Matthew Stafford’s improved play starts up front

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Green Bay, Wis. — Matthew Stafford has looked like a different quarterback since the Lions’ bye week. Or maybe the more appropriate description is that he’s looked like the quarterback everyone expected him to be this season. That improvement has started up front with his blocking.

In the three games before the bye, Stafford was completing 56.8 percent of his passes, throwing just five touchdowns while getting picked off three times. Oh, and he was sacked 17 times.

The beating was clearly taking a toll, not just on his performance, but his body. Stafford was dealing with a sore ankle and ribs before the break.

That was inexcusable to guard T.J. Lang and the rest of Detroit’s offensive line.

“We’ve got a great group of guys that hold themselves accountable, hold each other accountable and put a big emphasis on taking care of our quarterback,” Lang said after Monday night’s 30-17 win over the Green Bay Packers. “That’s our leader. It hurts to watch him get hit so many times. I think we all kind of understood that and there came a point where we, like, ‘Guys, we can’t keep going down this track.’”

Even without Greg Robinson, who started the first six games at left tackle, things have started to click up front for the Lions. Stafford was sacked twice against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, when he threw for 423 yards in a 20-15 loss.

Against the Packers, the blocking was even better. Stafford was sacked once and hit three times. He took advantage of clean pockets, shredding the secondary by completing 26 of his 33 throws for 361 yards and two touchdowns.

“Every aspect of the passing game starts with the protection,” Lang said. “If it’s a muddied pocket and he have to get off his first read or there’s someone in his passing lane, the whole play can break down. I think we obviously put a big emphasis on it, the past couple weeks, of protecting our quarterback better.”

Now that some of the pass protection issues are getting sorted out — an area that should get even better once Taylor Decker is cleared to return off the physically unable to perform list — the Lions’ line needs to improve its run blocking, particularly in short-yardage situations.

The team has failed to score a touchdown on three of its past four trips inside the 5-yard line. They were stuffed three straight plays from the 1-yard line against the Packers.

“Like we said last week, we can’t put emphasis on one thing and let other areas of our game slip,” Lang said. “Particularly, down there at the 1-yard line, we have to find a way to be better, myself included.”