Stafford headlines serious talent at the skill positions
Leading the way is quarterback Matthew Stafford, who directed those two victories in 10 starts as a rookie, as the No. 1-overall pick in 2009 possesses a cannon for a right arm and has earned the respect of the veterans in the locker room by being voted one of four team captains.
Now, not only can Stafford throw to one of the premier pass catchers in the league, Calvin Johnson, but Detroit got tight end Tony Scheffler in a trade, signed receiver Nate Burleson in free agency, and took running back Jahvid Best in the draft.
"I think they bring a different dimension, each one of them," Stafford said Wednesday via conference call at Halas Hall. "Scheffler is obviously a down-the-field kind of tight end, a guy that can make plays in the passing game. Nate's kind of like a do-everything slot guy – blocks well, catches and runs well, stretches the field still pretty well. Jahvid's a pretty special back and has got a lot of big-play ability, whether he catches it out of the backfield or runs it."
Just like Chicago, the Lions have had trouble along the offensive line in recent years, but Stafford has faith that his blocking is good enough to protect him in the pocket, in part because of another offseason acquisition: guard Rob Sims.
"I think they did a great job in the preseason," he said. "[I was] sacked, I think, one time and really held on to that ball, so it wasn't a protection issue. So they've been doing a great job of giving me some time, and we've been doing a good job of getting the ball out quick, as well."
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, on the other hand, was sacked 10 times in about five quarters of action over the course of the exhibition schedule.
Schwartz says Lions didn't recover from Knox's TD
However, the final score doesn't tell the while story of that afternoon, as it was all tied 21-21 at halftime and Stafford was throwing the ball all over the place, on his way to a then-career high 296 yards passing with a 24-of-36 performance.
According to Lions coach Jim Schwartz, the game started to come unglued for his team when Johnny Knox raced out of Chicago's locker room and delivered a 102-yard lightning-strike TD, giving the Bears the lead for good.
"The first thing that happened was we gave up a kick return for a touchdown on the opening kickoff of the second half," Schwartz said, "and then we got behind in the game. In the first half, we were dealing from the lead most of the time, and it was back and forth, but we really felt like we were playing from behind."
Not only did the Chicago coaching staff put cornerback Zack Bowman out of his misery by moving fellow corner Charles Tillman over to Johnson's side of the field the rest of the afternoon – "Megatron" had eight catches for 133 yards, almost all of it in the first half – but changing up the coverage finally put the clamps on Stafford, who eventually left with an injury and was replaced by Daunte Culpepper.
"They played us in a lot of man-to-man situations and Cover-1, Cover-3 type things, and we had some success throwing the ball," said Schwartz. "They changed gears a little bit, started going to a little bit more Cover 2 in the first half. And in the second half, really a lot more Cover 2. The biggest thing that came out of that is we weren't very efficient running the football."
While Kevin Smith did score two touchdowns on the ground, he only managed 30 yards on 19 carries, which is part of the reason why the Detroit front office traded back into the first round in April to grab Best.
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John Crist is the Publisher of BearReport.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.
Conference Call: Stafford, Schwartz
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