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Updated: September 25th, 2012 3:51pm
Scouting Report: Numbers have hidden Lions QB Matthew Stafford's flaws

Scouting Report: Numbers have hidden Lions QB Matthew Stafford's flaws

by Sam Monson
Special to 1500ESPN.com
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The Minnesota Vikings will look for their first road win on Sunday at Detroit. Sam Monson of ProFootballFocus.com, which breaks down tape from every NFL game, takes an inside look at the Lions in his weekly scouting report:

Scheme

The Lions live and die on big plays from both sides of the football, and this season, the swing of those big plays seems to be going against them.

On offense, they will spread teams out, operate from the shotgun and try to pick teams apart with their passing game down field. The run game in Detroit is very much a complement to the passing game, but can produce some big plays because of the blocking and running talent on the roster.

On defense, the Lions operate a similarly aggressive and gambling style as they do on offense. Their front four is designed to penetrate quickly and cause problems in an opponent's backfield in both the run and the passing game. They haven't been getting the pressure this season that they have traded on in the past, and teams seem to have learned they can open up gaping holes in the Lions' run defense by picking off overaggressive rushers with trap blocks and wham blocks from adjacent angles.

The Lions' scheme puts a lot of stress on the linebackers to clean up behind the defensive line. Their coverages are rarely complicated and rely on help from the front four to ensure the ball comes out quickly.

Key players

People got a little carried away with the year QB Matthew Stafford had in 2011 -- or rather, the numbers Stafford finished the season with. Topping 5,000 passing yards put him in an extremely exclusive club, but he needed 520 yards in the final game of the season against one of the league's worst pass defenses with nothing to play for to get there. If he had come up short, then it's likely people wouldn't have been so quick to gloss over some of the poor play we saw from him last season and we're seeing again in 2012. This season, Stafford has already thrown some extremely ugly interceptions and comes into this game nursing a hamstring injury. If the Vikings can get after him, he can be rattled into poor decisions. His backup is former Vikings QB Shaun Hill, who actually represents a steady and solid backup who could steady the ship if he needs to come into the game.

With the aggressive nature of the Lions defensive front and the unusually wide splits they will employ, MLB Stephen Tulloch is the keystone that prevents the entire thing from collapsing. He has a rare ability to patrol the middle of the field behind the defensive line and operate with linemen getting through to the second level to try and put blocks on him. Few linebackers can deal with a steady stream of linemen coming through to block them, but Tulloch is one of those who can. Tulloch leads the Lions in defensive stops (a tackle constituting an offensive failure on the play, such as short on third down) by five from the next best defender, and it is his presence that the Vikings need to account for in this game. He is surprisingly good at dropping into coverage for a player that attacks the run as well as he does.

The Lions will lean on both Tulloch and Stafford, but a player they will hope they don't have to lean on is CB Jacob Lacey. The former Colt has been thrust into the starting lineup for the Lions due to injuries in their secondary and has been struggling over the first three games. In 174 snaps, he has only actually been targeted 13 times, but he has allowed nine receptions for 164 yards and a touchdown. Quarterbacks throwing into his coverage so far this season have a passer rating of 137.5, and he is the player that the Vikings will be targeting if they want to get behind the Lions coverage.

PFF stats

• The only Lions corner to allow a reception longer than 23 yards this season is Lacey, who has allowed one of 71 yards.
• No Lions defender has more than six total pressures on the season. DE Cliff Avril and DT Ndamukong Suh are tied at six.
• Against the blitz this season, Stafford has yet to throw an interception and has a passer rating of just 59.4.
• LT Jeff Backus has allowed just one sack and one pressure from his 146 snaps pass protecting so far this season.
• WR Calvin Johnson is the only Lion to have forced more than two missed tackles from defenders this season. He has forced three.

Sam Monson is an analyst for ProFootballFocus.com.
Email Sam | @PFF
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