Linehan Pleased with Stafford's Progress

Posted Sep 23, 2009

Thus far in his NFL career, rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford has thrown one touchdown pass, rushed for a touchdown and thrown five interceptions.

To gauge where he is from a development standpoint is tough, particularly without the benefit of film watching or understanding what plays are being called.

But Stafford’s offensive coordinator says he is doing just fine, pleased with the way he is picking things up and praising him for the things he does that don’t show up on the statistics line.

“He doesn’t make the same mistake twice,” said Scott Linehan, “but he’s going to make mistakes that he’s never made before because he’s never been put in that situation or played against that certain kind of a coverage. He’s learning fast and he’s responding very well.”

Linehan sees his rookie quarterback recognizing defenses and adjusting to them and making the right decision in a lot of instances. Where it looks like he missed a man downfield, it was actually an attempt to avoid an interception.

At the same time, Stafford is an aggressive player who has made his share of mistakes over the past two games. Two of his five interceptions were aggressive throws, trying to get a ball into a tight space.

“Every quarterback’s going to go through that,” said Linehan. “Certainly there’s a fine line between being aggressive and aggressively deciding not to be aggressive. You’ve got to have that (aggressive) mentality because you’ve got to score points in this league to win games.

“Your quarterback’s job is to move your team and hit the guys down the field as well as checking the ball down and running a good running game. It’s a fine line. He’s got to be on every week and know when you’ve got to really take a chance and when you don’t.”

Unfortunately, that line can only be felt out properly by making a fair share of mistakes and – considering the caliber of defenses the Lions have played the past two weeks – there has been a significant amount of pressure.

Still, Linehan just shrugs his shoulders, not wanting to concede anything.

“That’s life in the NFL – it’s not easy,” he said. “The task that we have here is: we’re going to be playing great talent every week and there’s going to be strengths of each team. You’ve got to do a good job of matching yourself up against those and then lend toward some of the things we can do well.

“If we can eliminate the mistakes that have been critical when the game’s in the balance, we can stay in the game. That’s what you’ve got to do in the NFL because most of the games are usually decided in the fourth quarter by a one-score margin.”

The Lions know all too well how quick, but critical, mistakes can cost the team when it comes to the final outcome of the game.

Detroit went into the locker room at halftime up 10-7 over the Vikings last Sunday. In just four total possessions that included a three-and-out and a turnover by the Lions, Minnesota was all of a sudden leading by 10 points.

“I think it’s just a matter of maintaining that intensity level that you had the first half and having exactly the same mindset that you had to start the game,” said Linehan. “The first half is insignificant whether you have the lead or you’re tied or behind – whatever happens. You’re just starting and zero-zero again and you’ve got to play the second half just like you did the first.”

Linehan says the Vikings didn’t make any major adjustments, they just made plays right out of the gate that caught the Lions off guard.

“They obviously got to the quarterback; got us in situations where they weren’t able to do that in the first half,” said Linehan.

“We knew they had the capability of doing that, but we can’t give them momentum by taking lost-yardage plays which is something that ended up being a significant issue.”

Though it is common practice throughout the NFL to throw the ball after falling behind, Linehan continued to run the ball well into the second half down by two scores.

If the team were down by three, he would have adjusted his play-calling. But if the game is in the third or early-fourth quarter and the team is down by two scores or less, Linehan is going to continue running the ball.

“If you sustain two drives and you stop them twice, you can get the game tied up,” he said. “You can’t just abandon running the football because you’re behind,” he said. “We can’t do that. We’ve got to maintain that.”

Things don’t get any easier for Linehan and the Lions’ offense this week with the Washington Redskins, who added defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in free agency this past offseason.

“Unfortunately there’s not many weaknesses there,” said Linehan of talking to Head Coach Jim Schwartz about Haynesworth. “He’s one of the best in our business and he makes all the other players even better.

“They’ve got a lot of really talented players on defense; it’s one of the most talented defensive teams I’ve seen in many years in this league. We’ve got a big-time challenge. We’re going to get ourselves ready to meet it.”

Detroit will expect a strong pass rush and will look to get the ball out quick. Stafford already had to deal with quite possibly the best defensive line in the League last week with Minnesota; now he will have another top line in the Redskins.

Linehan says he tells his rookie quarterback that he needs to prepare as though he is playing in a championship game every week.

“(I) tell him, ‘You’re basically playing at a level like you’re playing for the SEC Championship every week or you’re in the National Championship,’” said Linehan.

“’That’s the kind of week-in, week-out competition you have. Get used to it, it’s part of the deal. Get better every week, get better every game and keep your focus. Don’t get down on yourself. Learn from your mistakes. Don’t repeat them.’

“Over time, he’s going to be great if he does that.”