The Detroit Lions defeated the New York Giants 24-10 on Monday Night Football, moving to 2-0 on the season. They now stand alone atop the NFC North. Contrary to their usual fourth-quarter comebacks, the Lions never trailed for all 60 minutes of the impressive victory. Here are three takeaways from the team’s statement win:
Week Two Detroit Lions Takeaways
1) Stafford Continues To Impress
Matthew Stafford’s statline from the Lions week two victory won’t drop anyone’s jaw. The ninth-year veteran totaled only 122 yards on 5.8 yards per attempt. But the Georgia alum did complete 15 of 21 passes (a 71% clip) and posted a passer rating of 117.6, two numbers that are better indicators of Stafford’s fantastic performance.
Earlier in his career, Stafford would be known for his long throws downfield. His accuracy was on and off at best, and the 2009 number-one pick was often bailed out by future hall-of-fame wide receiver Calvin Johnson. But now, later in his career and after Johnson’s retirement, Stafford is becoming a smarter and more careful quarterback out of the pocket.
Stafford’s nearly immaculate completion percentage proves that he’s ensuring to make the correct pass every time. He also did a great job Monday night of avoiding the Giants pass rush, moving out of the pocket to turn potential sacks into first downs and even points on the scoreboard. The former Pro Bowler may not be the gunslinger he once was, but that’s not a result of a loss in talent. Instead, Stafford is becoming the intelligent quarterback and careful passer Detroit needs to advance deep into the playoffs.
There will still be games when Stafford produces those astonishing numbers Lions fans have long been used to. But even when he doesn’t, you know he’s giving his team a great shot to win the football game week in and week out. And that’s what it truly means to be a franchise quarterback.
2) Running Game Turns It Around
Last Sunday, the Lions ground attack was awful, totaling only 82 yards on 3.0 yards per rush. But this week, they turned the table. Against a Giants rushing defense that ranked third in the NFL in 2016, Detroit piled up 138 yards on 4.3 yards per rush. Leading the charge was third-year back Ameer Abdullah, who set a career high with 86 yards on 17 carries.
Abdullah played in only two games last season due to a foot injury, an absence that contributed to an abysmal 30th-ranked running attack. That missing ground game was a major reason why the team faltered down the stretch, as opposing defenses were able to focus in on Stafford. In the Meadowlands, though, Abdullah was able to keep the defense honest. Multiple times, he scrambled for long gains that were enough to scare the Giants away from anticipating the pass.
Detroit has still not been home to a 100-yard rusher since November of 2013, when Reggie Bush hit the century mark against Green Bay. But if Abdullah can keep scrambling the way he did Monday night, the Lions have a great shot at ranking above 28th on the ground for the first time since 2013. That kind of balanced offense will be key if the Lions want to succeed into the season’s final few weeks.
3) Pass Rush Dominates
Ezekiel Ansah was quiet for the majority of the Lions week one victory over the Cardinals, totaling only one tackle throughout the contest. But on Monday night, the former Pro Bowler made sure to make his name known. The fifth-year defensive end sacked Eli Manning three times, a number that already surpasses his sack total from his injury-plagued 2016 campaign.
Veteran Haloti Ngata joined the party, registering his first sack since week three of last season. Rookie Jarrad Davis also recorded his first career sack in the contest. In total, the Lions pass rush brought Eli Manning down five times in the backfield for a loss of 31 yards.
In 2016, the Lions tied for 30th in the NFL with only 26 total sacks. Through the first two weeks of the 2017 campaign, the team sits ninth in the league and are on pace for 48 sacks by season’s end. Whether they stick to that current rate or not, Detroit will need to be able to consistently put pressure on the quarterback if they wish to compete with some of the NFL’s best offenses.
Next week, that challenge will be put to the test when the Lions face Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons were the second best offense in terms of yards per game last season and are one of only three remaining undefeated teams in the NFC (along with Detroit and Carolina). This will be the matchup that decides whether the Lions can stick with the NFL’s elite or whether they’re the fake contender everyone believes them to be.