- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Matthew Stafford’s numbers weren’t pretty this preseason. He recognizes that, but isn’t really worried about it.
Since his rookie season in 2009, he has taken Detroit to the playoffs in 2011 and led a team which went 4-12 the next year.
It’s why Detroit went and signed Reggie Bush in the offseason to complement Stafford and the league’s top receiver, Calvin Johnson. So to understand why Stafford isn’t concerned about his poor preseason production, understand this.
No one really saw what Detroit's offense will really look like. Stafford, Bush and Johnson played only two series together in the combined four preseason games. That came a month ago in the preseason opener against the New York Jets, where the Lions scored three points in those two series.
“It was a different dynamic,” Stafford said. “Like I said, we only really had all the parts of our offense for one, maybe two series in that first game. For me, it was more of getting us in the right plays, moving along, making sure our offensive line was doing the right thing.”
So Stafford has little concern over his 49.1 completion percentage with one touchdown and one interception. He’s also heard all of this before. He’s heard his mechanics picked apart by analysts. The pressure? It’s something he’s dealt with since his days at Highland Park High School in Texas through Georgia and now with the Lions.
He insists it doesn’t bother him, that he’s harder on himself than almost anyone else. And as far as accuracy, he knows he can improve on that. Then again, he can always improve on that.
“Unless you complete them all like that kid from Florida State (Jameis Winston) last night,” Stafford said. “Then, you’re always trying to do better.”
Stafford’s inaccuracy came mostly with the Lions using a multitude of new players trying to make the team or guys sliding into new roles with Johnson missing the last three preseason games. Tuesday, however, brought a return to normal in the Detroit offense during practice.
Johnson was there. Bush, the big free-agent acquisition brought in to improve the offense and running game, was in the backfield. Nate Burleson ran in the slot. All of those pieces Stafford has been so excited about were actually out there at the same time.
The Lions will also move into more game-specific planning than working on certain things to prepare for the regular season, which will also aid how Stafford will look now that games count.
“I’m not worried about preseason,” Burleson said. “I’ve been playing 11 years and I know that the preseason doesn’t indicate what you do during the year. You can call it struggles or just call it getting through the preseason.
“What we have getting put in this week, leading up to this first game, is going to be a lot different than what everybody saw.”
If there was reason for worry, it is this: Stafford's prior performances. In the 2012 preseason, Stafford completed 70.3 percent of his passes in limited action and then 59.8 percent last regular season. In 2011, he completed 75.8 percent of his passes in the preseason and followed it with a 63.5 completion percentage in the regular season.
In 2010, he completed 71.2 percent of his passes in the preseason and 59.4 percent in the regular season. Even as a rookie in 2009, he completed 54.5 percent of his passes in the preseason, leading to a 53.3 completion percentage in the regular season.
Even with a career-low completion percentage, Stafford is older now and feels more comfortable with what he was doing with the preseason, even if the results didn’t show.
“I was going to the right places, which I was happy about,” Stafford said. “Decision making, I was right there where I needed to be. I would have liked to hit on some of the big plays we just missed on.
“But like I said earlier, we had some guys playing in spots that frankly, they are not going to have to play in the regular season.”
Now, he’ll have everyone exactly where he wants them. What happens from there is up to Stafford.
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18hEric D. Williams