MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA'S MONDAY COUNTDOWN: Winning starts & ends with the QB

Posted Sep 11, 2017

This week's Monday Countdown takes a look at how the Lions might be better than last year, from the franchise quarterback to a defense that forces turnovers.

Don’t stop me if you’re a Detroit Lions fan and you’ve seen this one before.

Lions down, 10-0, after one quarter. Offense with one first down, 33 total yards, and responsible for the only touchdown of the half – for other team, on an 82-yard interception return. And a fumble by the punter has set up the opponent’s field goal for the 10-point deficit.

Familiar scene, watched it before, right?

But the Lions of 2016 were different, with the eight comeback victories that led them to a 9-7 record and their second playoff appearance in two years. And after one game – Sunday’s 35-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals in the season opener at Ford Field – they look a lot like the same different team.

Only they might be better.

This week’s Monday Countdown looks at how that might be the case, based on one week of evidence. It starts with a franchise quarterback – and a franchise kicker – and a defense that showed something that was missing last year.

There are three good stats on the offense and three on the defense and one key stat for both, and one play that showed what the offense was missing last year.

And former All-Pro Herman Moore, who set NFL receiving records in his 10 years as a Lion, gives his views on Matthew Stafford and rookie Kenny Golladay, who broke in with a two-TD catch performance.

We start with the quarterback – because that’s where winning big starts and ends in the NFL”

1. The quarterback: There’s a reason teams pay quarterbacks a lot of money when they’ve proven they can lead their team and win. Whatever they get is not too much.

Stafford led the Lions again Sunday.

The Lions came back from the 10-point deficit as a team – defense making stops and getting four turnovers, offense persevering, and franchise kicker Matt Prater doing double duty as an emergency punter in addition to his day job as a kicker.

But you can put all the great plays and grit together, and if you don’t have a quarterback who can deliver in the clutch, your team is going to lose more than it wins.

Stafford delivered again Sunday. Stafford’s first quarter stats were ugly, largely because of the interception. He completed five of eight passes for 25 yards and an interception.

It was a different story over the last three quarters. He completed 24 of 33 for 287 yards and four touchdowns. His passer rating for the last three quarters was 144.7, and 113.1 for the full game.

After the game, he made it sound like a routine day at work – which for him, it was.

“It’s NFL football,” Stafford said. “They’re a good football team. We’re a good football team. We couldn’t get out of our way early on, but our defense kept us in it.

“Obviously, don’t want to throw a touchdown to the other team on my first pass of the season, but we’re a resilient group. Everybody is. We just kept our head down and kept plugging.”

2. Sudden thought: After Sunday’s performance, is their anybody who doesn’t think the finger injury Stafford played with after Game 13 last season had anything to do with his diminished finish?

3. Herman Moore on Stafford: Moore knows something about the passing game. He held most of the franchise’s receiving records before Calvin Johnson arrived, and he still has the single-season record for receptions with 123.

What Moore is seeing in Stafford now is a quarterback in command of his game, and his team.

“One thing in particular you just look at in this part of his career in the touch on his passes,” Moore said Sunday night. “He’s a guy who can manage situations and is able to be poised when the team gets behind.

“He can elevate players at a critical time and keep his poise. That’s what leaders do. He can win games. Offensively, he understands what he has across the board.”

4. Moore on Kenny Golladay: Moore was high on Gollalday when he saw him catch two TD passes in the opening preseason game. Doing it in a game that counts raised his stock in Moore’s eyes.

“I don’t know how many opportunities he gets, but man, he makes them count,” Moore said. “You can tell when he catches a pass, when he makes a big play, that he expects that out of himself.

“That in itself makes me think they’ve got a winner – and a guy who can continue to make plays.”

5. Key stat, one for the offense: The Lions’ offense ran 69 plays and had one turnover – the interception thrown by Stafford on the second play of the game. The Lions have been good protecting the ball under head coach Jim Caldwell. They had 15 giveaways last year, fourth fewest in the league.

6. Key stat, four for the defense: A better stat Sunday was the four turnovers the defense generated – three interceptions and a fumble recovery. The Lions had 14 turnovers all of last season, which made them fourth worst in the NFL.

“I try to preach to the guys all the time, interceptions don’t come from doing something spectacular,” said safety Glover Quin. “Nine times out of 10, if you just do your job and be in the spot you’re supposed to be in, interceptions will come to you.”

7. Defense: Three good stats.

1. Holding running back David Johnson to 23 yards rushing on 11 carries and 68 yards receiving on six catches before he went out with a wrist injury. Johnson led the NFL with 2,139 yards from scrimmage last year, an average of 132.4 per game. The Lions hit him hard and often.

2. Cardinals’ QB Carson Palmer’s 53.2 passer rating on 27 completions in 48 attempts for 269 yards, one TD and the three picks. The Lions gave up a league-worst 106.5 rating last season. Palmer’s single-game rating was slightly less than half that.

3. 45 total yards rushing allowed – 2.5 yards per carry – and a 10-yard run on an end around that was Arizona’s only run longer than six yards.

8. Offense: Three good stats.

1. Touchdowns on three straight possessions in the third and fourth quarters that turned a 17-9 deficit into a 28-17 lead. That was an example of taking charge in crunch time.

2. 22 tailback runs. They didn’t gain much – just 51 yards – but the running game can’t improve without a commitment to running the ball.

3. One sack allowed on 42 dropbacks by Stafford. He also had a 15-yard scramble for a first down when he escaped the rush.

9. Media clairvoyants: On their game breakdowns for the NFL Network this week, Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks both predicted that the Lions would beat the Cardinals. One reason: Both said that rookie middle linebacker Jarrad Davis would shut off David Johnson’s running lanes, and they showed video of Davis in the preseason to explain their reasoning.

Stay tuned for next Monday night against the Giants, and who gets to handle Odell Beckham Jr.

10. The missing ingredient: Stafford’s finger injury wasn’t the only thing that hurt the offense last season. So was not having Theo Riddick for six games, including the last three of the regular season plus the playoff loss at Seattle.

Riddick is a sure-handed receiver, and he makes people miss in the open field. He did that on a seven-yard TD catch in the third quarter that cut Arizona’s lead to 17-15. Riddick caught a pass inside the five, whirled and dived between defenders to barely get across the goal line for the TD.