ALLEN PARK >> Matthew Stafford played probably the worst game of his career on Oct. 11, 2015, in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the team the Detroit Lions will face on Sunday in their season opener at Ford Field.
That day, Stafford had thrown a pair of interceptions by half-time and coach Jim Caldwell told him, he’d be benched if he threw one more. Indeed he did and Dan Orlovsky took the field.
“Just tough start as a team, myself included. Didn’t play well enough. Not a good feeling obviously but like you said, a lot’s happened since then so I feel good about where we are now,’’ Stafford said on Wednesday.
He’s played well since, but doesn’t think the benching played a part in that.
“I think that game was in itself its own game like every game is. I don’t sit back and go into this week and go, ‘Man, for 27 weeks, man, I’ve played pretty darn good ball. Looks like I’m going to play good again this week.’ You’ve got to earn it every week and that’s just how I go about it,’’ Stafford said.
That game is not a concern at all for Caldwell who seemed surprised that anyone even brought up the subject.
Five things to know about Stafford as the Lions prepare for the Cardinals this time around:
1. The quarterback, entering his ninth season, likes the roster depth. “We have guys at a lot of positions that can help us. I think all the way up and down the line, maybe more so than we ever have,’’ Stafford said. “I’m obviously extremely excited about all the guys that are going to be in there with the first-string guys. I think we’ve got a very talented team in that way too. But we’ve done a nice job of building some depth whether it’s through free agency or the draft.”
2. He said preparing for the Cardinals’ defense is not easy. “They’re obviously unique in their scheme and play a guy that’s 210 pounds at linebacker (Deone Bucannon) and he flies around and blows up plays in the back field and plays a lot bigger than he is,’’ Stafford said. “And like you said, guys in the secondary, you know, ball hawks out there, 21 (Patrick Peterson) and 32 (Tyrann Mathieu), have done it for years. And some of the other guys that are maybe new to the team this year or new to their role, are playing really well too. And then they have guys that can rush the passer really at all spots up front. So, they do a really nice job, traditionally have been a very good defense, and don’t expect to see anything different.”
3. The Cardinals finished 2016 with a league leading 48 sacks and they cover with speed. Stafford calls that a good recipe. “They’ve got guys that can play man coverage and just make it tough on you as an offense. Play man coverage and really create one-on-one matchups in the pass protection schemes as well,’’ Stafford said. “So, they’re about creating one-on-ones and betting that their guys are going to win more one-on-ones than you are and that’s a challenge, a fun one. As an offense, you enjoy those challenges.”
4. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians holds the utmost respect for Stafford. “I’ve always been a big, big, huge fan of Matthew. I think he has one of the best arms in the business. He can make every single throw, he’s tough as nails,’’ Arians said in a conference call. “Just watching him stay in the same system, that’s most young quarterbacks — they get to stay in the same system with the same coaches and you see them improve.’’
5. Stafford knows that his play will help determine the Lions’ success or lack of it. “I’m a quarterback. In this league, you probably get more credit when you play well and more blame when you don’t as a team, so I feel extremely responsible for the way this team goes,’’ Stafford said. “And I know that. I’ve felt that way for, going into my ninth year now. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. The quarterback in the league is an extremely important part of the team. And part of that role isn’t just going out and playing well on Sundays, it’s helping our team prepare throughout the week and getting us into the right frame of mind and readiness to play.”