ALLEN PARK — With a three-game losing streak, it’s not surprising that Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has come under intense scrutiny.
It wasn’t just the three straight losses, it was the way the Lions lost. It seemed like they weren’t in the game from kickoff and it wasn’t close. They lost those three by a combined score of 86-45.
In those three games — the last two played without top wide receiver Golden Tate — Stafford threw four touchdowns and three interceptions while he was sacked a total of 19 times.
It’s not just Stafford who has been roasted, it’s the whole team.
Coach Matt Patricia, who usually stops short of praising or ripping individual players, supported Stafford in his Wednesday press conference.
“Matt Stafford, we’re blessed to have him as our quarterback, we’re lucky to have him as our quarterback. This is a guy that’s extremely tough, he’s extremely competitive, a guy that works harder than anybody in the building every single day to get better,’’ Patricia said. “For him as a quarterback, for his due diligence, the work he does every single week, that’s not an easy position to play in the NFL. When you have the defenses that we’ve seen the last couple weeks coming at you from those different directions, playing in stadiums that are not easy to play in, under conditions that are not easy to play under, I would say it’s part of the game, his toughness that he portrays through all those situations, his ability to come back and go right back at it with that tenacious attitude and effort. I’ll take that every single day.
“He’s a great quarterback, he works extremely hard, he’s our leader on offense, we’re going to keep pushing and he’s going to keep leading which is great for us,’’ the coach added.
Of course Patricia would not explain exactly what has happened to the offense in the three losses.
“There’s definitely been some things that we’ve identified that are issues, it’s not really just one thing. It’s been a multitude of different things through the course of these past couple games that have been an issue. I’m going to be real honest I’m not going to give you specific details because there are other people that listen to this stuff,’’ Patricia said. “They’re watching the tape let them figure it out for themselves. But hopefully if there’s anything out there that they’re taking a look at we’ll get it corrected before we see it again which will happen.’’
No one on the Lions’ coaching staff doubts the toughness of Stafford who has started 121 consecutive games. That includes offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.
“Stafford’s a really tough guy. Obviously offensively, I have to do a better job and we have to do a better job of protecting our quarterback through play-calling, scheme, execution, all those things,’’ Cooter said on Tuesday. “At the end of the day, we have to get that number down and do a better job with that. Stafford hangs in there, Stafford’s a tough guy. He’ll take a hit when needed. We just need to do a better job of protecting him. It starts with me, I have to improve the way we’re going about doing that and fix some of those errors.”
But, like Patricia, Cooter wouldn’t get into specifics about Stafford’s performance.
“I’m really not huge on getting into player evaluations through the media and all that stuff. We talk through all that stuff in-house here, that’s sort of Detroit Lions information,’’ Cooter said. “We’re talking through everything, evaluating every snap during the game, during practice, what we’re doing well, what we can do better. Same thing with, ‘This play’s good, that play’s not that great,’ during a practice week. We’re discussing a lot of things and that’s some in-house business I’m not looking to share with the media.”
Stafford also got a nod of support from ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, who was Stafford’s backup from 2014 to 2016.
Orlovsky shared his thoughts on Twitter: “Just rewatched & studied Bears game for the Lions: This is 100% unbiased & keeping it real 1) I know Offensive ball and QB play really well, & this offense, in and out 2) Matthew played very good. 1 miss-read 1 miss throw. FAR FROM THE PROBLEM 3) They’re struggling to win vs Man.”
Stafford and the Lions play the Carolina Panthers (6-3) on Sunday at Ford Field.
The Lions’ offense has a long way to go and it will be tough against the Panthers’ defense which has 21 sacks so far including three by Julius Peppers.
Stopping running back Christian McCaffrey, who has scored seven touchdowns in the past three games, and Cam Newton who has thrown at least two touchdown passes in eight consecutive games, is a tall order for the Lions defense which has under-performed for the past three weeks.
EXTRA: Patricia canceled practice and instead had a walk-through on Wednesday. He said he’s changing things up due to the schedule of three games in 12 days, ending on Thanksgiving. The media is not allowed to view walk-throughs while practice is open for a short period due to NFL rules.