Matthew Stafford will have offensive continuity this season. He’ll also have to adjust to something entirely different.
It will be an interesting offseason for the Detroit Lions quarterback, now entering season No. 7. He has an offensive coordinator, Jim Bob Cooter, whom he feels completely comfortable with and has a strong belief in. That’s a positive.
He’ll also be learning more nuances of what Cooter wants to do schematically, with an entire offseason to implement his own philosophies. Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he expects the offense to look different – and the hiring of quarterbacks coach Brian Callahan from Denver reinforces more of a shift to an offense similar to what Peyton Manning ran when he was in Denver and Indianapolis.
That was where the offense was headed in bits and pieces during the second half of last season, when the Lions went 6-2.
“Any time that you can have scheme continuity, I think it benefits the players if it’s functioning properly. If it’s not functioning properly, you gotta change, you know,” Caldwell said at the league’s spring meetings this week. “But in this particular case, he did show that he has some comfort level with it.”
Stafford showed promise throughout the second half of the 2015 season, completing 205 of 293 passes (70 percent) for 2,179 yards, 19 touchdowns and two interceptions. For the full season, he had the best completion percentage of his career (67.2), his second-most touchdowns (32) and his second-highest touchdown-to-interception ratio over a 16-game season (2.46).
His QBR of 62.6 was the highest of his career.
“You can see that he’s making progress and he continues to get better,” Caldwell said. “I think you’ll [see] him continue to blossom. Toward the end of the year, he had -- I think -- his best stretch of football that he played. I’m not sure what it looked like from a statistical standpoint completely, but he had very few interceptions and put the ball in the end zone and helps us get the ball in the end zone.
“We know what kind of physical talent he has, but mentally, in a very complex system, and we were adding in at the end of the year, it suits him.”
There will still be some transition for Stafford in 2016. For the first time in his career, he’ll enter a season without his 6-foot-5 security blanket of a target in Calvin Johnson. The two have played together since Stafford was drafted and he’s always been a defense-changing option on the field.
With Johnson retired, it might change how Stafford has to play. No longer will he look to force plays to Johnson. No longer will he be asked why he isn’t getting the ball to Johnson enough.
The Lions signed Marvin Jones to help alleviate the loss of Johnson, but Caldwell has already stressed to Jones not to try to be the star receiver. That’s something Jones seems to be fine with, because he already has said he knows he can only be himself.
“It’s always something you want to try and make certain that you alleviate some pressure on a guy,” Caldwell said. “Make him understand exactly what you think as well. You’re not anticipating that anybody’s going to replace Calvin. I’ve been around a few great ones in my time, Warren Sapp playing on the defensive line to watching Peyton operate, there’s not another Peyton Manning. Marvin Harrison. Those guys.
“You don’t replace those kinds of guys. What you do have is guys come in and be who they are and what they are capable of doing and working in that order.”
So it will be an adjustment for Stafford to get used to Jones and Jeremy Kerley and life without Johnson. But he’ll have the continuity with the same offensive coordinator to help make it as smooth as possible.