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Detroit Lions Preview: Can Matthew Stafford Stay Healthy for 16 Games?

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Detroit Lions Preview: Can Matthew Stafford Stay Healthy for 16 Games?
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Matthew Stafford is just as likely, if not more so, to start all 16 games for the Detroit Lions during the 2011 NFL season as any other starting quarterback for any other team.

That is a fact.

Though it’s tough to look at Matthew Stafford’s NFL career with the Detroit Lions and predict a healthy future, the truth is that his injuries are really just a reality of life in the NFL rather than evidence of any chronic issue. A separated shoulder certainly isn’t a good thing for a quarterback, but it’s not something that should indicate that Stafford is injury-prone.

Stafford’s injury history is nobody’s fault (except maybe Julius Peppers'), it’s just bad luck.

He was driven to the ground and landed awkwardly on this shoulder. Certainly every athlete is different, but I’d wager that if Brett Favre, Peyton Manning or any other reputed ironman had taken the same hit, their shoulder would have separated as well.

If the problem were a result of some physical or mechanical deficiency, there would be reason to be concerned about Stafford’s health going into 2011, but near as I can tell, it’s just bad luck.

As much as we hate to accept it, much of sports is at the mercy of random chance. Stafford and the Lions did everything they could the past two seasons to keep him on the field; he was simply unlucky.

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Still, a collective groan went up across Southeastern Michigan when the Lions failed to draft an offensive lineman in the early rounds of the 2011 NFL draft. The same sad noise once again echoed across the Great Lakes State when the Lions declined to sign an offensive lineman during free agency.

The Lions offensive line has a longstanding reputation for general crappiness among NFL fans and it’s no secret that this perception fuels the public doubt about Matthew Stafford’s durability.

Back in the days of Scott Mitchell and Joey Harrington, this reputation was well-deserved. In the days of Matthew Stafford, not so much.

In 2010, the Lions actually surrendered the sixth-fewest sacks in the NFL, even as the team attempted the third-most passes. Believe it or not, the Lions offensive line is actually pretty good in pass protection.

For all the crap that’s been shoveled onto Jeff Backus, Dominic Raiola and company over the years, they have done an excellent job of keeping Lions quarterbacks upright since Stafford was drafted in 2009.

Unfortunately, most of the quarterbacks that they’ve kept upright didn’t have “Stafford” printed on the back of their jersey.

Though it may be hard to fathom, the Lions offensive line is not to blame for Stafford’s injury-riddled past. In fact, it should make Lions fans feel more confident about a healthy future for their young quarterback.

Even so, the Lions have taken one other measure to keep Matthew Stafford’s jersey clean.

Though conventional wisdom would dictate that Stafford’s injury problem requires a 300-pound solution, the Lions have brought in a 174-pounder who may help the cause even more.

The addition of Titus Young will do more to keep Stafford on the field in 2011 than any rookie offensive lineman possibly could have. By drafting Young, the Lions gave Matthew Stafford the quick release valve that he’s lacked since his arrival in Detroit.

No question, Calvin Johnson is still Stafford’s most invaluable weapon, but Megatron is most effective when he can get downfield, which requires Stafford to spend more time in the pocket. Adding Young in the slot will allow Stafford take more short drops, helping him get the ball out quicker and exposing him to fewer hits. Even if Young doesn’t put up an outstanding statistical season, just the threat of the quick slant, drag or bubble screen can help to ease the pass rush.

Whether it’s giving him more time to throw or helping him take less time to throw, Martin Mayhew, Jim Schwartz and Scott Linehan are doing everything they can to minimize the risk of injury for Matthew Stafford.

Much to the chagrin of the nervously optimistic hordes of Lions fans, minimizing the risk is all that anyone can do. In today’s NFL, it’s impossible to completely eliminate the risk of injury, even for a quarterback.

In the end, some of Stafford’s fate will always be left to random chance, but the Lions have undoubtedly stacked the deck in his favor.

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