailing 14-7 after Cleveland had just scored a touchdown.
This is a game situation where most teams like to try something aggressive on one play to see if anything positive can develop. If it doesn't work right away, the proper strategy is to run down the clock and head to the locker room down seven.
Scott Linehan didn't see it that way. The offensive coordinator dialed up three straight passes, all of which fell incomplete. The three plays milked just 19 seconds off the clock, and following a Sam Martin punt the Browns had 50 seconds to try and bolster the lead.
They did just that. Brandon Weeden found Josh Gordon for 36 yards, and Billy Cundiff drilled home a 40-yard field goal. Just like that, a one-score deficit became a 10-point chasm.
In many cases that would be devastating. Not only are the points problematic, but the terrible clock management can demoralize the team.
It was brutal game management by the Lions coaching staff. They were lucky it didn't cost them today; next week against Cincinnati they might not be so lucky in the same situation.
Detroit Needs Work on the Hard Count
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Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden might not do a lot of things well, but he sure has a good hard snap count. Weeden caught the Lions three times with those hard counts, including Ndamukong Suh twice.
This is an effective tactic against an aggressive front. Suh and Fairley both like to try and anticipate the snap count to get an advantage. Give Browns center Alex Mack credit as well for not flinching under such heavy duress.
Of course the patience required by the offense to coax the offsides can backfire. Browns tight end Jordan Cameron was called for two false starts, one of which was on a play where the Browns were going with the hard count.
Jumping offsides has been a recurring issue for Detroit this season. They need to clean it up quickly, because Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is good at the hard count. Cincinnati's offensive line is a good one, too, so you can bet that Suh and friends will be antsy to get the jump.
Joseph Fauria Needs the Ball More
Undrafted rookie tight end Joseph Fauria had himself quite a game in Cleveland.
Matthew Stafford looked to No. 80 three times on the day. All three times Fauria caught the ball. Even better, all three catches wound up as touchdowns.
Fauria received more playing time because of a brain injury (the new lingo for concussion) to normal second tight end Tony Scheffler.
If he can continue to produce touchdowns, we can all live with his bizarre dancing celebrations. I personally liked the Dominique Wilkins dunk over the goalpost on his second touchdown, however.
Even if Scheffler is cleared to play next week, the Lions would be wise to continue to ride the hot hands, and feet, of Joseph Fauria.
Sometimes It's Nice to Get Lucky
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Browns fans were worried about the switch back to Brandon Weeden at quarterback after Brian Hoyer had led the team to wins in all three of his starts.
Those fears were justified. In fact, in one egregious play Brandon Weeden might have validated the notion that he is just not cut out to be an NFL quarterback.
With just over six minutes left in the game and the Lions freshly out to a 24-17 lead, the Browns faced a 3rd-and-3 from their own 38. While running for his life as Nick Fairley closed in with the pressure, Weeden made one of the worst plays I've seen in over 30 years of watching football.
Weeden tried what appeared to be an overhand flip. The problem is that he didn't get any pace on the ball, and it floated lightly right to a waiting DeAndre Levy. It didn't appear to be intended for any Cleveland player.
It's not often that NFL teams receive gifts like that. It was more than a little refreshing to be a recipient for once.
I'm a firm believer in the axiom "you make your own luck." The hustle by Fairley and sound positioning by Levy facilitated the horrible error by Weeden. Even though we're unlikely to ever see such a terrible play again, the fundamentals behind it can be repeated going forward.
Joe Thomas Eliminated Ziggy Ansah
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Cleveland left tackle Joe Thomas is a perennial Pro Bowl performer. He gave Lions rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah a lesson on why on Sunday.
Thomas effectively eliminated Ansah from the game. Ziggy recorded just two tackles, both of which were on runs up the gut where Thomas couldn't stay with him as he crashed inside.
Without watching the game tape yet, I do not recall Ansah ever coming close to Weeden when the quarterback was looking to throw. Thomas completely locked him up.
Chalk this up as a learning experience for Ziggy. He's had an impressive start to his rookie campaign, making impact plays in every game so far. There is no harm in struggling against Joe Thomas, who is widely regarded as one of the elite talents in the game.
Next week brings another stiff challenge for Ziggy. Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth is country strong and, like Thomas, is brutally effective when he gets two hands on a defender.
Kris Durham Continues to Impress
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On a day where Calvin Johnson was struggling, the Lions desperately needed someone to step up. Kris Durham answered the bell.
Durham blew away his prior career highs, securing eight catches for 83 yards. Stafford looked his way 13 times, or five more targets than Johnson saw on the day.
He made a couple of very strong catches in traffic, including a key third-down reception as a safety valve which set up the Reggie Bush touchdown reception a couple of plays later.
Durham wasn't perfect on the day. He had a drop and also ran the wrong route on another incompletion. Still, we are seeing weekly progress in the big youngster from Georgia.
Once again I noted his blocking prowess, an important point of emphasis by the Lions coaches. Durham is doing his best to help mitigate the loss of Nate Burleson. When Burleson returns, the Lions will be that much better because of Durham's progress.