DETROIT – The Detroit Lions are 3-3 after back-to-back wins following their bye week. They won improbably against Atlanta after a complete, comfortable win against Jacksonville the week before.
Getting to 3-3 has Lions fans looking ahead at the next few games and hoping for a playoff push instead of a top-5 draft pick. If the Lions do want to make a run to the playoffs, they need to let Matthew Stafford loose.
The offense was not great against Atlanta, but it did come up big when it needed to -- and it looked its best when Stafford was asked to deliver.
Here are reasons the Lions need to let Matthew Stafford carry the offense if they want to make a playoff run.
Post-bye week boost
Stafford is playing the best he has all season right now. Stafford threw for 340 yards against the Falcons -- the most he’s had in a game this year. He led the Lions on two crucial last-minute drives –- one for a field goal at the end of the 1st half and the other to win the game.
Stafford is spreading the ball around, with completions to seven different receivers against Atlanta and 10 different receivers against the Jaguars.
He’s connecting with Kenny Golladay, who has had back-to-back 100-yard games. Stafford got Marvin Jones involved with five catches for 80 yards against the Falcons, and Stafford is finding T.J. Hockenson in the end zone.
Hockenson had the game-winning touchdown catch against Atlanta and a fourth-down touchdown grab against the Jaguars.
Stafford is also taking care of the football. His 65% completion percentage over the past two games is higher than his season average. It looks like he’s stepping up at the right time.
Completing deeper passes
Stafford had eight completions of 15 or more air yards against Atlanta, with four going to Golladay and four going to Jones. Looking deeper, Stafford was 3-4 on passes 20+ yards down the field.
The Lions need Stafford to continue hitting on those deep throws, as their offense has been inconsistent this season. Detroit got 10 points from its two last-minute drives against Atlanta. Otherwise, they struggled to score, with just one other touchdown that came in the first quarter.
The Lions also struggle in the red zone, as they rank in the bottom half of the league in red zone percentage. If the Lions can hit on bigger plays, they can avoid having to score when the field is squeezed in the red zone.
Inconsistent run game
Detroit has shown it can run the ball this year, but for some reason, the Lions have wavered in how they want to run.
D’Andre Swift had the best game of his young career against the Jaguars, with 14 carries for 116 yards and two scores. Swift had success because the Lions gave him a chance. He had more carries that game than he’d had in the four previous games combined.
Then, against Atlanta, Swift had only had nine carries, while Adrian Peterson had 11. That didn’t work, as the Lions only had 64 yards rushing. The Falcons stopped Peterson twice on short yard runs, including one on down down in the red zone.
Peterson should get carries, but not as many as Swift. Also, the Lions shouldn’t make handing it off to Peterson so predictable. It doesn’t help Peterson when the defense knows what’s coming.
If the Lions are inconsistent in how they want to run, or can’t get much of a run game going, that’s even more reason to let Stafford carry the offense.