Matthew Stafford is playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season.
Yes, you read that correctly.
The Detroit Lions improved their record this past Sunday to 3-3-1 with a 31-26 victory over the New York Giants. That victory not only brought their record to .500, but it also took them out of the last place in the NFC North. While the Lions record isn’t deserving of praise just yet, the play of Stafford does. As they head into a matchup this Sunday with the Oakland Raiders, they’ll be led by statistically one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season.
Stafford is boasting 2,093 yards passing for 16 touchdowns, and only four interceptions through seven games. He’s currently tied for second in the NFL for most passing touchdowns (16), has the fifth-highest rated quarterback rating (70.6) or QBR (an ESPN proprietary metric) and the sixth-highest passer rating (105.3). Additionally, he’s fourth in the league in passing yards per game (299) and fifth in yards per attempt. Not to leave out, Stafford’s play has helped the Lions improve their red zone scoring (touchdowns only) to 11th in the league as well. Over the last two games, they have gone 5-5 in redzone scoring opportunities. They also hold the 11th spot in total offense as well (379.6 yards per game).
So with Stafford putting up these impressive numbers, one may ask how are the Lions only third in their division.
Well…that’s on the defense.
Issues in the Secondary
The Lions will head to Oakland to face the Raiders with one of the worst defenses in the NFL. They rank 31st in the NFL in yards total yards given up per game (420.4). And dead last in passing yards given up per game (289.7). Just this past Sunday, Giants quarterback Daniel Jones threw for 322 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions. While Jones fumbled twice in the game (one resulting in a Lions touchdown), he picked apart a very weak Lions secondary. The team was unfortunately absent of Pro-Bowler Darius Slay, and former team captain (and Lions player) Quandre Diggs.
In a stunning move last week, the Lions traded Diggs and 2021 seventh-round draft pick to the Seattle Seahawks for 2020 fifth-round pick. It was a move that not only shocked Lions fans but the players as well. Lions defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison and Darius Slay voiced their displeasure on Twitter the moment the move was announced. Slay, who has been the most vocal since Diggs was traded, has been quoted as calling the move “BS”. He didn’t fear to double down on his tweets when speaking to reporters.
“It basically say it don’t matter who you is,” Slay said. “No matter how much you put in, at the end of the day it’s a business so that’s how I just look at it. Nobody’s safe, in my opinion.” Slay’s point carries great weight. After trading Diggs, the Lions signed free agent safety Marcus Gilchrist for potential depth at the position, only to release him several days later.
Bounce Back Sunday
The Lions should be able to continue building on Stafford’s MVP-like season while also trying to improve their defense when they face the Raiders. The Raiders defense is ranked 25th in yards allowed per game. With Stafford at the helm, the Lions have won their last two meetings against them. Their last matchup was an 18-13 win four years ago (11/22/15) at Ford Field. Both teams are basically identical this season, with Sunday being a turning point for both. A potential blow for the Lions is the health of safety Tracy Walker. Walker suffered a knee injury in the Lions victory over the Giants Sunday. The team is already thin in the secondary. Losing Walker this week would be a significant blow.
A win this Sunday would put the Lions at 4-3-1 heading into a matchup with division rival Chicago Bears. Should the Lions pull off their second consecutive victory, it could catapult them to a string of victories, as they have a favorable schedule over the next few weeks. Until their last game of the season (12/29) which is at Ford Field vs. the Green Bay Packers, the Lions have a string of winnable games, and possibly putting themselves back in position for a spirited playoff run.
However, it starts Sunday vs. the Raiders.