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NOTEBOOK: Lions taking care of the football

Posted Oct 6, 2017

Tim Twentyman covers all the news of the day including taking care of the football, Armonty Bryant's return to practice and more.

The ability to create turnovers, 11 so far through four games, has been a big storyline early on for the 3-1 Detroit Lions. The 11 takeaways are tied with Baltimore for the league lead.

But what has made that statistic even more important in Detroit is the fact that they’ve only turned the ball over twice on offense. It’s almost as equally impressive as the 11 takeaways. The Lions currently lead the NFL with a plus-nine turnover differential, three better than Buffalo and Jacksonville.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw an interception on his first pass attempt of the season, but has since thrown 137 passes without another. He’s on pace for four interceptions for the year, which would blow away his career low of 10 for an entire 16-game season, set last year.

“It’s good,” Stafford said this week about his low interception totals. “I want to still be aggressive. I understand that turnovers in this league are going to happen. We’re doing a really nice job right now of holding on to the ball, and were fortunate a couple times last week. But yeah, it’s a big part, especially when your defense is doing what our defense is doing and getting us the ball back a bunch.

“If we can not give it to the other team, that’s a positive. But we've still got to go out there and be aggressive and score points.”

That’s the delicate balance for Stafford and this offense. Sure, they want to be aggressive and score points every time they get the ball, but Detroit’s also found a winning formula so far by taking care of the football and playing good defense.

“It’s a delicate balance. There’s no question,” Stafford said. “To score points in this league, you look at the majority of times teams score points, there’s some kind of an explosive play within the drive. It doesn’t have to be a 50-yard launch. It can be a screen to a back that goes for 25.

“So, that’s a careful play. But I think there’s a fine line, and we have to do what we can do best and to our strengths and play to our strengths as much as we possibly can. Just execute at a higher level, that’s really the biggest thing I want our offense to do.”

Stafford’s interception percentage of 0.7 percent is the fifth lowest in the NFL. His passer rating of 95.9 is ninth best. There’s certainly a correlation between the two.

This is Stafford’s ninth season in the NFL, and his third in Jim Bob Cooter’s scheme. Since Cooter took over midway through the 2015 season, Stafford’s touchdown-to-interception ratio is 51-to-16. Cooter believes Stafford’s preparation each week and his understanding of this scheme is having a direct effect on the low interception numbers we’re seeing so far.

“Yeah, hopefully the comfort level is getting higher and higher in this offense and he really intuitively feels and understands where guys are, where guys are going to be,” Cooter said.

“He’s doing a better job pushing our receivers, pushing our guys to be at those spots, sort of correcting a guy if his route's two yards short or too tight, too wide, those type of things. They all play a big role in our pass game having success, now we’ve had good games and bad games in the pass game, but all those things play a role in that sort of turnover game.”

Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said Friday that Stafford is at his best when things are spread out and he has multiple options.

“He’s very, very flexible in terms of different types of schemes that he can run but I think he’s probably a little bit better off when things are spread out,” Caldwell said.

“It clears things up in terms of pictures of what he sees from a defense, and thus when he has a lot of options I think it falls in line with kind of how he functions best. That’s probably the best way I could explain it to you.”

Cooter’s scheme is an exact fit to those strengths.

BRYANT DECISION

The Lions have to officially make a decision on the roster status of defensive end Armonty Bryant by Monday, but if they want him to play in Sunday’s game vs. Carolina, the decision will have to be made by Saturday.

Bryant was suspended for the first four games of the season. He was allowed back at practice Monday after serving the suspension. The Lions have a week from his return to practice to either place him on the active roster or release him. But if he’s going to play Sunday, that timeline has to be sped up to Saturday.

Bryant was a spark-plug for the Lions last season. He was acquired off waivers from Cleveland, and recorded three sacks and a forced fumble in four and a half games before suffering a knee injury that ended his season. He signed a one-year deal to return this offseason.

“We know what Armonty did for us last year,” Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said this week. “He was a good pickup for us. Played well for us until he got hurt.

“Now it’s just a matter of seeing where he stands after the end of the week and we’ll plug him in wherever we see fit.”

If the Lions do activate Bryant, they’d have to make a corresponding transaction by releasing a player. That’s where the decision gets a little more complicated.

CAPTAINS

Detroit’s captains for Sunday’s home game against Carolina (3-1) are: Marvin Jones Jr. (offense), Quandre Diggs (defense) and Nevin Lawson (special teams).