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Stafford given more offensive freedom

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- In some ways, the freedom has always been there for Matthew Stafford. He is an NFL quarterback and as such, will always have some flexibility to change what he sees.

Now, though, he might have more freedom than ever to make adjustments on the fly before a snap in the new Detroit Lions offense.

"In this offense, they put a lot on the quarterback, which is great," Stafford said. "You like to have a lot of control at the line of scrimmage and things of that nature. But it’s a challenge, no question.

"Coming in the first year in an offense and try and operate at a high level. But the guys have done a great job picking up this system. Mental errors are going down and down and down. Trying to make sure we’re in the right spots, running the right routes and executing at a high level."

Most important among those cutting down on mental errors has to be Stafford this season, especially if the Lions are going to give him more responsibility than before. Besides limiting mistakes after the play begins, he must now make sure he doesn’t check Detroit into a poor play based on a read he makes.

So far, though, it sounds like he has been pretty good at avoiding that.

In a small sample size, Stafford completed 21 of 30 passes this preseason for two touchdowns and one interception. The interception was on a forced pass to Calvin Johnson during the third preseason game in a situation where it appeared the Lions were doing as much as possible to have Johnson pick up some work in his only limited appearance during the preseason.

Other than that, Stafford made smart reads most of the time and threw the ball into the proper spots. He also got a handle on what he was doing pre-snap with the new offense.

"It’s great to see coach allows him to sometimes put him in position to make a call, to call a play and then put us in the best position he feels he can put us in," Johnson said. "That’s pretty awesome to see, because that’s some stuff that you see Peyton Manning do all the time at the line, check out of something into a totally different play that wasn’t in the play call that coach may have called in.

"That’s pretty cool to see and gives the whole team confidence."

Handing Stafford more control of the offense makes sense considering who is influencing the offense. Jim Caldwell and quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter both worked extensively with Manning, who calls a lot of plays at the line. Lombardi, the offensive coordinator, worked with Drew Brees in New Orleans and Brees is one of the game’s best and most cerebral quarterbacks.

So both entrusting and expecting Stafford to handle this comes from their past as much as what they think of his skills in the present.

"He had some (freedom), certainly last year they even expanded the things he did pre-snap," Lombardi said. "So maybe a little bit different emphasis of the things that he is in control of.

"But he is very comfortable, I think, with making decisions at the line of scrimmage. He’s done that in the past and he continues to have some of that flexibility."

How much? The Lions will answer that starting Monday night.