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Matthew Stafford’s back is OK, but his feet need some fixing.
Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan said Monday they do not believe the back injuries that Stafford suffered the last two seasons have contributed to his slow start this fall.
Rather, the Lions assistants said Stafford has been imprecise with his footwork.
“I think there’s a lot of things that really go into (how he’s played this year),” Bevell said. “But I think when you simplify it as easy you can for the quarterback, I had a small conversation with him about it, I think it usually goes back to your feet, because your feet really tell you the story. Your feet is what gets you through your progressions, gets you through the play, and I think that we can continue (to get better there).”
Stafford was playing arguably the best football of his career last season when he fractured bones in his back late in a Week 9 loss to the Oakland Raiders and missed the final eight games of the season.
He finished with 2,499 yards passing, 19 touchdowns and had career highs in passer rating (106) and yards per attempt (9.1).
In the Lions’ 1-3 start this year, Stafford has thrown for 1,017 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. His modest 93.8 passer rating is only slighter better than rookie Joe Burrow, and he’s completing just 60.6% of his passes, his lowest rate since 2014.
“I haven’t seen anything like concern on his end about injuries,” Ryan said. “He’s, to me, has felt well, hasn’t given you any indication of anything else. I think footwork is always, it’s always big for quarterbacks, you’re always working on it. If you think you’re ever done with that you’re probably headed for a problem. It’s got to be constantly talked about. Talked about within progressions, talked about redirecting your eyes with your feet. It all ties together. It never goes away. It’s just something we always harp on, even when it’s perfect we’re going to harp on it and that’s what we’re doing now.”
Poor footwork contributed to Stafford missing several throws in the Lions’ Week 4 loss to the New Orleans Saints and has been an issue on at least two of his interceptions this season.
Against the Saints, Stafford underthrew T.J. Hockenson in the front corner of the end zone while rolling to his right and throwing off his back foot after he left the pocket prematurely.
The game was tied at 14 at the time, and New Orleans went on to score the next 21 points.
In Week 1, Stafford forced an interception into double coverage that set up the Chicago Bears’ winning touchdown drive. In Week 2, he did not square his feet before throwing an interception out of his own end zone that was returned for a touchdown. He also threw an interception in Week 4, when he tried to force a pass into double coverage, that was overturned by penalty.
Stafford’s turnovers against both the Saints and Packers were reminiscent of off-balance throws he often completed early in his career.
Still, Bevell insisted, “I do not have any” concerns about Stafford’s back, and that footwork is “the main thing that we’re focusing on right now.”
“That hasn’t been brought up even once this year,” Bevell said of Stafford’s health.
What could be contributing factors are injuries the Lions have dealt with on offense — No. 1 receiver Kenny Golladay missed the first two games of the season with a strained hamstring; an inconsistent running game; the fact that Stafford is on pace to take 48 sacks this season, which would be a career-high; and the lack of an offseason the Lions had due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With no preseason games, Stafford went 10 months between game action, from the time he hurt back last year until the start of the regular season last month.
“I thought we were really at a good place last year and then keep in mind, he had all that time off and not running plays with guys in our offense,” Bevell said. “So just continuing to work on those little details, making sure that our feet are helping us get through progressions, helping us make the decisions and that we bring our feet with us through all our throws.”
Contact Dave Birkett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Lions content.