Allen Park — The Detroit Lions have invested heavily in the team’s offensive line in recent years, in part to provide better protection for quarterback Matthew Stafford. Through three games, those upgrades have started paying dividends.

Yes, Stafford has been sacked eight times, putting him on pace to be dropped behind the line of scrimmage 43 times this season. That's just one sack shy of last year's total. But that's viewing pass protection through a narrow scope. According to STATS LLC, Stafford has been hurried on 15 throws and knocked down 16 others. Those rank right in the middle of the pack, clear improvements from last season, when the Lions surrendered 113 hurries and 101 knockdowns.

Understandably, offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter is encouraged by the progress of his young line in this area.

“We’ve had a couple of sacks that have been a scramble, he netted zero yards running out of bounds and that counts as a sack in the NFL official stats,” Cooter said. “I think the protection’s been better. We’ve got to continue to improve it. That number is too high.”

Coach Jim Caldwell likes to say one sack is too many. That’s an unrealistic standard, but also shows the premium the coach places on keeping his quarterback upright. He also likes to remind observers it can be tricky assigning culpability.

“It’s whoever is in the protection scheme,” Caldwell said. “It could be a (running) back. It could be a tight end, could be a lineman. I know we like to assess blame sometimes, but there’s a lot of things that go into it, a receiver running the wrong route that he has to pull it down. Those kinds of things happen, so that’s kind of all part of it.

Re-watching the film, though, doesn’t leave much mystery. Rookie left tackle Taylor Decker has been clearly beat for a sack three times and guard Laken Tomlinson twice. Right tackle Riley Reiff and right guard Larry Warford have each given up one. The final sack was the result of good coverage, where the protection gave way only after Stafford failed to find an open receiver.

Sacks aside, Detroit's passing game is thriving. Stafford is completing 67.5 percent of his passes and is averaging 328 yards per game. His 105.0 passer rating ranks sixth and would be a new career-high if he can maintain it through the entire season.

Twitter: @justin_rogers