Lions’ Matthew Stafford on target for lower pick rate

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Matthew Stafford is getting wiser as he gets older.

It’s not about sage advice for his Lions teammates or doing anything out of the ordinary. It’s just about making better decisions.

The wild, up-for-grabs heaves to Calvin Johnson are a thing of the past. Instead, Stafford has morphed into a more accurate — and effective — quarterback who doesn’t turn the ball over nearly as much as he used to.

Stafford is having his best season in terms of turnovers, with five interceptions and one fumble, accounting for all six Lions turnovers.

Through nine games, Stafford is on pace to have the fewest interceptions in a full season of his career (12 in 2014). His five interceptions in 318 attempts gives him an interception percentage of 1.6, the lowest of his career and 1 percent lower than his career average.

“I’m just trying to make the best decisions I possibly can; I’m not going to be perfect,” said Stafford, in his eighth season. “There’s things I still have to clean up but our guys have done a really nice job of fighting for the ball if it’s contested, running with proper leverage and running with the ball securely is key.”

The Lions overall are plus-1 in turnover margin, meaning they don’t create very many extra opportunities defensively. It’s a balancing act, but the things they can control are the main area of focus.

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“It’s an area in which we are improving,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “You always have wait until it’s all said and done to see where you are. It’s big; it’s always something you stress.

“There’s not a football coach in America that doesn’t talk to the team about turnovers and work on it in practice. Sometimes it’s tipped balls but you can keep it to a minimum and our guys are doing a good job taking care of the ball, but that’s a week-to-week thing.”

The turnover struggle is starkly different with Sunday’s opponent, the Jaguars, whose defense hasn’t gotten a takeaway in 23 quarters. If they come up empty against the Lions, that will be the longest drought since the 1970 merger.

Jacksonville is last in the league in turnover margin (minus-14), with five takeaways and 16 turnovers, including 11 interceptions by quarterback Blake Bortles. That disparity is part of what’s led to the 2-7 record.

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“Turnovers are probably the biggest factor,” Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. “You see some areas of great improvement on defense with the stats, but it comes back to the turnovers. I think that’s a big stat across the league. When you’re plus, that has a big determining factor in winning the games.”

For Stafford, his effectiveness has led to increased accuracy — completing 67.3 percent of his passes — trusting his offensive line, and not trying to do too much.

“(Throwing it away) is some of it but it’s not always that; maybe it’s that I’m getting hit less because I know my guys up front are blocking better or I know where I’m going to be (hurried),” Stafford said. “There are so many decisions that go into playing quarterback in the NFL. Taking risks and not taking risks is definitely part of it.”