This week’s game at Minnesota marks the first time this season rookie quarterback
In fact, it is something he didn’t even have the advantage of experiencing in college since schools don’t play each other twice in a season. Particularly for a quarterback like Stafford, a player Head Coach Jim Schwartz and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan have praised for his intelligence, this should be a good test for him in regards to game planning.
“You’ve got to learn how you keep a book of people and this is his first go-round of that,” said Linehan.
“Understanding how they defended us the first time, anticipating some of the same things, but also anticipating what changes they’ll do that they didn’t show us that first time. That’s a big part of his learning process, too.”
In the first game between the two teams – a Week 2 match-up at Ford Field – the Lions built a 10-0 lead before turnovers allowed the Vikings back into the game. The final score was 27-13, though the game was closer than the score reflected.
It marks a good example of something Detroit continues to struggle with: sustaining an early lead for all four quarters. It happened at Seattle last week; Detroit capitalized on turnovers to build a 17-0 lead before falling behind.
“We started fast and we had two turnovers that cost us, obviously, opportunities for points,” said Linehan. “It really took our momentum away and that’s why you can’t expect to win games and turn the ball over five times. All you can do is learn from it – you can’t repeat it.”
The question is: with a 17-0 lead, should Stafford have played more conservative?
Taking risks and experiencing the reward is what helped the Lions to a 17-0 lead in the first place, but should that be scaled back a bit once Detroit is in the driver’s seat?
“It doesn’t matter what the score is, you (need to) protect the football,” said Linehan. “We had a shot at the endzone and missed Calvin on the sideline barely out of bounds. To win that game right there, we had a chance to really put a dagger in and they came back and made it 17-7.
“We were getting ready to score another touchdown and answer and get it back to three scores. Instead, we ended up having a turnover, which led to field goals, which got them to a one-score game. But if we take care of our business and protect the ball in the first half, it’s a different game.”
From Stafford’s standpoint, each interception was a different situation and a different set of circumstances. Four of the five were in third-and-long situations – making conversions more difficult.
But the rookie quarterback says there were times he was likely being too aggressive.
“I did some good things, did some stupid things and really just made some bad throws,” he said. “If I’d made some good throws on those interceptions, they’d be completions for first downs. So I’ll just make sure I keep working, trying to get back in sync with these (receivers) and make some good throws.”
Linehan says the Vikings didn’t do anything particular against Detroit in the first match-up. They focused on what every team focuses on when lining up against the Lions: making sure they stop the run while zeroing in on wide receiver
But even though the Vikings defensive line is led by run-stuffers Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, Linehan is optimistic at Detroit’s chances to run the ball against them.
“We actually had as good a rushing game against them as anybody has at this point,” he said of Detroit’s 129 rushing yards against the Vikings, who surrender an average of 94.8 yards per game.
“We’ve just got to help those guys (up front) when we can and win the one-on-one battles with good timing in the pass game and be able to block them, which is a tough task and a tough challenge, in the run game.”
Another key component within that defensive line is defensive end Jared Allen, who has 14.5 sacks on the year.
“You can’t hold onto the ball too long against them,” said Stafford. “They have a great front four, they do a good job of getting there without having to bring too much pressure, and they’re an opportunistic defense. A lot of sack-fumbles and turnovers, so I’ve got to be careful with it.”