LIONS QB MATTHEW STAFFORD VS. BROWNS FS JABRILL PEPPERS
Stafford throws the ball as well as anyone in the NFL. He’s playing just about as well as anyone, too.
Stafford has thrown for 784 yards over the last two games — 423 in a loss to Pittsburgh and 361 in a win over Green Bay on Monday night. For the season, he’s completed 62.4 percent for 2,212 yards, 14 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 94.4 rating. He’s sixth in the NFL in yards, seventh in touchdowns and 13th in passer rating.
“He has been playing extremely well for a stretch,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said.
“Matthew Stafford is the real deal,” Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said. “I think he spins the ball as well as anybody in our league for years.”
Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in 2009, came into the league with a right arm that immediately qualified as one of the strongest. He’s developed into a complete quarterback and is the highest-paid player in league history at $27 million a year. He has accuracy and touch and complete control of the offense, often operating without a huddle and calling the plays at the line after surveying the defense.
“It reminds me of my younger years of going against Peyton Manning in Indy,” cornerback Jason McCourty said.
“Our guys understand that challenge and will do things to mess with the picture and will maybe disguise the picture a little bit,” Williams said. “But then when it gets down to it, it is still mano y mano and having to make a play.”
The Lions are nearly completely reliant on Stafford. Their running game ranks 29th with 79.9 yards a game, and Stafford is second in the league with 303 attempts and fifth with 189 completions. Stafford will likely throw it a ton against the Browns, who rank fourth against the run and 17th against the pass.
The Browns have had too many breakdowns in the secondary, allowing 17 touchdown passes. McCourty (ankle) and Peppers (toe) are back after missing two games and will be tested immediately. Peppers is still adjusting to playing in the deep middle and will be forced to cover the entire field, because Stafford can reach every inch.
“He has elite arm strength, elite accuracy, and his guys are making plays for him,” Peppers said. “He puts the ball in the right spots. He’s smart. He’s savvy. That’s a guy who really has full control of his unit. This is probably going to be the best quarterback we’ve seen to date. We love challenges. We’re licking our chops. We look forward to it and never shy away from it.”
Stafford likes to get the ball out of his hand in a hurry but can be vulnerable when he holds it. He’s been sacked 26 times, and the Browns have No. 1 pick Myles Garrett back at defensive end. The Browns’ best chance to slow down Stafford and pull an upset is to pressure him, disrupt his timing and try to force him into a mistake.
“Honestly, you just try to get the quarterback off his game and getting some hits on him will make any quarterback struggle,” linebacker Joe Schobert said.