As quarterbacks go down, keeping Matthew Stafford protected is Lions' ‘No. 1’ priority

By Matt Schoch
The Detroit News
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford gets hit heading to the sideline by the Chargers' Joey Bosa in the first quarter Sunday in Detroit.

With the continued musical chairs in the Lions quarterback room and starting signal callers around the league going down with injuries, Matthew Stafford’s durability continues to be one of the franchise’s best assets.

As New Orleans and Pittsburgh are looking for ways to get by without their stalwart starters, the Lions are looking at avoiding a similar fate with their franchise quarterback.

“Keeping the quarterback safe and protected is No. 1,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said Tuesday. “Those guys are really hard to find. We’ve got a good one and we want to protect that guy.”

Bevell has a history of keeping his top quarterback in the game. Starting in 2009 with an aging Brett Favre in Minnesota, Bevell got at least 13 starts out of his Week 1 starter in nine straight years as a coordinator, including Russell Wilson starting all 96 of his games with Seattle during his partnership with Bevell through 2017.

While the Saints are going to be without Drew Brees for extended action because of a thumb injury and the Steelers lost Ben Roethlisberger for the season on Sunday, Stafford suited up in his 130th straight start for Detroit, a 13-10 win against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Across the way at Ford Field, Philip Rivers moved into second all-time on the quarterbacks list with his 210th start, tying Eli Manning of the New York Giants, who he was traded for on draft day in 2004, but was benched Tuesday for rookie Daniel Jones.

Despite efforts by the league to protect quarterbacks, a glance at the headlines this week shows how tenuous things can be.

Jacksonville already is without Nick Foles for an extended period, and uncertainty about the health of Cam Newton and Sam Darnold could throw wrenches into the Carolina and New York Jets seasons, respectively. Darnold’s backup Trevor Siemian was lost for the season with an ankle injury suffered on Monday Night Football after every other team took stock of their own injury updates from the weekend.

In Detroit, quarterbacks still made headlines, albeit of the minor variety, as backup Josh Johnson was cut in favor of Jeff Driskel, a move Lions fans can only hope is a formality for this season and maybe a long-term play, while Stafford will continue to man Bevell’s attack this fall.

Despite his blindside tackle Taylor Decker (back) being out Sunday and Tyrell Crosby making his first career start in his stead, Stafford was not sacked.

That was in part because of aide given to Crosby in protection schemes from tight ends, and play calls for runs and quick passes.

“Obviously you’ve seen us do different things with Matthew and always the first thing is trying to take care of him,” Bevell said. 

But the 31-year-old quarterback still took hits.

He was shoved down by Joey Bosa on a run near the sideline, crunched in between two Chargers while trying for an extra yard on another, and took a hit from Detroit native Desmond King after completing a short pass to tight end Jesse James.

“I’m just happy so far this year that I’ve been able to be healthy,” Stafford said Tuesday on the “Dan Patrick Show.”

“Most of the time you’re just going out there, letting it rip, trying to help your team win.”

Easier Eagles?

Paul Pasqualoni said Tuesday that he doesn’t game plan off injury reports.

But if he was paying attention to the news shortly after talking to reporters in his weekly conference call, the Lions defensive coordinator would’ve some seen some relevant information for his weekend.

Multiple reports said Philadelphia wide receiver DeSean Jackson likely would miss Sunday’s game against Detroit with an abdominal injury.

That news hit social media shortly after Pasqualoni said this: “I’ve never, ever in all of the years that I’ve done this, gone in to a game, unless someone has had a career-ending injury, gone through the week anticipating the guy was not going to play. 

“I think if you do that, you’re getting yourself in trouble.”

The Eagles (1-1) also could be without wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and tight end Dallas Goedert, who were limited in Sunday’s loss to Atlanta because of calf injuries.

“Our focus is on their roster, who potentially is going to play, and those receivers potentially can play,” Pasqualoni said. “We’re just going to get ready to play and if that doesn’t happen, we’ll make adjustments as we get in to the game.”

Unrattled rookie

After saying before the opener that he didn’t want to put undue pressure on rookie linebacker Jahlani Tavai, Pasqualoni was singing a different tune Tuesday.

“I think Tavai is really showing us that this NFL game is not too big for him,” the defensive coordinator said. “I think he’s handling the preparation very well. I think he handles himself on the field well.” 

Tavai is up for the NFL’s rookie of the week award after a nine-tackle afternoon against the Chargers, which included a forced fumble near the goal line that helped ignite the victory.

“He’ll get better and better and better, the more he plays,” Pasqualoni said. “The more he sees, the better he’s going to be. Like a lot of young guys, he’s a work in progress. He is really getting better each week.”

New England rookie Chase Winovich of Michigan, who had 1.5 sacks against Miami, was also one of five players nominated for the honor alongside Detroit’s second-round pick from Hawaii.

Tavai also had a sack in the opener at Arizona, which featured a great debut from first round pick T.J. Hockenson.

The tight end had 131 yards in a 27-27 tie and also was nominated for rookie of the week, which was won by Jacksonville quarterback Gardner Minshew.

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.