Allen Park — No one sacks Matthew Stafford quite like the Minnesota Vikings.
In 17 games against the Vikings, the Detroit Lions quarterback has been dropped behind the line 61 times. For comparison, in 35 matchups against AFC opponents during his career, Stafford has been sacked 75 times.
Stafford absorbed a career-high 10 sacks against the Vikings earlier this season, topping his previous high of seven, also coming against Minnesota. That's far from ideal, given Stafford has been fighting through a back injury this month.
“They have just multiple different ways to pressure the quarterback and to just kind of keep the heat on the offensive line from that standpoint,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “A lot of really great players, a lot of good scheme, everybody kind of working together and I think that’s something that they have been able to develop through the course of a number years, kind of being in the same system and the same scheme with a lot of the same players for a while really has allowed that to grow. And that’s why I just think it’s so dynamic, especially in those real tough situations that you know the ball is going to be thrown on third down, second and long, things like that where they can really just dial it up and go.”
Since that game against the Vikings, the Lions have done their best to keep Stafford upright, largely by having the offense rely on quick, short throws. Only of handful of quarterbacks are getting the ball out quicker than Stafford the past four weeks, while his 6.91 air yards per attempt this season is the third-worst in the league and more than a yard less than a season ago.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he’s also noticed some subtle changes to the way the Lions are trying to protect Stafford since the teams met several weeks ago.
“I think protection-wise, they’ve changed up a little bit,” Zimmer said during a conference call. “And I do think that he’s getting the ball out a little bit faster in some of the route combinations. But their offense hasn’t changed a lot.”
Not surprisingly, the Vikings lead the NFL with 47 sacks and are coming off a nine-sack performance in a win over Miami last Sunday. The group is led by defensive end Danielle Hunter’s 14.5. He had 3.5 against the Lions earlier this year, earning NFC Player of the Week honors.
Given the Vikings’ propensity to punish quarterbacks, and the Lions’ playoff hopes squashed a week ago, it begs the question, why risk Stafford getting hurt worse, other than keeping the quarterback’s impressive start streak alive?
“I think the thing is the NFL is a violent sport and when you step in between those white lines, it’s something that every player that’s out on the field has to deal with and they understand that there’s a risk of injury,” Stafford said. “But, we’re certainly never going to put somebody out there and put them in an injury situation where they can’t perform and put themselves in a situation where they can’t protect themselves if that was an issue. So, for us, if a guy is ready to go and they’re healthy and they can go out and perform and help us win then that’s what we’re going to go try to do.”
Stafford will be starting his 127th consecutive game on Sunday, the sixth-longest at his position in NFL history. He's completing 67.0 percent of his passes this year for 3,395 yards, 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.