Saturday, August 13, 2011

Detroit's Stafford Impressed in his Return to Action

The much anticipated return of 2009's first overall draft pick, quarterback Matthew Stafford, was a huge success last night in Detroit.

Stafford, 23, enters his third professional season for the Detroit Lions, but has started just 13 games under center.

The young gun out of the University of Georgia beat out Daunte Culpepper for the starting job his rookie season, but missed six games that season due to two separate injuries. He missed week's five and six after sustaining a knee injury while being sacked by a Chicago defender. Stafford sustained a separated shoulder later in the season and was placed on Detroit's injured reserve on December 24, ending his rookie campaign.

In his 10 starts, the rookie signal caller threw for 2,267 yards and 13 touchdowns, but led his team with 20 interceptions thrown and a rating of 61.0.

Stafford had high hopes entering his sophomore year in Detroit, but, again, battled shoulder problems. He injured his throwing shoulder during the first game of the season, against Chicago, and didn't return until Halloween night. A week later, his shoulder was re-injured and was lost for the season after Dr. James Andrews performed surgery.
In his three 2010 starts, Stafford impressed with 535 passing yards, six touchdowns, 91.3 rating and just one interception despite his 1-2 record over that span.

With key additions via the draft in April, and free agency, the Detroit Lions have high hopes in the NFC wild card picture this season. It appears as though those hopes may be even higher after Stafford's impressive preseason debut last night against the Cincinnati Bengals.

It's only preseason, and yes it's only the rebuilding Cincinnati Bengals. But if Stafford's healthy play is any indication as to how this season will unfold for Detroit, there is certainly no where to go but up.

Stafford was in the game for two drives, each of which ended with a Stafford touchdown pass–one to Calvin "Megatron" Johnson and the other to Nate Burelson. Stafford was one incompletion away from perfect (6/7, 71 yards, 2 TD), averaging 10.1 YPA.

During preseason play, wins aren't exactly what coaches are looking for. Rather, they are more worried with how the rookies, newcomers and even star players perform. Preseason play allows them to figure out what they have down, and what they need to work on in practice. Not to mention it gives them fresh tape to review in film sessions.

But head coach Jim Schwartz–8-24 record since taking over job in 2009–was able to experience both of these in last night's 34-3 victory. Stafford's 2011 debut was a huge success considering the staff was just looking for a solid, injury-free performance out of him. They got just that and more, as he looked quite comfortable in the pocket and was able to rocket two touchdowns to his favorite targets.

Detroit's revamped defense looked great as well, hitting Cincy's rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and forcing an interception on his first career pass attempt. Dalton gradually looked more and more comfortable as the game went along (11/15, 69 yards, 1 INT, 1 sack), but Detroit's aggressiveness on defense was easy to see.
Last year's Defensive Rookie of the Year, DT Ndamukong Suh, showed once again why he is already considered one of the most feared d-lineman in the league after slamming a helmet-less Dalton to the ground (as the above video clearly shows). While the hit was borderline dirty, there's no doubt that Suh has come in to camp prepared to battle it out inside the trenches this season.

If last night is any indication of how this season will go for the Lions, we could be in store for a great division race in the NFC North.

Photo: Andrew Weber/US Presswire

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