Despite entering the season as potential Super Bowl winners in the eyes of many, the Detroit Lions sit at 4-5 after 10 weeks of the 2012 NFL Regular season. The Lions loss to the Minnesota Vikings this past Sunday meant that they became the only team in the NFC North with a losing record. Despite finishing 34-24, the Lions never looked like beating the Vikings and were flattered by a late touchdown reception from Calvin Johnson.
Johnson is most certainly having a down year compared to last season, but in this game he still totaled 207 yards and a touchdown and ranks first overall in yardage despite only having two touchdowns. With Johnson struggling to find the endzone, the Lions’ offense ranks 13th in the NFL, a full nine spots lower than last season. Simple logic would say that other receivers are letting down the Lions because they are not picking up the scoring slack left off by Johnson. It would make even more sense when you consider that Nate Burleson has been lost for the season through injury.
However, the Lions’ biggest problems currently lie at the quarterback position. Matthew Stafford is coming off a season in which he threw for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns. After nine games of this season, Stafford has thrown for over 2,700 yards, 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. There is no doubt that Stafford is still producing the statistics this season, but his play on the field has left a lot to be desired.
For three quarters of the Lions’ game against the Vikings, the Lions’ offense had only put 10 points on the board and Stafford’s play left a lot to be desired. Not until the third quarter did the Lions get into the endzone, and that took a huge reception over a defender from Johnson for 50 yards. Johnson’s massive play was followed by a Stafford fumble, which he recovered, before the Vikings’ defense let Brandon Pettigrew run wide open in the endzone for a touchdown. Before Johnson imposed himself on the game, the Lions had no semblance of a passing attack. Stafford repeatedly failed to connect with his receivers and tight ends with inaccurate passes that arrived at their destinations without any appropriate touch.
It made it necessarily difficult on his intended receivers throughout the game. When throwing to Johnson it wasn’t an issue, because Johnson is an elite receiver with a huge wingspan. His soft hands can catch powerful passes while his wingspan overcomes any accuracy issues. Before their first touchdown drive of the day, Johnson had only 36 yards as the offense stuttered, even though the Lions’ defense surprisingly contained Adrian Peterson.
Stafford’s inability to work with his other receivers while Johnson was being taken away by the Vikings’ defense meant that the Lions entered the fourth quarter down by six points. With no lead to rely on, the defense notably looked lethargic at the beginning of the fourth quarter as Adrian Peterson had three big runs and Kyle Rudolph scored what is likely to be his easiest touchdown pass of the season. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, it was 24-10 and the Vikings altered their approach on defense.
During that time, Stafford bloated his completion percentage by repeatedly passing it to backup Joique Bell, while Johnson began to find more freedom on intermediate routes as the Vikings’ prioritized the deep ball. In the final 21 minutes of the game, Johnson had 171 yards, but much of those yards came when the game was over and the Vikings were playing prevent defense. He did have three touchdowns on the day, but all three were wide open plays that you would expect an average quarterback to make and one came when the game had already been decided as a contest.
The Vikings were only able to pull away from the Lions in the fourth quarter because of Stafford’s inability to run the offense around his other pieces. Titus Young, Ryan Broyles, Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler are more than capable weapons, but they are redundant without decent service. This has been an issue for the Lions all season, as Johnson accounts for 23 percent of the team’s receptions and 33 percent(Johnson has 903 of Stafford’s 2722 yards) of the team’s receiving yards with Stafford in the lineup.
Some teams rely on a single receiver because they don’t have talent elsewhere on the offense, for example the Cincinnati Bengals, but the Lions are not in that position. As a supposedly elite quarterback, Stafford should be improving all of the players around him, not just relying on his biggest star to carry him through games. That is what separates franchise quarterbacks from average clipboard holders.
Stafford definitely has the talent of a franchise quarterback, but the Lions must not allow him to rest on his accomplishments so far in the NFL. Because in reality, he has accomplished nothing compared to others currently playing the game.