Why has Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford continued to be successful without Calvin Johnson?
That was a question posed to Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter during his Thursday session with the media.
"He's doing a really good job, kind of what we're asking him to do every week," Cooter responded. "He's really just trying to throw it to the open guy. It's as simple as that and it sounds overly simple, but it's a really big deal."
With a talent like Calvin Johnson, it was easy to try and force him the football at times.
"You know when you have Calvin Johnson out there, one of the all-time great receivers, going to the Hall of Fame as soon as you can get him in there, it makes a lot of sense to try and throw that guy the ball and sometimes you might override your read to do that," Cooter said.
"I know I've probably talked about it a couple times, but sometimes it's easier for a quarterback. You have your reads, you have your progressions, you have your thought processes and then you just go around throwing it to who gets open. I think he's doing a good job of doing that."
Five different pass catchers are averaging at least five targets per game – Marvin Jones Jr. (8.2), Theo Riddick (6.4), Eric Ebron (6.3), Golden Tate (6.2) and Anquan Boldin (5.6).
It's no coincidence that Stafford is completing 68 percent of his passes and both his passer rating and QBR are on pace to be career highs.
Stafford has done a very nice job of going through his reads and checking down when needed, getting the ball in the hands of a number of Lions weapons very good at running after the catch.
The Lions rank third in the NFL with 752 yards after the catch.
"I think he's a growing and developing quarterback," Cooter said. "Yeah, so I do think he's better than he was the last year, two years ago, three years ago. Hopefully we're all getting better every year.
"I think he falls into that category, too. I think he's doing a really good job [with] what we're asking him to do and so are the receivers, tight ends and backs."
Even with Johnson last season, Stafford was much more apt to spread the ball around and go through his progressions after Cooter took over the offense midseason. He's continuing that maturation this season under Cooter and without Johnson.
Including the second half of last season, Stafford has completed 69 percent of his passes for 29 touchdowns and six interceptions over his last 13 contests.
From a preparation standpoint, Stafford admitted this week that it's been a bit easier to prepare for teams without Johnson because he sees more standard looks. Through the first five games of the season, Stafford has probably seen more man coverage, single-high safety and standard cover two looks than he did all of last season.
"Yeah, I mean it's, obviously, the looks are a little bit more standard," Stafford said. "But, we still have to go out there and win against them and play well."
Some wondered how Stafford would perform without Johnson, but so far so good, as Stafford has embraced a system that puts a priority on throwing to the open man, whoever it may be.
NO HYDER ON PRO BOWL BALLOT
The NFL's Pro Bowl ballot lists 54 defensive ends. Fans can vote for six to make the Pro Bowl in Orlando.
But there's one big name missing on that list: Detroit's Kerry Hyder, the league's leading sacker among defensive ends (5).
Starters Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor are among those names fans can vote for. Taylor has 2.5 sacks, and Ansah has only been healthy for only one game this season after injuring his ankle early in Week 2.
It's not a big surprise Hyder was left off the opening ballot, as typically only starters make up that list.
But five games into the season, Hyder is second in the NFC in sacks, and has been one of the league's better pass rushers.
Hyder may not be getting much national love -- for now -- but the Lions certainly know how valuable he's been while filling in for the injured Ansah the past month. Even when Ansah returns to the field, which could be Sunday vs. the Rams, the Lions still expect Hyder to play a big role.
"I think Kerry Hyder has earned an opportunity to play," defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said this week. "I'm not sure he'll play as much as he has been playing because obviously if you've got Ziggy back, in terms of the rotation, but he's still going to play a lot for us because he's done an outstanding job for us.
"His core traits haven't changed in terms of how hard he plays, the ability to give us some plays and the guy does have the ability to get to the quarterback, so we're going to continue to grow Kerry as much as we can."
If Hyder continues to put opposing quarterbacks on their backs, he just might force the NFL's hand in putting him on the ballot.
KILLEBREW'S INCREASED PLAYING TIME
After playing just two snaps combined on defense the first three weeks of the season, rookie safety Miles Killebrew has seen a sharp increase in his playing time the last two weeks. He recorded 13 snaps Week 4 in Chicago and 21 last week vs. the Eagles.
The Lions have utilized his size and skillset in a number of different positions in sub packages in recent weeks.
For his part, Killebrew is just trying to soak it all in, and believes wearing a lot of hats for this defense is helping him the long run.
"(Teryl Austin) is using me in different roles and I get to learn more about the defense," Killebrew said. "I found that it's easier to learn the defense when you're playing multiple parts. You get to see how everything works together."
Killebrew (6-2, 222) learned how to play strong safety in Austin's defense all through training camp, but the Lions have expanded his role down into the box playing with the linebackers this season, something MIKE linebacker Tahir Whitehead says fits Killebrew's game.
"Obviously, the more you're on the field, the more you're getting that experience," Whitehead said. "He's extremely receptive and is always willing to learn. He's eager. He knows what ultimately is going to help him succeed is listening to guys that know the system."
Whitehead says he's the kind of rookie who is always taking notes and asking questions, and that sets him up for success down the road.
"He's a go-hard guy," Whitehead said. "He's looking to hit somebody, so as far as being in the box with the linebackers, he's right at home.
"He's not a small guy. He can play the position. I just tell him, 'go out there and play fast. When in doubt, play fast.'"
Killebrew certainly has benefitted from having a veteran like Glover Quin to help him when he's playing safety, and Whitehead when he steps up and plays the role of a hybrid linebacker.
It's looking more and more like Ziggy Ansah will make a return to game action this week. Ansah will be one of Detroit's three captains, "if he continues to progress" per head coach Jim Caldwell. The other two captains Sunday vs. the Rams are Riley Reiff and Sam Martin.