Justin Rogers of The Detroit News addresses five critical questions for the Lions’ offense.
Will QB coaches take Stafford to next level?
There’s little question Matthew Stafford is a better quarterback than he was two years ago, but he's still a tier below the game’s elite at the position. The same could be said about Atlanta’s Matt Ryan prior to last season, before he made a jump into the upper echelon, winning the MVP and leading the Falcons to the Super Bowl.
At the Super Bowl, Ryan raved about the work he did in the offseason with the quarterback gurus at 3DQB in California, the same group Tom Brady and Drew Brees have used in the past. And while it certainly wasn’t the lone reason he took his game to the next level, he made it sound like a significant contributing factor.
Ryan and Stafford are good friends, regularly hanging out during the offseason. Whether it was Ryan making a sales pitch or Stafford simply seeking feedback on improvement, the Lions quarterback ended up at the same facility, working with coaches during the offseason.
It will be interesting to see if this will fuel Stafford unlocking previously unattainable success.
Will the drop rate drop?
Matthew Stafford’s numbers were good last season, but they could have been better. He didn’t get a lot of help from his receivers, who dropped 28 passes, among the worst in the league.
The Lions coaching staff has insisted they’re focused on ironing out the kinks, incorporating new practice habits, including glasses that temporarily cut the receivers vision to improve concentration.
Even if the Lions can finish the year at league average, it would result in 10 more receptions.
Who steps up in the red zone?
When the Lions got close to the end zone last season, Anquan Boldin was the man, catching a team-high eight touchdown passes. Who will step up and be Stafford’s go-to target this season?
Maybe it's Eric Ebron, who found the painted grass five times in 2015. How about Marvin Jones, who runs the fade as well as any receiver in the NFL? And Theo Riddick isn’t any less coverable when the field shrinks near the goal line.
Maybe the answer is there isn't one answer, which no one should mind – as long as the Lions are not settling for field goals as often as they did last season. Detroit scored a touchdown on 54.2 percent of its trips to the red zone in 2016, down from 69.4 percent the year before.
Will the line’s left side be good enough?
General manager Bob Quinn has poured significant resources into his offensive line, but the left side has the potential to be a weakness to start the season.
With Taylor Decker out with a shoulder injury, the Lions are leaning on Greg Robinson, a former No. 2 overall draft pick who flamed out with the Rams, at left tackle. He has looked adequate during the preseason, and that might be good enough, but until he proves he’s not the mistake-prone lineman he was with Los Angeles, concern lingers.
Left guard Graham Glasgow also has plenty to prove. An understandably inconsistent performer as a rookie, he didn’t show the improvement you might have expected during his second training camp and preseason.
The line was designed to be the strength, but it’s not there yet.
Will we see more no-huddle?
The offense flourished running hurry-up last season, but it was largely bagged early in the year – one, because of injuries to Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick, and two, to cover up the defenses struggles.
If the defense proves capable of forcing more quick stops, we might get to see Matthew Stafford and company push the gas pedal to the floor a bit more in 2017.