Stafford accepts blame for blocking miscommunication

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Eight games into the season, it's still unclear exactly what's leading to the dismal blocking on offense for the Lions.

The linemen have struggled, and the running backs and tight ends haven't thrived as blockers. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has been far from perfect diagnosing the defense before each snap, and the scheme doesn't seem to account for the limited time on some snaps.

But in a few of the worst blocking games — losses to the Vikings twice, Chargers and Chiefs — the biggest problem has been blitzers getting to Stafford completely untouched. And on Wednesday, Stafford shouldered some responsibility.

"When there's communication breakdowns, I'll take credit for those," he said. "I've got to do a better job of making sure guys hear me, and it's obviously a two-way street. But, that's basically what my responsibilities are — to make sure everybody's on the same page."

The offensive line has rarely been on the same page. The Lions have allowed 22 sacks, tied for ninth-most in the NFL, and that doesn't account for several hits Stafford has taken.

Meanwhile, the Lions rank 32nd in the league in rushing at 69.6 yards. While the poor production is partly because of the team facing deficits every game, it's also an extension of some of the blocking issues.

"We just have to get better, man," reserve offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas said.

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According to Pro Football Focus, Stafford has been under pressure on 39.2 percent of his dropbacks, less than six other quarterbacks.

Despite the pressure, Stafford has his best completion percentage — 64.5 percent — in a season, but he hasn't been productive. His 7 yards per attempt is his lowest rate since 2010, and he's thrown 11 interceptions, which put him on pace for a career high.

With the firing of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and offensive line coaches Jeremiah Washburn and Terry Heffernan, it was clear the Lions didn't believe the offense was being coached as best as it could.

"This year, we're not nearly performing as well as we're capable, and we've got to make certain that happens," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "We've got to get him more comfortable."

Whether new offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and line coach Ron Prince can improve the blocking remains to be seen after the Lions allowed six sacks against the Chiefs — their first game in the new positions. Part of the problem is the free blitzers haven't come from one issue, which makes it harder to solve.

"Sometimes there's individuals responsible who are supposed to go over and block that guy," Caldwell said. "There's a lot of different factors involved.

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"And then sometimes there are guys that are free that we know are free and it's just the nature — there's only so many guys you can block with six protectors or seven protectors. So you've got to know when those guys are free and how to respond."

The Lions face one of the top quarterbacks at assigning his blockers Sunday in Aaron Rodgers, who said playing behind Brett Favre for three years with the Packers helped.

"That gave me a lot of practice with the blitz drills and studying defenses, learning where the pressures are coming from most of the time, having an idea about where you're protected and where you're not," he said. "And then defenses are always bringing new things to the table and coming up with new schemes, and you just have to be able to adjust quickly."

Stafford, meanwhile, knows he has to do better getting everyone on the same page.

"We've just got to communicate better, got to play better and it's on everybody," he said.