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Saturday, October 29, 2011
Lions, Stafford look to roar again

By Jason Starrett


AP Photo/Duane Burleson
The Lions need to keep Matthew Stafford (above) upright on Sunday against the Broncos. Stafford has been sacked 8 times in his last 2 games.

After roaring out to a 5-0 start for the first time since 1956, the Detroit Lions have lost two straight games and look to get back on track against the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

For the Lions to win this weekend, they will need to do a better job of keeping Matthew Stafford on his feet. Stafford has been sacked eight times in the past two games after being sacked only six times in their five wins to start the season.

It’s been speculated that the increase in sacks is a result of the Lions facing more pressure recently…but the opposite is actually true.

Stafford faced five-or-more pass rushers on 22.7 percent of dropbacks in Weeks 1-5. Over the last two games, he faced five-or-more pass rushers on 9.1 percent of his dropbacks, the lowest rate in the NFL during that span.

Instead of using added pressure to get to Stafford, opposing defenses are simply capitalizing on the Lions’ reluctance to provide extra pass protection for him.

Stafford has 286 dropbacks this season, and a whopping 210 of them have featured all five eligible receivers going out for a pass.

This means that nearly three-quarters of the time when he looks to pass, Stafford has only had his five offensive linemen to protect him from the opponent’s pass rush. That’s the highest percentage in the league and nearly 14 percentage points higher than the league average of 59.5 percent.

Another positive outcome of added pass protection for Stafford is that he should have more time in the pocket, which might also allow him to shake his recent downfield struggles.

Stafford is 0-for-4 on pass attempts of 21 yards-or-more downfield in the past two weeks. Over the first five weeks of the season, he had seven passing first downs and five touchdowns on such throws, which was tied for the league lead at that time.

Stafford should be primed for a breakout game this week given Denver’s poor pass defense on the deep ball. The Broncos have given up two touchdowns on throws of 21-plus yards in their past three games, and have allowed an average of 18.2 yards per attempt on such throws this season, the third-highest rate in the league.