Can Detroit Lions Still Compete If Matthew Stafford Has Another Major Injury?

Scott BischoffCorrespondent IIOctober 1, 2012

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 25:  Shaun Hill #14 of the Detroit Lions drops back to pass against the Oakland Raiders during the second quarter of an NFL pre-season football game at Coliseum on August 25, 2012 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions were incredible in 2011 with a healthy Matthew Stafford, and it has some talking about whether the Lions could be competitive if Stafford were to miss significant time in 2012. He has the injury-prone label attached to him, and he won’t shake it until he plays a few years without missing time.

The Lions relied upon the arm of their quarterback, and he took them to the playoffs last year while throwing for over 5,000 yards. He made everyone around him better, and that includes wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Stafford had a historic season as a 24-year-old.

If disaster were to strike the Lions and they were to lose Stafford for a significant amount of time, they would go to backup quarterback Shaun Hill. Hill is one of the league’s best backup quarterbacks, and the Lions would be in better shape than most teams going to their backup.

The Lions got Hill in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers in 2010. Stafford was injured early in the 2010 season, and Hill started 10 games for the Lions. He threw for 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also threw for 2,686 yards and completed 61.8 percent of his passes.

Hill is a gamer and a highly reliable player. He is well-respected in the locker room, and he has proven that he can play quarterback at the NFL level. Hill appeared in the Lions' Week 3 loss to the Tennessee Titans and threw for two touchdown passes in the last minute of the game to send it to overtime.

Could the Lions survive if Stafford were to miss time? The answer is an absolute yes, but the offensive approach would have to change. They would have to run a simpler offense that relied upon short passes. The Lions would have to play a ball-control type of game, and they would be far less exciting than they are with Stafford at the helm.

They would have to grind out games, and the defense would have to play much better than it has if the Lions want to stay competitive. This has not happened through the first four weeks, as the defense, mainly the defensive line, has been incredibly disappointing.

The defensive line is supposed to be the team’s strength, and it has been anything but. It's been quiet, and teams have limited the defensive line from being the disruptive force it was billed as.

The Lions would also get more from Calvin Johnson, as Hill would target him early and often. Hill has shown that he will force the ball to Johnson, and the Lions might be able to get Johnson deep, as the secondary would not play as deep as they are with Stafford at the helm.

Hill doesn’t have anywhere near the arm strength of Stafford, and he can’t do as much with the football. The Lions would get more conservative and run the ball more often than they have through four weeks of the season.

The rest of the receiver group and the tight ends would see diminished numbers because of shrinking targets. They would have to make do with less, but they would still be fairly productive.

The running backs would certainly get more carries, as they would have to set the tone on offense. The Lions offensive line struggles to open holes for the running backs, but they would have no choice but to try to run the ball. They don’t want to drop Hill back 50 times, but he is capable of doing that if it is necessary.

The Lions would take on water if Stafford was to miss time due to injury, but they would not be dead in the water. Hill would keep them fairly competitive, in a different way than Stafford does.

Hill would have to manage games and lead the Lions to grinding wins. He is capable; let’s hope we don’t have to see it.