Lions wince when Stafford lowers the boom

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Matthew Stafford will make his 83rd consecutive start Sunday in Green Bay.

The Lions would love for their quarterback to keep that string going for several more games, if not seasons.

So while they love his fearlessness — and fans certainly couldn’t get enough of the GIFs and clips watching him lower his shoulder and bowl right over Titans cornerback Perrish Cox in Week 2 — maybe chill a little bit, OK?

“Must have been feeling good,” Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said Thursday. “He’s a really competitive guy, he’s as tough as anybody I’ve ever been around. But he’s got to know when to save those hits.

“It’s a long season. We’ve got to play a lot of ball this year, and we’re going to try to keep him from getting hit as much as we can, and he can help us with that.”

Stafford had two rushes in the 16-15 loss to the Titans, with a long of 24 yards.

It was a third-and-8 scramble for 7 yards that blew up the Internet, though, as he went headfirst into Cox. The Lions picked up a first down on the play in the second quarter because of a Titans penalty.

Sliding feet first, of course, is the preferred way down for quarterbacks, to avoid any contact when carrying the ball. Stafford doesn’t always abide by that unwritten rule, however.

“He’s a really tough guy,” Cooter said of his 6-foot-3, 230-pound quarterback. “He’s trying to fight and scratch for that first down. Just kind of keep talking through it and try to be a little smarter about how we take those hits.”

Stafford also seemed to fancy himself a lead blocker against the Titans, most notably on Ameer Abduallah’s big, 24-yard run in the second quarter.

Stafford delivered two blocks on one Titan at the end of the run.

“We try to keep him as healthy as we possibly can, obviously,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said after the game. “He’s a competitor, as well.”

That’s the delicate balance.

Lions teammates love his grit and his willingness to mix it up. Whether it’s with a big run or a big block, that can certainly pump up the offense and the sideline.

But it also can cause some concern. There are so many injuries in the NFL that can’t be prevented; just ask Ziggy Ansah, DeAndre Levy and Abdullah. So it might be best to limit scenarios that significantly increase the risk.

“You know, at this point, after playing with Stafford for two complete seasons, this guy’s taken so many big hits,” wide receiver Golden Tate said. “I was happy to see him be the hammer and not the nail, but we don’t want our quarterback to take on too many hits like that.

“There’s no doubt he’s one tough son of a gun. He can do it if anybody can. I’d rather him stay away from that.”

Not that Stafford is likely to steer completely away from contact. In the heat of the game, after all, instincts take over.

“If you go back and look at the film, even from this year, you’ll see when a running back gets to the outside and you got Stafford saying, ‘Come on, follow me, follow me,’ and I’m glad the running backs, they don’t,” Tate said with a grin. “Not because I don’t think Stafford will lay a hit on someone.

“We want to keep him safe. The value’s in his arm. Not his blocking skills.”