Stopping Matthew Stafford: Lions say QB is ‘tough as shit,’ shifty with his eyes

Detroit Free Press

Most weeks when he was healthy, Austin Bryant would play on the Detroit Lions’ “look” squad the past two seasons, giving the first-team offense looks its opponent would show in that week’s game.

That meant rushing Matthew Stafford — but not touching him in his red no-contact jersey.

Every now and then, Bryant said Stafford would “throw me a bone and be like, ‘Good rush,’ or something.” On Sunday, when the Lions visit the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium, Bryant finally will get a chance to show Stafford his moves for real.

“It’ll be fun to finally get a chance to touch him,” Bryant said Thursday. “Hopefully, if I get him on the ground, he might give me his jersey or something like that. I’m going to beg and see.”

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The Lions are taking a two-pronged approach to stopping Stafford and the Rams’ high-powered passing attack this week; harass him with the pass rush and don’t fall victim to the okey-doke on the back end.

In both cases, the plan starts with good pressure up front.

“We got to get after it,” Bryant said. “Like you cannot give this guy a lot of time to throw the ball cause as y’all seen for the past 12, 13 years, threaded people. Threaded people. In my opinion, he’s one of the best in this league. He’s tough as shit. A great competitor. And he can thread you up, man. Put it wherever you want it. So we got to get after him. We can’t give him a lot of time. We got to touch him and make him feel uncomfortable back there this week.”

At 34 years old, Stafford is playing arguably the best football of his career.

He leads the NFL in quarterback rating after six games, is completing a career-best 69.5% of his passes and is on pace to throw for 5,208 yards.

Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said Stafford is playing so well that Rams coach Sean McVay has tweaked his approach to play-calling. The Rams still run lots of play-action, which opens up shots downfield, but Glenn said McVay is “allowing this quarterback to sit back there, read the defense, be able to make checks and be able to play.”

“There’s a lot of things that they continue to do that’s just a part of who he is,” Glenn said. “I think the one thing that has changed is there’s way more dropback pass with Stafford than it was with (former Rams and current Lions quarterback Jared) Goff. For whatever reason. That’s McVay’s decision, but you see him allowing him to get in shotgun and be able to just go out there and wing it around. But that’s the one thing to me that kind of stands out.”

Glenn, who coached against a McVay-led offense four times in his five seasons as secondary coach for the New Orleans Saints, said he relied on his notes on McVay’s offense from last year’s meeting with the Rams and notes from his games against Stafford to formulate his gameplan this week.

The Rams went 3-1 in those games against the Saints and attempted 40 or more passes three times, including in their 2018 NFC championship victory.

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Stafford threw four interceptions in three games against Glenn-coached secondaries and had a fifth nullified by penalty.

Glenn praised Stafford’s toughness and ability to manipulate defenses with his eyes, but said Thursday the Lions can’t fall victim to Stafford’s shifty ways.

“(We have to) understand how do you make that go against him?” Glenn said. “So how do you as a safety, cause the majority of times it’s a safety that he’s trying to work on or a linebacker. How do you make that go against him? And understand those little bitty things that you can do to him to make that go against him.”

Glenn pointed to one of the interceptions Stafford threw last year as an example.

On a fourth-quarter pass to Kenny Golladay in the end zone, Stafford looked right on the play initially to try and move Saints safety Marcus Williams toward the Lions receiver streaking down the sideline, then threw over the middle of the field.

Williams barely budged on the play and made a leaping interception.

“He’s a good quarterback,” Glenn said. “He’s a really good quarterback and he’s doing a really good job for them, and we have our work cut out for us. Not just him but the skill positions that they have. They’re all over the place with this team. But it’s exciting also. I think it’s a good play-caller, I think it’s a talented team. What more can you want really? You get a chance to go into that building and get a chance to win that game.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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