How much Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford plays in Thursday’s preseason opener vs. New England is yet to be determined. If Stafford plays at all, it isn’t expected to be much, which is why this week’s joint practices with the Patriots have been so valuable for the 11-year veteran.
“It’s a lot of good experience, obviously,” Stafford said after Wednesday’s practice. “It’s a lot of fun getting to go against someone else this time of year. We were kind of beating our heads against a wall there for a little bit practicing against each other.
“Obviously, they’re an extremely talented team and give us a bunch of challenges and it’s fun to practice and get some work with them.”
New England’s defense was seventh in the NFL last season in points allowed (20.3), and their secondary, led by Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore, has a lot of experience playing together.
“They are very talented,” Stafford said of the Patriots’ secondary. “Played together for a little bit now and are a smart group. Can run and make plays on the ball.”
Like any two-hour joint practice, there were some good things for Stafford and the Lions' offense, and some things they need to watch the film on and clean up. Touchdown passes of 13 yards and 50 yards to tight end T.J. Hockenson and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse in team periods against the Patriots' defense were highlights Tuesday.
There were also some protection issues here and there, and some missed throws, particularly missed opportunities for completions to wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr., wide receiver Danny Amendola and running back Kerryon Johnson.
Being able to see a different team while being put in situations that might not always come up in the preseason, but probably will throughout the course of a 16-game season, is invaluable.
“This is an opportunity to see some of those and see different players doing them and different techniques or different schemes situationally,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. “That’s been good. We certainly had a lot of things come up (Monday), and some things come up on the coaching end that we didn’t cover, so the players didn’t have a good chance to handle properly.
“We’ll get those straightened out and continue with the process. It just hasn’t come up, but they’ve come up now. I mean, you deal with it, and so we will. That’s the kind of thing that these practices are really good for.”
Stafford and the starters on offense don't usually get a ton of work in during the preseason games. These joint practices give them a good couple days of work against a terrific opponent to hone their skills.
View photos from Day 11 of Detroit Lions Training Camp presented by Rocket Mortgage.
“I think it’s very important for the veterans and really the entire team, where we get a good opportunity to go out and run some different things that we might not run in some preseason games and get a chance to take a look at some different packages and some different things that we might do,” Lions head coach Matt Patricia said.
The Lions' offense is new, and needs to be challenged. What works? What needs more work? Is this offense on the right track of where it needs to be come early September? Teams typically run pretty basic defenses in the preseason, so joint practices answer more of those questions than the preseason does, which is why coaches and players like taking part in them and why we’re seeing more and more of them in training camp.
“I think terminology, scheme, assignment wise (I’ve seen growth),” Stafford said of the progress on offense through the first two weeks of camp. “I think guys are more and more comfortable, but still have to execute at a higher level on a more consistent basis, but I’m probably going to say that until the last day I play football because you always want to be a little better than you are.”