Three Thoughts: Matthew Stafford leads Lions past Giants
1. Matthew Stafford, game manager?: That term -- "game manager" -- gets used like a scarlet letter in NFL parlance, usually reserved for QBs like Alex Smith or Brian Hoyer who do not possess off-the-charts physical gifts. For all the times that phrase is tossed out with a negative connotation, though, there's not necessarily anything wrong with a quarterback managing the game.
In fact, the Lions were hell-bent this offseason on bringing more of that trait to Matthew Stafford's play. The hiring of former Saints QB coach Joe Lombardi as the team's new offensive coordinator was front and center on that plan, as the Lions asked Lombardi to bring what he taught (and learned from) Drew Brees to Stafford.
So far, so good.
Stafford played one of the better games of his career on Monday night, from a statistical and a decision-making standpoint. The latter is what will leave the Lions feeling mighty content with their quarterback one week into the season.
"Coach Lombardi did a great job of building the game plan to get everybody involved," Stafford told ESPN's Lisa Salters.
Now in his sixth season as an NFL starter, Stafford has a reputation of being a supremely gifted player who has a tendency to sabotage himself with screwy mechanics, poor reads and an over-reliance on his arm strength. He left all those negatives in the locker room on Monday night.
The improvements were most noticeable when Stafford rolled away from pressure in the pocket and lofted the ball out of bounds if he could not find a receiver. In the past, far too often, he has taken dangerous shots in those situations that frequently resulted in turnovers. The lone play that could be chalked up as being too risky actually resulted in a touchdown: Stafford, falling away from the line in the face of pressure, found Calvin Johnson behind two defenders in the back of the end zone.
The trick here will be repeating this success for Week 2 and the remainder of the season. Stafford's previous hints at a real breakthrough have wilted in short order under a string of poor performances. For example, last season with the Lions in prime position to win the division, Stafford tossed four picks in a home loss to Tampa Bay and had just two total TD passes combined in Weeks 14-17.
There are enough weapons surrounding him in the potent Detroit offense to prevent those stumbles. Simply staying more in control -- being more of a game manager -- could push Stafford to the next level.
2. The Giants need to get on the same page: Despite being outplayed for much of the first half, the Giants trailed by just seven when they opened the third quarter with possession. A subsequent DeAndre Levy interception on a 3rd-and-8 tipped the scales permanently in Detroit's favor. And it was a turnover that never should have happened.
Working out of the shotgun, Eli Manning attempted to adjust the play call pre-snap using a series of hand signals. His eventual intended target, tight end Larry Donnell (the Giants' leading receiver on the night with 56 yards and a TD) either did not see Manning's check or simply misinterpreted it, because Donnell never turned around for Manning's pass. The ball bounced off Donnell's foot, off Levy's arm and the Lions' linebacker wound up with a tumbling pick.
Later in the same quarter, Manning rolled to his right on a passing play ... only to have two of his receivers start blocking downfield at the snap. Manning threw the ball away as he took a hit from a blitzing safety.
The same type of miscommunication issues popped up throughout the preseason for the Giants, to the point that Tom Coughlin called out Manning and WR Rueben Randle for an incompletion in the team's final exhibition game.
"I thought the worst play of the night was, again, the miscommunication between Rueben Randle and Eli," Coughlin said in late August after the Giants played the Patriots. "'I thought, he thought' ... Everybody in this room is tired of hearing that kind of stuff. There's no place for that."
New offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo altered the Giants' offensive scheme this offseason, so a few hiccups here and there were to be expected. They should not still be happening as often as they are, and the one between Manning and Donnell really put to rest any hope the Giants had of stealing a Week 1 road win.
3. DeAndre Levy might be on the verge of stardom: Talk of the Lions' defense usually centers on Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and the big boys up front. That's all well and good, but it is high time for Levy to join them in the spotlight.
A Pro Bowl snub after a 119-tackle, six-interception 2013 season, Levy led the Lions with 10 tackles (two for loss) on Monday. He also had turned in that important, acrobatic turnover early in the second half and nearly guided a goal-line stand earlier by stepping up to stuff Rashad Jennings at the goal line.
Levy really came into his own as a free-flowing linebacker in Jim Schwartz's Detroit defense. New defensive coordinator Teryl Austin did not pull back Levy's role at all in Week 1. This could be the start of something big for the Lions' linebacker.