This is an opinion piece from MLive.com reporter Kyle Meinke.
HOUSTON — Maybe everything is fine with Matthew Stafford. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with him at all. Maybe the Lions really do like where he’s at, and just don’t think he needs the preseason work. Maybe.
And maybe if he were practicing better, I would buy into all that.
But he’s not.
Stafford hasn’t been bad in camp, but he hasn’t exactly been good either. He’s been more up and down than in any of my previous six camps with him. Sometimes, like the first day of joint practices with Houston, he’s fine. Other times, like the second day of joint practices with Houston, he’s definitely not.
Same thing happened last week with New England. He was OK on Day 1, then much better on Day 2.
Then he took a week off.
Listen, a day off here or there for a 31-year-old quarterback isn’t exactly unheard of. But a week off is rare for anybody of any age, and especially so for a guy who hadn’t taken a “rest” day in 10 years. He’d missed only one day of practice since 2012, and that was to sign the largest contract in NFL history.
“This was a scheduled break in the middle of camp that he and I talked about before July,” coach Matt Patricia said in announcing the hiatus, “where we thought it might be a good opportunity coming out of New England (joint practices), before we head to Houston (for more joint practices), which will be another kind of intense couple days of practice.”
Maybe that’s all it was. Maybe. But it just seems awfully peculiar that Stafford took the longest break of his career in the middle of his most inconsistent camp in years. Then he came down to Houston, struggled again and — what a coincidence! — skipped a second straight preseason game for the first time in his career. Josh Johnson started in his place and Detroit lost 30-23.
Here was Patricia’s rationale for holding Stafford for a second straight week in the preseason: “I think for us as we rolled down here for practice and everything like that, I think we had a lot of snaps out on the practice field that we thought was really good for us offensively, and we thought we had the work we needed to get in. And sometimes in the practice stuff, the scheme and the stuff we’re doing is a little more elaborate that what we do in the game.”
OK, well, it’s true the Lions had two long weeks of practice. It’s also true that there’s a lot they can do with Stafford in those joint practices that they can’t do in a preseason game. But what Patricia declines to acknowledge is this is a departure from how they’ve previously handled Stafford.
The Lions had two long weeks of practice with the Raiders and Giants last year too, and they still played Stafford in three exhibitions. He participated in joint practices with the Colts in 2017 and the Steelers in 2016, and appeared in all four exhibitions in both of those seasons. And they were two of the best seasons of his career.
All I know is Stafford is throwing more inconsistently than I’m used to seeing. He’s also trying to learn a new offense and working with a new center — and the Lions are suddenly saying he requires less work than usual in the preseason? Hey, maybe he really is good to go. Maybe he really has mastered the offense. Maybe there really is nothing to achieve by throwing him out there for 15 snaps in the preseason, and might as well keep him out of harm’s way. Maybe.
But all the signs point to something otherwise. My best guess: Detroit is at least conscious of the fact Stafford isn’t quite right yet, and decided to sit him against Houston to protect him from potentially bombing without any of his starting receivers. That would only heighten concerns about the franchise quarterback.
If there is one thing we do know in all this, it’s that sitting Stafford gave Josh Johnson an opportunity to pick up some badly needed snaps in this offense. He signed with Detroit just a week ago, and might be the leader for the No. 2 job because of the brain injury to Tom Savage.
Johnson wasn’t very good against Houston, completing 9 of 18 passes for 85 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. His eight series produced five punts, two turnovers and one scoring drive whose only first down came on a 42-yard pass interference. The Lions were outgained 113-13 in the first quarter, didn’t move the chains until the second quarter and didn’t score an offensive touchdown until David Fales entered the game in the third.
It was yet another reminder of how screwed this team is if Matthew Stafford can’t get right.
No maybes about it.