In 2011, the Detroit Lions' stunning reversal of fortune was driven by many unique variables, perhaps the most important of which was an uptick in play and health at the quarterback position. Finally, Matthew Stafford stayed upright and played a full season. In the process, he showed fans how grand football life can be when a team finally finds "their guy" at the signal caller position.
What's to be expected here in 2012? We spread the field with our first, bi-weekly positional preview installment leading up to the regular season.
Who's the Guy? Obviously, it's Matthew Stafford, Detroit's do it all, make every throw, strong armed 5,000 yard passer. Coming off 2011's excellent statistical year, Stafford has his own lofty shoes to fill. Fortunately, he's also got Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, a seasoned Titus Young and a cast of excellent tight ends to toss the ball at. Other than worse troubles within the running game, not much should be able to slow the arial attack down.
Second in Command? Shaun Hill, the Lions steady and venerable backup. If 2010 taught us anything positive despite Stafford's injuries, its that Hill can be counted on to step in and be the guy if need be. Though he wasn't needed in 2011, the Lions and their fans can rest easy knowing they've got an established backup waiting in the wings.
Others Worth Noting: Kellen Moore. Usually, it's not worth noting an undrafted free agent fighting to be a third string quarterback, but Moore comes in highly regarded as the winningest quarterback in college football history. He didn't perform well in the opener against Cleveland, going 4-14 for 40 yards with one interception despite showing well in camp. He's said to have an inside track to the third quarterback position, but that's likely because he's the only candidate.
Biggest Key to Positional Success? Avoiding the bad interception and good offensive line play. At times, Stafford has a touch of the Brett Favre syndrome. He tries to make every impossible throw, even in moments when he should simply eat the ball and take a sack. Friday night this was on display again, when Stafford was bull rushed and threw a costly interception off his back foot. Those are the kind of plays which must be avoided in 2012. As many times as he can thread the needle to Johnson and company, Stafford can also make a misread when he should have thrown the ball away. That's a part of continuing maturation that comes in time. In 2011, the offensive line also did a sneaky good job of protecting Stafford. That's going to have to continue
Best/Worst Case Scenarios: Best? Stafford repeats last year's performance and throws for more gaudy numbers. The Lions have another great year as a result, and qualify for the playoffs. Worst? Stafford gets dinged up and plays inconsistent. The lack of a running game hurts, and teams figure out how to defend Detroit's air attack. Hill and Moore have to play significant minutes.
Outlook: Expect Stafford to have another great season throwing the ball and expect his prolific targets to continue to maximize his talent. He might not throw for 5,000 yards, but that won't matter.Health, always an important variable, remains something to quietly monitor. If the running game and offensive line are average at best, the Lions can still have success throwing the ball. Like 2011, expect that theme to continue into 2012.
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