Stafford as ready as he’ll ever be
As Thursday brings us the final preseason game and Jim Schwartz still yet to announce a starting quarterback for the season opener, it becomes more and more apparent to me that 1st-overall pick Matthew Stafford will be the one chosen to lead this team.
If Stafford had come out and bombed in the first three games, Daunte Culpepper would have been named starter by now. But that hasn’t happened and most people would argue Stafford has been the more impressive passer, not the veteran. Culpepper hasn’t looked terrible by any stretch of the mind but his hesitance to throw downfield has left many wondering if he is too conservative in his progressions, looking to dump the ball off too quickly.
To be fair, neither quarterback has had a real opportunity to dazzle crowds with a strong aerial attack due to the fact the Lions’ top three receivers — Calvin Johnson, Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt — didn’t step onto the field until last Saturday. But oh boy did Stafford look at-ease throwing to the “Johnson & Johnson duo,” hooking up with Calvin on a 30-yard laser before being picked off on a 50-yard jump ball to Bryant, which should have been hauled in by the 6’3” golf-cart hazard. Culpepper played well, even though he remained neo-conservative in his approach.
I would say the surprisingly-exceptional play from the offensive line has played into Stafford’s hand as well. Part of Schwartz’s timetable for Stafford to take over hinges upon when the team is ready for him to play, meaning he can’t be quarterbacking if we’re giving up five sacks a game. But the consistency thus far from the o-line may help Stafford’s chances at a Sept. 13 start.
Another factor, which may be the biggest factor into it all, is that both Culpepper and 3rd-string quarterback Drew Stanton both succumbed to injuries in week three of the preseason. The injuries must be somewhat concerning for the organization because they immediately went out and singed Brooks Bollinger, formerly of the New York Jets, and Kevin McConnell, formerly of the New England Patriots.
The McConnell signing could be something bigger too. He was a hot commodity on the waiver wire this week, after being released by the Pats, and the Lions were able to cash in thanks to the waiver process, which gives the worst teams from last season the first opportunity to sign newly-released players. The intriguing part is that McConnell played in New England and newly-hired Kansas City Chiefs General Manager Scott Pioli and newly-hired Denver Broncos Head Coach Josh McDaniels — both former assistants in New England — have problems on their respective teams at quarterback — Denver has no real starting quarterback and Kansas City QB Matt Cassell is injured and could be out for about four to six weeks. That means the Lions’ may have an opportunity to get something worthwhile out of this, other than a backup quarterback for a month.
The Lions’ need, based off preseason play, another impact player on the defensive line and an impact secondary player or two. If they can swing something with one of these teams for a decent return that would help tremendously in rounding out a solid defense. Also, Detroit hosted former all-pro safety Lawyer Milloy on Monday, however, no word yet as to if a deal is in the works. I’m not sure what Milloy has left in the tank but his veteran presence could help jump-start the human heat-seeking missile Louis Delmas.
Getting back on track, I think the offense, with Stafford, could be magic this season. All the pieces are in-place, as long as the o-line continues to play with this new physical identity. You have a franchise quarterback, a possible franchise running back, a wrecking-ball of a fullback, a franchise tight end and the most talented receiver in the game, with a good supporting cast.
Not that I haven’t thought this all before — with Joey Harrington, Kevin Jones, Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Mike Williams — but somehow I like to think I’m a little smarter and have a better eye for talent these days. Possibly not but it can’t hurt to believe… oh wait, yes it can… I forgot about the third of my heart that shattered after going 0-16 last year and becoming the hands-down worst team in the history of the game. Don’t do it to me again Lions!