According to Detroit Free Press
staffer Dave Birkett
(via the Sporting News
), the Lions have found the perfect solution to quarterback Matthew Stafford
’s injury woes—don’t let him to get hit.
Through two games, the Lions are the only team in the NFL that hasn’t allowed a sack, something head coach Jim Schwartz said is attributable to multiple factors.
Stafford, who separated his throwing shoulder when he was blindsided by a Julius Peppers sack in Week 1 last year, has shown improved pocket awareness in his third NFL season. The Lions have jumped to big enough leads in their first two games that the Chiefs and Buccaneers haven’t been able to load up on the pass rush. And their much-maligned offensive line is playing well in its second full season together.
Despite cries for upgrades this offseason—Tyron Smith, Anthony Castonzo and Nate Solder were all popular mock draft picks for the Lions at one point—the Lions chose to stay pat and return not just their five starters but their top three backups as well.
That continuity paid dividends during the lockout, when interior linemen Dominic Raiola, Stephen Peterman and Rob Sims worked out together four days a week, and in training camp when left tackle Jeff Backus and right tackle Gosder Cherilus missed time with injuries.
Backus, who partially tore a chest muscle in the offseason, is back to full health now. He kept Tamba Hali out of the sack column last week and faces a stern test again Sunday against Minnesota’s Jared Allen, who has 4½ sacks and two forced fumbles against the Lions since being traded to the Vikings in 2008.
Cherilus, coming off December microfracture surgery, should return to the starting as well after being demoted last week for the foolish personal foul he picked up in the final two minutes against Tampa Bay. Corey Hilliard started in Cherilus’ place against the Chiefs, but Cherilus took first-team reps Wednesday and is not listed on this week's injury report.
Meanwhile, the Vikings defense will test the Lions' patience on offense.
The Vikings take away the back end with a lot of two-deep coverage. The Lions are going to have to be content to move the ball in short chunks and not try to throw into the teeth of that coverage.
In the past, Stafford would try to force deep balls. He's been better at taking what the defense gives so far this season.
Indeed, Stafford has connected on 65.3 percent of his passes for 599 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions while compiling a 112.0 passer rating. His arm strength, accuracy and ball placement have all been superb, and complemented by his anticipation and awareness.
In studying the tape against the Kansas City Chiefs, NFL.com's Bucky Brooks notes that Stafford repeatedly led his receivers into open areas and his ability to fit the ball into tight areas resulted in big plays. His 36-yard touchdown pass to Tony Scheffler was a prime example of Stafford threading the ball between multiple defenders.
Stafford also displayed excellent placement, anticipation and awareness on his 29-yard pass to Nate Burleson in the second quarter. He delivered an accurate strike on a deep seam-route between a pair of defenders and in front of a closing safety.
In the end, Fantasy owners who decided to take the calculated risk that Stafford represents are coming out way ahead right now.