Why can't Lions' Stafford, Jones connect on the deep ball?

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Marvin Jones

Matthew Stafford and Marvin Jones were in tune as one of the top deep threat combinations in the league last season.

This year, the duo has seemingly been out of sync in the early going.

Stafford couldn’t connect with Jones on several occasions when he had a step on a 49ers defender, including once in the end zone toward the end of the first half, during Detroit’s 30-27 loss at San Francisco on Sunday — all misses the quarterback lamented.

“Huge, right? Not taking a lot of opportunities against a team like that, they want to keep everything in front of them,” Stafford said after the game. “Two for sure to Marv that I thought I had chances at that I just overthrew, but I don’t know. I’ll look at the film, but it didn’t seem like much out there. I can hit those and we’ve got to find a way to connect on them. He’s doing a great job of getting open down the field. You know, I’ve just got to give him chances.”

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In 2017, Stafford ranked among the league’s best deep-ball throwers. He ranked second in passer rating (127.2), third in completion rate (43.8 percent) and fourth in touchdown rate (15.6 percent) for passes that traveled 20-plus yards in the air, according to NFL’s Next Gen Stats.

Jones, meanwhile, was one of the league’s top big-play threats. He ranked third in catch rate (50 percent), fourth in touchdowns (five) and sixth in passer rating (121.5) when targeted on throws of 20-plus yards, according to NFL’s Next Gen Stats. Jones also led the league last season in average yards per reception (18) and average length receptions (14.85) and finished second with 15 deep receptions.

Through two games this season, Jones ranks sixth in the NFL in average targets air yards (18), meaning he’s largely being targeted downfield. However, Stafford and Jones have only hooked up on one reception of at least 20 yards — on a 28-yarder against the Jets.

Stafford said he couldn’t put his finger on why the deep balls have been a tad off other than the fact they’re not high-percentage throws.

“All of our guys, really, are great going and getting the ball when it’s in the air,” Stafford said. “So, maybe just take a little bit off of them and let those guys jump up and catch it.”

While things may not be clicking right away, Jones said it’s at least a positive sign that those deep passes have been open and it’s only a matter of time before they start turning into long gains.

“We just have to work better on it,” Jones said during a conference call on Monday. “Obviously, we were the best last year on that. But it’s a new year, and we have to keep working on that, and we’ll get it done.”


Twitter @jamesbhawkins