Allen Park – Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has drawn plenty of attention and praise for his rocket arm.

But it’s his under-the-radar ability to extend drives with his feet that has played a crucial role this season.

Last week against the Minnesota Vikings, Stafford picked up six yards on a second-and-9 to set up a manageable third down during the Lions’ opening touchdown drive.

Then on the next possession, Stafford scrambled around the left end for 11 yards on a third-and-10 to push the Lions across midfield. He added a 15-yard run early in the fourth quarter on a third-and-15 at the Lions’ 20-yard line that helped flip the field.

“Matt had a couple of nice runs, he always adds a couple in there for us. I do think he’s a weapon in that regard,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said following the team’s 16-13 win over Minnesota. “Teams that play some man-to-man in those situations and turn their back on the ball, he finds a way to find a hole and skate through it. He makes good decisions in that regard and those runs are very important.”

Stafford is averaging a career-best 5.8 yards per carry and 14.2 yards per game, and needs four more yards to eclipse his season-best mark of 159 yards rushing set in 2015.

This season, 10 of Stafford’s 27 rushes have moved the chains – including six conversions on third down and one on fourth down – with eight of those first-down runs leading to points.

* In Week 1 against the Colts, Stafford had a 6-yard run on third-and-3 that led to a Dwayne Washington 1-yard rushing touchdown and a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.

* In Week 2 against the Titans, Stafford scampered for 24 yards on a third-and-14 near midfield that led to a Matt Prater 27-yard field goal and a 15-3 lead in the fourth.

* In Week 4 against the Bears, Stafford’s 15-yard run on a third-and-12 at the Lions’ 29-yard line led to a Prater 21-yard field goal that cut a deficit to 14-6 in the third.

* In Week 5 against the Eagles, Stafford had a 14-yard run on second-and-12 at the 50 and a 2-yard run on a fourth-and-1 at the Lions’ 47 on back-to-back drives that led to a Theo Riddick 17-yard touchdown catch and Marvin Jones 1-yard touchdown reception for a 21-7 lead in the second.

* In Week 6 against the Rams, Stafford scrambled around the left tackle for five yards on a third-and-4, which led to a Golden Tate 23-yard touchdown catch two plays later that tied it at 28 in the fourth.

* In Week 7 against Washington, Stafford had an 18-yard run on second-and-8 at the Lions’ 16 that led to Zach Zenner’s 1-yard touchdown plunge, and broke off a 14-yard run on a first-and-10 near midfield to jump-start the winning drive that was capped by Anquan Boldin’s 18-yard touchdown catch with 16 seconds left.

More importantly, though, has been Stafford’s ability to make wise decisions by either running out of bounds or sliding to avoid bone-rattling hits.

“I think that it’s certainly been some crucial times when he’s been able to get some conversions for us on third down by getting out of the pocket, getting beyond the line of gain,” Caldwell said Monday. ”It’s not like he hasn’t done that before. He has on a number of occasions since we’ve been here and he’s probably done it long before that.

“I just think when you win, everybody’s looking for a reason, trying to narrow it down to very small components and that’s not the case. But I do think that he has certainly added something to us, where teams at least have to pay attention and account for those lanes and make certain that they’re filled.”

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

Twitter @jamesbhawkins

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