Being a scout is a lot like being a private investigator and in this article, I have been tasked with finding the three things Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford must fix immediately, based on film study of the first quarter of this season.
However, to do this, I had to start by looking at the big picture. For starters, there has been a radical shift in offensive philosophy between last season and this season.
The thing that really struck me last season was just how aggressive the Lions were at pushing the ball deep downfield.
Stafford led the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns through the first eight games of the season before getting injured.
Detroit offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell returned to the sidelines in 2020, but it’s like aliens have abducted him and replaced him with a much more conservative clone.
It is unbelievable to me how conservative this offense has looked through the first four games.
Nothing about the 2020 Lions offense makes sense to me, and Stafford has looked extremely uncomfortable adjusting to this new and far less effective strategy.
For starters, the consistent long ball has all but disappeared, and it has been replaced by what I call, “dink-and-dunk,” which is a whole lot of short and intermediate range passes.
The thing about dink-and-dunk is it takes a lot more of those short little passes to be completed in order to keep drives moving.
And without any real offseason, the timing between Stafford and his receivers just has not been there so far.
The tempo has not consistently been there.
For every completion, there is an incompletion, and drives have been bogged down.
It makes little to no sense to switch to this conservative offensive philosophy, given the team did not have any real offseason or preseason to get the timing down between Stafford and his receivers.
In addition to that, up until last week, the run game was practically non-existent, leaving Stafford in a lot of obvious passing situations.
On top of that, in the first two games, Bevell had Stafford playing a lot out of the gun, which further removed any real threat of play-action and any element of surprise out of this offense.
There was one play toward the end of the Arizona game, in which Stafford threw a hard, deep bullet and it reminded me of the Stafford of old. But, it was called back.
Outside of that, Stafford has looked like he is shooting blanks, and that has a lot to do with Bevell’s play-calling.
I do not feel Bevell is playing to Stafford’s strengths this season.
I do not believe Bevell has been putting Stafford in a position to succeed this season.
In 2019, I felt Bevell and Stafford’s aggressive nature meshed, but I do not feel that this season.
They feel like oil and water.
And what was that play-calling at the end of the New Orleans game? The Lions were down by two touchdowns late, and they were choosing to run a little here and there and try a bunch of short passes as the clock was winding down.
Did Bevell forget the Lions were way behind? There was little sense of urgency.
The Lions scored to close the gap to 35-27, and then, they went for two.
Granted they got it, but what was the point to make it a six-point game?
Then, after all that, they did not even attempt the onside kick late in the game. Were they trying to lose?
The Lions have not had much of a run game last season or this season.
But, at least last season, the deeper and more aggressive passing game kept defenses on their heels more often.
This opened things up more for Stafford underneath and for the runners.
Despite Adrian Peterson being an absolute stud, Bevell’s dink-and-dunk has congested things, and has left very small windows for Stafford to throw through.
Long story short, Bevell and his ultra-conservative game-planning has not done Stafford any favors thus far.
But with that said, let us turn our attention to the three things I have discovered that Stafford must do to succeed from here on out.
After all, as the old saying goes, “Winners find a way to win.”
1.) He has to find a way to accept this conservative game-planning.
Like it or not, Stafford must find a way to come to terms with the radical philosophical change.
He must come to the realization that the coaches have authority over him, and he needs to embrace the change.
This is the direction the brain trust wants to go, and Stafford needs to find a way to evolve and make the best of it.
2.) He needs to become much more comfortable in this system.
This will come when he checks off item No. 1.
It is very obvious he has looked uncomfortable in every game this season, in one way or another.
In the first two games, he had “happy feet,” and he was bouncing around all over the place. He looked like a fish out of water. He was trying to force the ball at times and aim it, as opposed to just naturally driving the ball downfield.
He has continued to look uncomfortable at times in the pocket during the last two games. Not nearly as much, but enough to notice.
3.) Work on his timing with his receivers.
This is a big one.
In the first two games, the timing was really off, even when he took an occasional deep shot.
Everything has felt off this season, especially the timing between Stafford and his receivers.
It is still an issue, even though he has settled down more in Weeks 2-4.
What’s happening is Stafford is noticeably holding the ball too long at times and taking sacks as a result.
I have noticed many examples of him in the pocket when he has hesitated to pull the trigger.
Currently, Detroit ranks 24th in the league in sacks taken (three per game). This is not helping the cause.
And what about that pick-six he threw in Green Bay? That was awful, and it looked sloppy between Stafford and his receiver.
Stafford needs to work relentlessly on the timing and tempo between him and his receivers in practice. He has to find a way to fix this.
Through the first quarter of the season, the Lions find themselves a dropped pass away in the end zone from being 2-2.
They sit at 1-3, needing one of two things to happen: Either they restore the roar and become a lot more aggressive offensively or they figure out how to master the dink-and-dunk.
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