Stafford looks to combat defensive strategy that has contributed to slow start

Posted Oct 25, 2012

The NFL is a cat-and-mouse game and opponents know that Stafford is at his best when he’s making plays down the field and throwing to receiver Calvin Johnson.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford reiterated to reporters Wednesday a longstanding belief he’s had since he was drafted in 2009: wins mean more to him than personal stats.

"I'm worried about wins and losses. Been that way since I got here," he said when asked about his statistics through six games.

The statistics leave some scratching their head, though, after last season's 5,000-yard, 41 touchdown performance. Stafford ranks 28th in touchdowns (5), 15th in completion percentage (62.1), 24th in quarterback rating (78.4), tied for 24th in yards per completion (6.64) and tied for 10th in passing yardage (1,754).

More importantly than all of that, the Lions are 2-4.

“I'm not worried about stats,” Stafford said. “I'm worried about winning. That's the biggest thing. When the quarterback plays really good, your team has a chance to win.

“I'm just doing whatever it takes to try and give ourselves a chance to win week-in and week-out. I know that the only thing that's going to make it better is to keep working hard, keep putting your nose down and going to work.”

The biggest problem Stafford is facing through the early part of this season is that teams have made it their mission to take away his strengths.

The NFL is a cat-and-mouse game and opponents know that Stafford is at his best when he’s making plays down the field and throwing to receiver Calvin Johnson. Teams are blitzing him far less often this season and trying to take Johnson out of the game, especially in the red zone.

“That's kind of a sign of respect that teams are not willing to blitz you because you have a good plan against it,” Stafford said. “It puts their guys in a tough spot. I don't know if they're game-planning me but just trying to take Calvin out of the game.”

He said opponents are doing a particularly good job in the red zone.

“A lot of teams have done a good job of keeping (Johnson) out of the end zone. When we get inside the 10-yard line, clamping him, sending safeties over there, doing whatever that is. We just have to hurt them other ways. Guys are going to have to step up and make plays and that's myself included.”

Teams are banking on the fact that the Lions don’t have other players that can beat them. The Lions also have yet to prove they can consistently drive the football without it ultimately stalling with drops, penalties or missed throws.

Lions head coach Jim Schwartz wasn’t buying the notion of a sophomore slump for his quarterback. Stafford is playing in his fourth season, though he did play his first full 16-game schedule last year.

“It’s a six-game sample. Over the course of 16 we’ll see that,” Schwartz said. “I don’t look at Matt as a second-year guy. He’s a fourth-year player to me.”

But the football does have to start finding the end zone more often, Schwartz acknowledged.

“We need to score more points,” he said. “Whether that’s quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, wide receivers, however we do it we need to score more points. We need to be more efficient in the first half and Matt can help in both of those areas.”

A first-half lead could certainly help, too. The Lions have yet to lead at the half in any game this season. The two games they won (Rams and Eagles) were both via fourth-quarter comebacks.

“I'll let you know when we get a 10- or 13-point lead,” Stafford said when asked how things might be different on offense if they didn’t constantly have to come from behind.

“I'm with you. We've made it hard on ourselves for sure. Just haven't put enough touchdowns on the board in the first half or even in the first drive or couple quarters so we have to do a better job of that, coming out and starting fast.”

The Lions are back home against a tough Seahawks defense Sunday and Stafford said he’s hoping the offense can finally buck the trend and start fast.

Despite his and the offense’s slow start, Stafford hasn’t lost any confidence.

“There's a lot of football left,” he said. “We obviously didn't start the way we wanted to start but there's 10 games left in the season and ultimately I feel like quarterbacks are judged by wins and loses so that's my biggest thing.

“I think my first three years in the league have prepared me for moments that are tough. And obviously we're not playing as well as we possibly can on offense and I know the one thing I'm not going to do is freak out or panic. I'm just going to keep working hard. And the guys in our locker room and our coaching staff and myself included believe in that.”