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The eyes have it: Matthew Stafford has ability to manipulate defenses

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Six games into his first season with the Los Angeles Rams and quarterback Matthew Stafford is posting the best numbers of his career. That's impressive when you consider he spent more than a decade breaking franchise passing records with the Detroit Lions. 

In Los Angeles, Stafford's rocket arm has been unleashed to full effect. Whether it's hurling deep balls or taking advantage of the space those shots have created for the team's underneath patterns, the Rams lead the NFL with seven passes of 40 or more yards. 

The Lions' Tracy Walker and Amani Oruwarlye break up a pass intended for Bengals' Tee Higgins. Walker knows the challenge Matthew Stafford presents.

But just as valuable to Stafford as his arm strength is the way he uses his eyes to confuse the defense. Obviously that shows up with the highlight reel, no-look passes he's been throwing for several years, but more importantly in his ability to manipulate a safety out of position, effectively eliminating a defense's deep ball help. 

That could be a problem for the Lions this week, with a young secondary that has both struggled with both communication issues and individual defenders getting out of position while trying to do too much. 

Detroit defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said the key to falling prey to Stafford's manipulation tactics starts in the film room. 

"I think the first thing is film study and really understanding, what do they do?" Glenn said. "And then you try to flip that, and the way you flip it is you try to manipulate the quarterback and don’t let him manipulate you."

Glenn used safety Marcus Williams, a player he coached in New Orleans, as an example of how to bait the quarterback into a throw by remaining disciplined. In a game against Tampa Bay last season, Williams didn't drift toward the center of the field despite quarterback Tom Brady looking that direction before rifling a throw deep down the right sideline. That left Williams in perfect position to intercept the pass. 

Glenn wants the Lions to trust what they see on film, not Stafford's eyes. 

And if anyone on Detroit's defense should be prepared for it, it's safety Tracy Walker. He spent the first three seasons of his career practicing against Stafford and seeing the quarterback's ability to look off his intended target first-hand.

“I feel like if you do your assignment the right way and the proper way, you won’t get bitten," Walker said. "That’s what it all really boils down to. We’ve just got to go out there and execute our job and only our job. That’s the main thing I’m harping on (to) the young guys right now."

In those practices, Walker said he won his share of battles, including intercepting multiple Stafford passes. The young safety, who has been a bright spot on Detroit's defense this season, said he's got a few tricks up his sleeve heading into his matchup and is hopeful he can generate a turnover when it counts. 

"Oh, definitely, and I’m going to make him sign it, just ‘cause," Walker said with a smile. 

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers