Scott Linehan, your work has not gone unnoticed. After the Lions 49-35 comeback victory against the Carolina Panthers, it is time to offer some kudos to Matthew Stafford’s position coach and offensive coordinator, Scott Linehan.
After last week’s franchise-record 63 pass attempts and four interceptions; Lions fans sat on the edge of their seats in anticipation of Matthew Stafford’s performance within the climate-controlled conditions of Ford Field.
The first three possessions were about as successful as the first three months of Kris Humphries' failed attempt to assimilate into the Kardashian Kingdom, or Queendom as it were.
Stafford's first completion came on his third attempt; but it was caught by Panthers linebacker James Anderson. After Cam Newton returned the favor with a misfire of his own, Stafford threw his second pick and the collapse in Chicago began to creep into the minds of every ticketholder and television viewer.
The third possession ended with a Keiland Williams fumble that was converted by Cam Newton and Steve Smith for the first touchdown of the game and before your beer warmed and nacho cheese coagulated, the Panthers were staked an early 10-0 lead.
With the first quarter starting as smoothly as the San Andreas Fault, there once again was no panic on the Lions sideline. Rather, we saw Scott Linehan sitting with his young pupil.
There was no barking or bestriding of the young quarterback, nor rolling of the eyes for putting his team behind the eight-ball yet again. Stafford was four-for-nine with 46 yards passing and two interceptions and Linehan sat, calm and collected, with his playbook and overhead photos and taught.
From that moment forward, Linehan modified the play-calling and allowed Stafford to reestablish his confidence and the offense to explode.
From slants to screens to quick outs, the pass patterns were simplified and Stafford flourished. The remainder of the game saw Stafford go 24-of-27 for 289 yards and five touchdowns; he utilized nine different receivers and not one touchdown reception was caught by Calvin Johnson.
By the way, this was all done with the gloves on and a fractured right index finger. Yes, this injury is serious, regardless of what the folks in Allen Park publicly admit.
Watching Stafford on the sidelines congratulating his teammates while protecting his right hand like it was the Fabergé Imperial Coronation Egg from Oceans 12 was enough for me to discern the pain the third-year pro is playing with.
Linehan also used misdirection and play-action reverses to freeze the linebackers and allow Stafford larger throwing windows in front of the safeties. He even “borrowed” plays from teams the Lions have played.
The bubble screen to Burleson where Nate came in motion and the floated back towards the sideline was a play used successfully against the Lions by the Dallas Cowboys earlier in the year. Linehan saw the success and added it to his arsenal.
Oh yeah, they ran the ball as well.
The Lions rushed 29 times for 169 yards and had two touchdown gallops by the feel-good story of the day, Kevin Smith. Yes, the Lions ran it more than they threw it and Smith toted the rock with the instincts of an elder statesman and legs of a verdant colt.
He waited patiently for the holes to develop and stayed true to his blockers. But when the opportunity opened, he dashed for daylight. It was a memorable homecoming for the previously released tailback as he amassed 201 yards of total offense and three end zone celebrations.
The balanced offense, passing-tree modifications and playbook nuances gave Stafford distinct advantages and he was able to capitalize on Linehan’s play calls.
As the game progressed and Stafford’s confidence began to swell, Linehan gave Stafford the green light and he was able to deliver the deep ball in the clutch.
With the game tied at 35-35 and less than five minutes to go, Stafford dialed up Calvin Johnson for a grab only "Megatron" could make; climbing the ladder and snaring a 30-yard reception in double coverage. It was the only pass play of the day by the Lions of 30 yards or more.
Linehan and Stafford carved the Panthers like roast beef at a Sunday Brunch inside The Whitney with a controlled, efficient passing attack and the Lions ended the game on a 35-8 run. The Lions are now the best second-half scoring offense in the NFL.
Stafford has all the talent in the world and Linehan knows he’s in an enviable position. His tweaking of the game plan and continued nurturing of his young gunslinger paid massive dividends and he deserves acknowledgement for the work done on Sunday.