One thing that's been noticeably missing from Detroit's offense through the first five games is a consistent vertical passing attack.
Only Blake Bortles, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton have attempted fewer passes that travel 20-plus yards in the air than Matthew Stafford's 17, per Pro Football Focus statistics. Stafford's average yards at the point of catch is 6.6 yards, which ranks 18th among quarterbacks who've played at least three games.
Last year, Stafford threw 64 passes down the field that traveled at least 20-plus yards in the air. So he's well off that pace through five games this year.
The ability to push the ball down the field simply hasn't been a big enough factor in the Lions' offense. The Lions currently rank 29th in total offense (288.2 yards per game) and 23rd in passing (200.3).
Protection has been a factor. Deep passes take time to develop, and Stafford's been sacked 18 times, which is the third most in the NFL. He's been hurried 37 times in five games.
Receivers gaining enough separation factors in as well. Detroit's biggest deep threat, 6-foot-4 rookie receiver Kenny Golladay, has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury.
What's interesting about the deep passing statistic is that when Stafford has pushed the ball down the field this year, he's had success. Of those 17 deep passes, he's hit on five with a passer rating of 108.0 and two scores.
The Lions' offense is lacking the big play in the passing game.
On the flip side, taking less chances down the field does limit the risk of interceptions. Stafford's 0.6 interception percentage is the fifth lowest among qualified quarterbacks.
But there comes a point when an offense becomes too cautious. The Lions are straddling that line.
"It's always the key," Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said Monday when asked about the lack of big plays. "One of the things you look at is the contrast. How many big plays do you get and how many do you give up. You always want to be on the plus side of it. We were minus-two (Sunday). We have to be better."
Here's a look at some other key stats – good and bad – after five weeks of football:
- The Lions are averaging 3.92 yards on first down, which is last in the league. They are the only team in the NFL under 4.0 yards. The NFL average is 5.37 yards on first down.
- Detroit still holds the top spot in the NFL with a 20.6 average on punt returns. Jamal Agnew's 88-yard return in New York is still the league's longest.
- The Lions have only five 10-play drives on the year, tied with Oakland for the fewest in the NFL.
- Lions Tahir Whitehead has forced three turnovers (one interception, two fumbles), which is second most behind only Buffalo cornerback Micah Hyde (four interceptions).
- Detroit ranks 27th in STATS, INC.'s protection index. Stafford's been hurried 37 times in five games, which is fourth most in the NFL.
- Golden Tate ranks fourth in the NFL with 10 receptions on third down. Keenan Allen leads the league with 14.
- Matthew Stafford has a 113.5 passer rating with six touchdowns and no interceptions in the fourth quarter this year.