Matt Stafford’s sack woes show pass protection is crucial in NFL

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is sacked by the Minnesota Vikings defence. Picture: Bruce Kluckhohn/AP
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is sacked by the Minnesota Vikings defence. Picture: Bruce Kluckhohn/AP
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The NFL is a pass-first league, and, even with the 
resurgence of the role of the running back, the most important position on offense is the 
quarterback. That is why these guys earn the big bucks, have to take responsibility when it goes wrong and are – in most successful teams – team leaders, keeping their heads cool when all around them panic.

However, to be effective the first thing a team needs to do is keep the passer standing. So, can someone please tell the Detroit Lions this.

The Lions changed coach over the off-season with Matt Patricia – former defensive coordinator for Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots – now in his first NFL head coaching job.

It started well, but in the last few weeks, the wheels have come off the Motor City team.

Two weeks ago they seemed like they were going to push the 
Minnesota Vikings for the NFC North, but after the Vikings defensive front set a team record with ten sacks – tackles of the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage – the Lions dropped to their fifth loss of the 
season.

Detroit spent big to keep Stafford whom they drafted in 2009 and has become the team’s all-time passing leader. They doubled down despite some mixed seasons with the commitment of £103million five-year contract just last year, so surely they need to make sure the man can stand for long enough to get a pass away.

Stafford was hit 17 times on Sunday, 10 of which were sacks and while this was indeed something to celebrate for the Vikings – after all it’s been centuries since Vikings rampaged and sacked whenever they want – this must be addressed by head coach Patricia.

It doesn’t help Stafford that his go-to wide receiver Golden Tate was traded last week in what seemed a surprise move by the Lions. Tate had been 
productive every season in the league, and while his statistics had cooled the last few weeks, it seemed a shock to see the Lions almost give up on this season by trading him to 
Philadelphia.

Patricia, of course, is a protégé of Bill Belichick and, as we have seen over the last 20 years, the Patriots head coach was always more than willing to let a player leave six months early rather than six months late.

However, if Patricia really wants to excel in the NFL, maybe he should look at how Belichick always starts by protecting his quarterback.

The LA Rams fell to their first defeat of the season when they travelled to New Orleans where Saints quarterback Drew Brees toyed with the Rams passing defence, regularly beating them for significant gains to win a seventh game in a row. The other team to watch coming out of the NFC South are the Carolina Panthers, who improved to six wins and two losses and will play the Saints twice in the last three weeks of the season.

New England Patriots kept their recent momentum up by beating the Green Bay Packers with two unanswered fourth-quarter touchdowns. The Houston Texans revival continued with their sixth win in a row leaving them top the AFC South with a comfortable three-game cushion.

Cleveland Browns started last week by firing head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley, and although interim play-caller Gregg Williams didn’t get a win in his first game the Browns offense looked better, and for a while, they were competitive with the Kansas City Chiefs.

The LA Chargers are fighting to get fans to attend games, but despite that, they are hot on the tails of the Chiefs. The Chargers travelled to Seattle, a notoriously difficult place to play and controlled the Seahawks on both sides of the ball.

With the season officially entering its second half and the trade deadline last week some teams geared up for a play-off run while others started planning for next April’s draft. Some divisions have run away leaders already, and the usual faces look play-off bound, but the divisions to watch going forward will be the AFC North and the NFC North and East where a few teams are in the hunt.