Lions QB Matthew Stafford among the best halfway through the season

Unlike the Lions, Matthew Stafford is having quite a season.

The Lions quarterback has thrived in the new offense created by coordinator Darrell Bevell. Of course, he’s got a tandem of wide receivers in Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay who have combined for 13 touchdown catches. And newcomer Danny Amendola has stepped in and been a good fit, averaging 12.1 yards per catch.

Stafford’s numbers are starting to draw attention across the league even as the Lions have faded, losing four of their last five.

He leads the NFL in passing yards per game (312.4) and yards per pass (8.6). Stafford’s 19 touchdowns are second only to Russell Wilson (22) who has played one more game. He’s fourth (2,499) in total passing yards. He has the most completions of 20-plus yards wit 41 and is the NFL leader with at least 3 touchdown passes in 5 games.

Whenever he’s asked about his game day accomplishments, the always humble Stafford says he would trade them in for a win. 

Next test for the Lions (3-4-1) is Sunday at the Chicago Bears (3-5). 

“I’ve always had the ultimate respect for Matt Stafford. Some of the throws that he’s made over his career are just ridiculous. I mean there are not many players in the NFL that can make the side-arm throws that he does on the run, running left throwing right, just putting it where no one else can get it,’’ Bears coach Matt Nagy said in a conference call this week. 

“He’s tough, he’s a competitor, and when he’s back there at the quarterback position, he’s scary because he can make any throw and you always have a chance with him,’’ Nagy added.

The Bears’ defense is its strength this season just like the Lions’ offense which has carried the team this season (although not quite enough).

Historically, Stafford has played well against Chicago.

He ranks fifth in career passing touchdowns against the Bears with 28 TDs in 18 games. He’s in good company in this category behind three Hall of Famers, and one future HOFer. First is Brett Favre with 60 in 36 games, second is Aaron Rodgers with 46 in 22 games, third is Fran Tarkenton with 40 in 28 games, fourth is Johnny Unitas with 33 in 23 games. Also, Stafford is fourth in most passing yards (4,741 in 18 games) behind Favre Tarkenton, and Rodgers.

Last season, he threw 21 touchdown passes in 16 games and now he stands at 19 at the halfway point. The difference? 

“I think we’ve done a nice job in the play-action game, making some big plays – those guys are making great plays down the field,’’ Stafford said. “The guys up front are giving me time to get it down there. I think we’ve done a nice job on third down staying on the field, which helps. We’re getting more plays and those guys on the outside are making great plays.”

Stafford’s no-look throws have been studied, tweeted and retweeted. He has two in the loss at the Raiders. It’s not something he has worked on.

“No, that’s full feel. I’m not like working on that in the offseason or anything. It’s more just feeling it in the game, trying to see as much as I can possibly see, and then obviously trying to get to the ball to our guys with space and let them go work,’’ Stafford said.

In his 11th season, he has plenty of trust in himself to make the unorthodox throws. “I think it’s a lot of trust, obviously – trust in what I’m seeing, trust in what they’re going to do when I put it out there,’’ Stafford said. “Those guys are doing a great job of catching it and coming down with it. They always know to be on their toes and be ready for the ball.”

He’s nearly on pace for a second 5,000-yard season. His first was in 2011. He’s one of just five NFL quarterbacks who have passed for more than 5,000 yards. The list includes Drew Brees who has done it five times, along with Tom Brady, Dan Marino and Peyton Manning. Again, Stafford keeps good company.

Now if the Lions defense, which is ranked 31st in the NFL, would step up.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

 

At midway point: Detroit Lions defense a mess, run game ineffective

At the midway point, the Detroit Lions have not been the team we thought they might be. 

After a disheartening 31-24 loss at the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, this team appears to be headed south. While not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, chances are not looking good. The Lions (3-4-1) have lost four of their last five games.

The biggest issue is the defense.

Cornerback Darius Slay’s comments after the game were eye-opening.

“It’s not about scheme. We get the same looks every week. This league is a copycat league so we aren’t seeing any new plays being drawn up,’’ Slay said. “Everybody knows if we play this team, they run this. It’s the same problem so we just have to fix it.’’

The Pro Bowl cornerback said with 11 players on the field there are 11 problems to be fixed.

“We have a great team and all the right pieces but it’s just not sticking together right now,’’ Slay said. “We might be putting the pieces in the wrong spots so we need to change something.”

It’s not just the 11 guys on the field, it’s the coaching too.

Of course, coach Matt Patricia took blame for the loss. 

“We have to coach it better. In general, it starts with me, I have got to coach it better,’’ Patricia said. “I have to get the team ready to go so that we can play consistently. I don’t think we played consistent here today. Give the Raiders credit, they made more plays than we did. They made them when they needed  them, and we didn’t.’’

