February 11, 2014 at 8:09 pm

Former Lions coach Jim Schwartz: Collapse not all Matthew Stafford's fault

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, left, was drafted in 2009, Jim Schwartz's first year as coach. Schwartz, right, was fired after this past season. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

Matthew Stafford threw 12 interceptions in the final seven games in 2013 as the Lions went 1-6 to close the season, but former coach Jim Schwartz doesn’t think the collapse was all on the quarterback.

Schwartz spoke on 104.5 FM in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday and defended Stafford, whom the Lions drafted first overall in Schwartz’s first season as coach in 2009.

The Lions fired Schwartz on Dec. 30 after the team stumbled to a 7-9 finish after a 6-3 start.

“It’s a team game, and I wouldn’t pin it all on Matt Stafford,” Schwartz said. “Matt’s an outstanding quarterback. He led us to the playoffs. Just about every record in the Lions offense, total offense and passing offense, was set by Matt Stafford in the last three years.

“He’s going to lead that team to many great things in the future. Everybody has some rough spots here and there, and it’s up to the rest of the team to pick you up.”

The Lions hired Jim Caldwell to replace Schwartz and Joe Lombardi to replace offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who was also fired on Dec. 30 and will be the Dallas Cowboys’ play-caller. Both Caldwell (Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco) and Lombardi (Drew Brees) have worked extensively with quarterbacks.

“Matthew’s got such a talented arm,” Lombardi said, “that I think there are times where he’s making throws where you’d say, ‘Well, maybe you shouldn’t have thrown that because of the position of your feet or whatnot.’

“But I looked at every single one of his interceptions in-depth and not every single one was something Matthew did wrong.”

Schwartz also defended defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh again in the wake of a report Suh was late to meetings and caught in a power struggle with the coach.

Despite taking a reported buyout of nearly $12 million from the Lions, Schwartz, who will be the defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills next season, said he wanted to return because coaching is “in your blood.”

Schwartz also explained the Lions are a bit hamstrung looking toward the future due to the salaries of their Big 3 — Suh, Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

“I think it’s a difficult situation there with depth on the team,” Schwartz said. “They are top-heavy on their cap and rightfully so, guys like Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford and Ndamukong Suh. Makes it difficult to have a lot of depth, and when you get those injuries, which everybody does, it’s going to be a difficult road to hoe when you get to the second half of the season.”