What a tale of two halves for Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions' offense.
Credit the Cleveland Browns for coming out after their bye week and showing the Lions some looks on defense in the passing game they hadn't seen before. Stafford and the offense had a tough time adjusting to it in the first half, and Stafford had just six completions, 57 passing yards and an interception at halftime.
"They had some new wrinkles, as we thought they would kind of coming out of the bye week," Stafford said after the game. "They have a smart defensive coordinator."
But, football is a game of adjustments, and Stafford and Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter made a lot of right ones in the second half.
Stafford was 11-of-15 passing for 192 yards with three touchdowns in the second half. He hit on touchdown passes to Theo Riddick (eight yards), Eric Ebron (29) and Golden Tate (40) to help the Lions to a 38-24 win.
"Our guys did a great job of adjusting, our coaches did some great adjustments at halftime," Stafford said. "We came out and executed at a high level and scored points."
Stafford has now completed 63 percent of his passes this season for 2,461 yards with 17 touchdowns and just five interceptions for a passer rating 96.3. He continues to play at a Pro Bowl level.
Tight end Eric Ebron can frustrate fans sometimes with some of his inconsistencies, but there's no denying his athleticism and ability to create mismatches. His 29-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter vs. Cleveland was a terrific example of this.
The Lions lined Ebron out wide to the left of the formation on a 3rd and 3, and the Browns countered with man-to-man coverage from strong safety Jabrill Peppers. Ebron (6-4, 253) had an immediate size advantage over Peppers (5-11, 213). Ebron ran a little stop and stutter on Peppers, and ran by him. Stafford put the throw on the money down the left sideline, and the play ended up being the game winner for the Lions.
"Everybody knows that he's an unusual talent in that regard because of the fact that he's a big guy that can run," Caldwell said of his fourth-year tight end.
"You have to figure out how you're going to treat him. Whether you're going to treat him that you typically cover those kinds of guys with linebacker-type guys or strong safeties, and when he's playing well, he can create mismatches. When he's not playing well, then obviously they win in that regard. But he played well."
Stafford said after the game that as soon as he saw the matchup on Ebron on that play, that's where he was going.
"Just man-to-man coverage across the board," Stafford said. "They were trying to bring a little man-pressure up the middle, not a whole lot of help from the post safety on Ebron's side of the ball. He ran a nice route and I threw like a punt, that was not spinning real pretty, but it ended up in a good spot.
"I was going to give Ebron a chance to go for it and be aggressive. Great call by Jim Bob (Cooter). Be aggressive there and sell them something at the sticks and keep moving. Eric (Ebron) did a great job of catching."
AGNEW CONTINUES TO IMPRESS
If Lions rookie Jamal Agnew keeps this up, he's not going to get many opportunities to return punts moving forward, because teams are going to refuse to kick to him.
He had a 49-yard punt return in the fourth quarter that was electric, though it got called back for an illegal block in the back.
His 26-yard return to the Cleveland 44-yard line later in the final quarter set up Detroit's final touchdown.
"Yeah, you give him a little crack and some space and he can make some things happen," Caldwell said of Agnew. "And particularly when the situation where they give you something that you have an opportunity, it's not one of the sky balls that you got to fair catch. When it's got some distance on it, he can cover some ground."
Agnew continues to lead the NFL in punt-return average at 18.3 yards per punt return with a couple scores at the time the game concluded Sunday afternoon.
Is Caldwell just a little surprised teams keep kicking it to Agnew given his early sucess?
"No. I mean, he's a young guy," he said. "They're going to make you prove yourself in this league."
So far, Agnew is proving he's a big-time weapon as a return man.
The Lions have now received six non-conventional touchdowns this season from their defense and special teams.
Nevin Lawson's 40-yard fumble return touchdown against Cleveland was the fourth return touchdown for the defense this season (three interceptions and one fumble). They are tied with Houston and Jacksonville for the league lead.
Add in the two punt-return touchdowns by Agnew, and the Lions have six return touchdowns through nine games for the first time since 1971.