Patricia puts it on his shoulders, he always does. That’s good. But then nothing changes and, obviously, that’s not good. 

The Lions defense ranks 31st in the NFL in yards allowed. They give up 424.1 yards per game. Not only has the defense not improved this season, it’s gotten significantly worse. At the end of 2018 which was Patricia’s first season, the Lions defense was ranked 10th in yards allowed per game (335). When the 2017 season, Jim Caldwell’s last, was over the defense was giving up 355.8 yards per game.

GM Bob Quinn has put together a defensive roster that suits the needs of Patricia. Is it perfect? No, but the talent on the field should be better than 31st.

On Sunday, the Raiders ran for 171 yards — that’s the most yardage the Lions defense has given up in a game this season. So there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

“They are a big run team. They have a great back (Josh Jacobs). He’s a tough guy to tackle, and we missed a lot of tackles out there, too,’’ Patricia said. “I think that we didn’t finish some of those run fits very well.’’

Halfway through, the defense has been the biggest issue but the perennially bad run game is also ineffective. Kerryon Johnson is on injured reserve but no excuses. Running backs get hurt in the NFL, quality backups are essential.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford’s numbers are gaudy. He’s thrown 19 touchdown passes. Only Russell Wilson has thrown more (22), but Wilson has played nine games and Stafford only eight. 

Stafford is fourth in the NFL in passing yardage (2,499) behind Philip Rivers, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson.

But Stafford can’t put the whole offense on his shoulders, he needs a run game. Plus, he needs to be put in the best situations. With Sunday’s game on the line, fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr., who can both catch in traffic, were on the sidelines. Stafford didn’t make the play to tight end Logan Thomas (that play call still a mystery) but it is not on the quarterback.

It’s on the coaches, just like many of the Lions’ woes.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Five keys to the Lions loss at the Raiders

On a Sunday when the Packers, Vikings and Bears all lost, the Detroit Lions failed to take advantage of the fluid NFC North situation. Detroit couldn’t score on a final two-minute drive, losing 31-24 to the Raiders at Oakland on Sunday.

Halfway through the season, the Lions stand at 3-4-1 while Oakland improved to 4-4.

It was a team loss. Detroit’s defense made Oakland running back Josh Jacobs look a Hall of Famer. The Lions’ offense came out on fire, but wasn’t as effective in the second half and couldn’t come back to score the crucial game-tying touchdown.

Five keys to the loss:

1. Turnovers. Usually the team that wins the turnover battle wins the game. Well the Raiders had none and the Lions finished with two. A lost fumble on a handoff from Matthew Stafford to J.D. McKissic came on the Lions’ first possession. Then Stafford threw an interception on first-and-10 at Oakland’s 20-yard line in the second quarter. The ball was intended for Kenny Golladay. Stafford usually makes smart decisions but certainly he’d like that one back. A handful of plays can be the difference in an NFL game. These two were huge.

2. The Lions defense, which is one of the worst in the NFL at stopping the run, has not improved midway through the season. They knew running back Josh Jacobs would be a handful and yet, he carried the ball 28 times for 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Damon “Snacks” Harrison appeared to have a better game, but he is still not the defensive tackle we saw in the second half of last season. It’s not all on him. Patricia was hired as a defensive guru, but in his second season he hasn’t found a way to fix this issue. When the season started everyone seemed to think the defensive line would be among the best in the NFL. It just has not turned out that way. In fact, the Raiders’ rushing yardage at 171 was more than the Lions defense has given up all season. It was the seventh of eight games this season when the opponent has rushed for more than 110 yards. 

3. The two-minute drive at the end of the game failed despite the Lions getting to Oakland’s 8-yard line with 50 seconds remaining. On first-and-goal Stafford ran for 4 yards, on second-and-goal Stafford was sacked for a loss of 10 yards, on third-and-goal he completed a 13-yard pass to tight end Logan Thomas (his first catch of the day). Stafford went to Thomas again on fourth down, but he couldn’t make the catch. 

4. Derek Carr is a good quarterback, but the non-blitzing Detroit defense made him look even better. Trey Flowers had a sack in the second half but the pressure on Carr just wasn’t there most of the game. He completed 64.5 percent of his passes. 

5. Other than the interception and fumble loss, Stafford had a solid first half and an OK second half finishing 26 of 41 for 406 yards, three touchdowns. Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr., each had 100-plus yard days plus a touchdown each. Golladay had four catches for 132 yards while Jones had eight for 126 including a mind-boggling 47-yard catch on the Lions second possession getting the ball to the Oakland 3-yard line, then catching a pass in the end zone four plays later on fourth-and-goal. 

NEXT UP: The Lions are at the Chicago Bears (3-5) at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10. The Bears have lost four straight, while the Lions have lost four of their last five.

(Photo courtesy of the Detroit Lions)