MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA'S FRIDAY FOCUS: Stafford takes pride in ironman streak

Posted Sep 9, 2016

As quarterback Matthew Stafford makes his eighth straight opening-day start in Sunday’s road game against the Colts, it is clear he hasn’t forgotten the barbs and questions he once faced about being injury prone.

Matthew Stafford knocked three times on the podium when asked what has allowed him to become one of the ironmen among NFL quarterbacks.

Stafford paused for the light laughter from the media present at his midweek press conference, but he clearly was not joking when he talked about the pride in his streak of 80 consecutive regular-season starts, a franchise record for quarterbacks.

After injuries limited him to 13 games in his first two seasons, Stafford has been a rock of durability. As he makes his eighth straight opening-day start in Sunday’s road game against the Colts, it is clear that Stafford hasn’t forgotten the barbs and questions he once faced about being injury prone.

Showing up for work means something to him.

“I take a lot of pride in it,” he said with a tone of defiance. “It’s something that everybody here wanted to write me off about my first two years, had a lot of fun writing articles on that. It’s something that I like. I like being available.

“I put a lot of work in in the offseason. I put a lot of work in during the season. To be available on Sundays is one of the biggest things, if not the biggest thing, in the NFL, especially at the quarterback position.

“Having that one guy that you know is going to be there. There’s some luck involved with that, no question. What kind of nicks and bruises and injuries do you get? Can you play through them? Can you not?

“I’ve been lucky with those, and hopefully that continues.”

In the key stats, players and a bottom-line prediction in the Friday Focus for the season opener, Stafford’s availability can be taken for granted. It is the critical element in giving the Lions a chance to contend for a playoff berth.

The Lions and Colts start the season with strengths and question marks – just like every team.

It remains to be seen if franchise quarterback Andrew Luck’s return can offset Indy’s major issues in the secondary and offensive line.

For the Lions, the primary questions are how quickly the rebuilt offensive line will gel, if the running game will improve from last year’s last-place ranking, how a healthy DeAndre Levy boosts a linebacker corps lacking depth, and how the offense will function without Calvin Johnson providing a constant game-breaking threat.

The strengths should be the defensive line, led by pass-rush star Ziggy Ansah and depth at tackle, three quality starters at wide receiver and sure-handed Theo Riddick coming out of the backfield, a veteran secondary and strong special-teams play.

And then there’s Stafford. His play that led last season’s second-half turnaround should be a starting point for what is to come in the first full season under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.

Opening day is not make or break for the Lions, or any team, but it’s a start on how they create their own identity for 2016.

Prediction: If the Lions get the lead, they won’t fade in the heat like they did in last year’s opener at San Diego.

Lions 26, Colts 16.

Series history: The Colts have a 21-18 series lead with two ties. Since the Colts moved the franchise from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984 the Colts are 5-2 overall, and 3-1 at home.

2012 Game Rewind: In their last meeting in Game 12 at Ford Field, Luck rallied the Colts from a 33-21 deficit to a 35-33 victory with two TD passes in the last 2:39. A 14-yard TD pass to Donnie Avery as time experience gave Indy the victory.

For the game, Luck completed 24 of 54 passes – only 44 percent – for 391 yards and four TDs. He also had three passes intercepted and ran for 33 yards.

Colts focus – veteran legs: Frank Gore might have lost a step or two at the age of 33 and beginning his 12th pro season, but the Lions cannot take the veteran running back lightly.

After 10 years with the 49ers – and eight seasons with at least 1,000 yards rushing -- Gore had 260 carries for the Colts last year and led the team with 960 yards. His average of 3.7 yards per carry was almost a yard less than his career mark of 4.5 for his first 10 seasons, but his consistency makes him a threat.

If the Lions keep Gore in check, they can focus their pass rush on Andrew Luck.

“He stills runs good,” said safety Glover Quin. “He still finds ways to make you miss. He may not take it 80 or 90 yards on very many runs, but those 10- and 15-yard runs add up.”

Lions focus – young legs: In his second season Ameer Abdullah has become the leader of one of the youngest groups of running backs in the league. Behind him on the depth chart are receiving specialist Theo Riddick in his fourth year, fullback Michael Burton and tailback Zach Zenner in their second seasons, and rookie Dwayne Washington.

Improving the running game is a primary focus this year, and Abdullah will carry the heaviest load. The quickness that allows him to get outside or get through cracks inside makes him a threat.

Abdullah played in only one preseason game, but his work in the offseason program and training camp gave him a good feel for what the offense can do.

“There’s a lot of anticipation built up by a lot of people on this team,” he said. “I visualize myself making plays. I visualize my teammates making plays. And that’s what I expect.

“I think it’s a good offense. That’s why I’m excited.”