CLEVELAND -- The Detroit Lions enter the second half of the 2017 regular season at 4-4, but in second place in the NFC North Division, they are still in the thick of the playoff race.
And the Lions’ playoff chances have a lot to do with the play of quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is playing at a Pro Bowl level in his ninth NFL season out of the University of Georgia.
“Pinpoint accurate,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said of what makes Stafford a good quarterback.
“Tough. Does a good job of improvising. I don’t think people really recognize or recognize him for the athlete that he is. He makes more plays with his legs and outside of the pocket than I think anybody would have thought. He is a really, really good football player, and that is why he is paid like he is paid. He is good.”
Through the first eight games of the 2017 season, Stafford completed 189 of his 303 attempts (62.4 percent) for 2,212 yards and 14 touchdowns against just four interceptions. Stafford has completed 29 passes of at least 20 yards and five that went for 40 or more yards.
“No question, he has a top-flight arm,” Jackson said. “He can put a ball anywhere you want to put it. Everybody has different motions and all of that, but this guy can throw a football.”
Although Stafford has had success in the pocket, it has come through unconventional means, as his release point changes to whatever angle it needs to be in order to complete passes.
“He has some gadgets,” Browns defensive lineman Danny Shelton said. “He has some guys that he can throw it to, and we are just going to have to do our part and create opportunities for the offense.”
Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones added, “He has different arsenals just within his arm and what he can do. Sidearm, no-look, he has everything in his bag of tricks in terms of throwing. The guy just makes plays. It is great to be a part of it.”
According to Lions coach Jim Caldwell, Stafford has found success throughout the season because of his ability to command a huddle, and he is relying on that leadership when Detroit gets into the red zone, where the offense has struggled in recent weeks.
“He has been playing extremely well for a stretch,” Caldwell said. “Everybody has a few ups and downs here and there, but for him, it hasn’t been. He works at it on a daily basis. He tries to get better every single day, and I think the guys that are around him, they play hard for him.
“We just have to execute better. We haven’t executed very well down there consistently, but we got in a few times this last game -- three times. We didn’t get in every time, and our goal is to try to get in the end zone every single time.”
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