ALLEN PARK — There was so much anticipation for the start of the Matt Patricia era in Detroit. So much excitement. And then Matthew Stafford went out there and threw four interceptions in a clumsy loss to the Jets.
It was bad.
But quietly — or as quietly as Matthew Stafford can do anything these days, anyway — the Detroit Lions quarterback has put that wretched start behind him. He’s thrown just one pick in the last four games, against nine touchdowns. And his passer rating soared above 100 in all those games.
After opening the season as the worst-rated QB in the league, he’s now climbed to 15th.
“I think he’s done an unbelievable job of just improving every single week,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “It’s very difficult for the quarterbacks. It’s a hard job. They have to account for an entire defensive unit, and preparing to try to stop them week in and week out. So I think that’s why that position is so hard in this league. You got 11 guys working against you every single week. And as the season goes, he’s just done a great job.
“Great self-awareness, great improvement, great ability to study and understand the opponents we see each and every week, because it is different every week.”
And this week, the opponent will put Stafford’s improved ball security to the test.
The Dolphins have a league-high 11 interceptions heading into Sunday’s game against Detroit. For comparison, the Lions have two. So, yeah, that’s a lot. And in a game where turnovers often are the most statistically significant variable between winning and losing, Stafford’s ability to keep the football out of Miami’s mitts looms large.
“They’re doing a good job of getting some deflections in the secondary,” Stafford said. “I’m not talking up front, but guys, if they’re not getting a pick, they’re getting a hand on it. And the next guy rallying to the ball is making the pick. And they have guys that can catch the football, are confident players really at all three, or all two levels there in the back end.
“Reshad (Jones) has been doing it for a long time. (He’s a) very good ball-skill player. Ball deep down the field, he tracks it well. I think all their corners do the same. They’re a talented defense. Obviously, the back end has some big-time production turning it over. We have to be smart with it.”
What’s the key to limiting turnovers in a game like this?
“Some of the interceptions that they’ve had this year, their defensive line’s done a great job of forcing the ball out of the hand of the quarterback probably a little bit earlier than he wants to,” Stafford said. “I think on certain routes, when a quarterback doesn’t make a great throw, then that’s a turnover. Or a receiver doesn’t win on a man-to-man route, but he has to throw it there. It’s a combination of everything.
“It’s really just going out there and playing really sound football. Blocking them up, getting open, me throwing into good spots and us catching it. That’s the name of the game in the passing game really every week. But when you’re playing a team like this, that can turn it over as well as they can, it’s that much more important.”