NOTEBOOK: Why Stafford's turnovers are down

The transformation we've witnessed since the middle of last season from Matthew Stafford has been impressive. Over the last nine games, he's gone from being one of the best gunslingers in the game to one of its more efficient quarterbacks.

Only Seattle's Russell Wilson (25) has more passing touchdowns than Stafford (22) since Week 10 last season, but the more impressive statistic is that no qualified quarterback has thrown fewer interceptions than Stafford's two over that stretch.

When building this offensive scheme, Stafford and Jim Bob Cooter realized rather quickly they had a stockpile of terrific pass catchers with run-after-the catch ability. Heck, Theo Riddick (697) and Golden Tate (547) both ranked in the top eight in the NFL in that category last year. Tight end Eric Ebron (289) was in the top eight among tight ends, despite only catching 47 balls a year ago. And that doesn't include Ameer Abdullah, who is also terrific in that department.

Getting the ball out of Stafford's hands and into the hands of players who can do something with it not only made Stafford efficient from a completion percentage standpoint – he's completing 71.1 percent of his passes since Cooter took over the offense – but the short passing game has helped create a low turnover offense as well.

"I think it's a whole sort of offensive philosophy," Cooter said. "We're getting it to our best players, doing what they do best. Getting the ball to Golden (Tate) getting the ball to Theo (Riddick), getting the ball to Ameer (Abdullah), getting the ball to Anquan (Boldin).

"We're trying to spread the ball around to everybody. The quicker throws I think if you did a big study around the league, I'm sure the quicker, shorter throws are probably less turnover prone and I think our offense is sort of fit towards that."

That's not to say the Lions won't take their shots -- We saw them very willing to do so last week with new deep threat Marvin Jones. But most of those shots were taken when Stafford saw single coverage. They were also down the sidelines where he could put the ball to Jones' outside shoulder where only he was going to catch it.

"We're still going to throw the ball down the field," Cooter said. "We're still going to attack down the field. We're going to pick our spots and do it intelligently and try not to just sort of wing it, you know?"

Stafford is entering his eighth season and is now the unquestioned leader on offense. He knows that if he plays efficient and turnover free, the Lions have a chance to win games.

"You win the turnover battle, your chances of winning the game are a whole lot better," Stafford said this week. "It's something we talk about all the time, both offensively and defensively.

"Ultimately, being the quarterback, having the ball in your hand a majority of the time, being able to make the decisions that I have to make, the throws that I have to make, majority of the time you've got to do the right stuff.

"We've been able to do that, our guys that have been catching it, are running with it, have done a really nice job of holding onto it, which is a big plus for us, too."


One of the more anticipated strategic changes this season involved what coaches would decide to do with the new kickoff rule that moved touchbacks after kickoffs from the 20- to the 25-yard line. The NFL hoped to increase the number of touchbacks and reduce the number of returns, for safety reasons. But it seems to be having the reverse effect after Week 1, as teams aren't willing to so easily concede the five yards of field position to the offense.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, touchback percentage dropped to 61.8 in 2016 vs. 68.9 Week 1 of the 2015 season. While kickoffs reached the end zone 90.7 percent of the time in 2015, that dropped to 81.9 percent Week 1 this season.

"I think you still have to consider the same things, whether you can place it where you want, who's back there returning it, what those circumstances are," head coach Jim Caldwell said.

"There's some guys no matter what, kick it short or long, you don't want the ball in their hands. You have to look at all of those factors, but yeah it does create some options and just in terms of areas of the field it may be a little bit more accessible to you as well."

The Lions kicked the ball off seven times last week with five of those being touchbacks. One was returned for 25 yards and the other was the final play of the game that ultimately resulted in a safety after desperation laterals by the Colts with no time left on the clock.


Detroit's offensive, defensive and special teams captains this week are: tackle Riley Reiff, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and punter Sam Martin.

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