Lions offense's woes not all on Stafford, Caldwell says

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Allen Park — After using a first-round draft pick on a tight end and signing free-agent receiver Golden Tate, expectations were much higher for the Lions offense.

In three of the last four games, though, the Lions have struggled to put up points, relying on their defense to keep the opponents down. The offense managed seven points in the losses to Carolina and the Bills and in the win against the Packers. During that same span, the defense has scored two touchdowns.

Part of the issue is Calvin Johnson's injury, which has a ripple effect on how the defense guards the other receivers. The running game, which has been without Joique Bell (concussion), Theo Riddick (hamstring) and Sunday's injury to Reggie Bush (ankle), have the rushing attack ranked 28th in the league.

But quarterback Matthew Stafford has been up and down, with a sub-par performance against the Bills, who were near the bottom of the league in passing defense.

"Certainly our completion percentage was not where we want it either in that area and a lot goes into that," coach Jim Caldwell said at his Monday news conference.

The offensive line had trouble in pass protection against the Bills — Stafford was sacked a season-high six times Sunday — and Johnson missed most of the second half after leaving because of an ankle injury.

"We had our limitations, obviously with personnel, but that was a good defense that we played, well-coached and had a good scheme coming in," Stafford said Sunday. "They have a good front and a good back end. They're a very well-rounded defense."

But with right tackle LaAdrian Waddle back from injury, the offensive line still struggled against the Bills and has given up a league-high 17 sacks. Caldwell said that the amount of time that Stafford holds onto the ball can vary depending on the situation and opponent, but the sacks were concerning.

"Two of those he ran out of bounds, but if he gets hit once it's one too many," Caldwell said. "I think he got hit four times and obviously that's an area where we need to make certain that we continue to work on and improve."

Johnson's absence has allowed Tate to take a larger role in the offense, but other receivers, such as Jeremy Ross and Corey Fuller, have not made similar contributions. Ross had a touchdown against the Packers, but Stafford hasn't been able to take full advantage of Fuller's speed on the outside, or Ryan Broyles' hands.

With all the changes in the backfield, Stafford hasn't gotten a consistent group of blockers picking up blitzes or receivers getting open for his passes.

"You're talking about the protection standpoint, which is not only offensive linemen, but it's also backs and tight ends," Caldwell said. "They're all involved in it as well, so some of those things haven't been on par to where we'd like them.

"It's not only those two positions, but it's also the receiving position. Guys getting opening, running the right routes and running the right depths so that the quarterback can get the ball out on time."

Though Stafford hasn't been stellar in the first five games, Caldwell isn't quick to put all the blame on him in losses, or to praise him too much in the victories. Some of the credit goes to the defense in helping to put points on the board, too, but Stafford, as the quarterback, also is a target when things aren't going well.

"That's the thing about the quarterback position — they get too much credit when we win; they get too much blame when we lose," Caldwell said. "It's not all his fault and it's a team game and I expect some of the other guys to pick up the pace as well."