One area Lions QB Matthew Stafford significantly altered was his willingness to attack opposing defenses downfield. In 2014, he attempted just 63 passes that traveled 20 yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage. At just 10.5 percent of his total pass attempts, it was the lowest rate of deep shots in his six-year career.
A number of factors contributed to Stafford holstering his cannon more often than not last season. It starts with the conscientious effort to reduce turnovers. Then there was the decreased time in the pocket due to inferior pass protection. And you can't discount the injury issues which hampered top downfield weapon Calvin Johnson much of the season.
The Lions made a serious effort to improve the blocking up front this offseason, using the team's first-round draft pick on guard Laken Tomlinson. Detroit also parted ways with long-time center Dominic Raiola -- an average pass-blocker last season -- making way for last year's third-round pick, Travis Swanson, to take over at that spot.
In addition to the investment in the offensive line, Johnson should be back at 100 percent to start the season. In the first three games last year, before the star receiver first injured his ankle, Stafford attempted five deep passes per game. That dropped to 3.6 attempts the final 13 weeks.
Stafford finished as the #17 QB last season, but in the three previous seasons he didn’t finish outside the top 10. Stafford tends to struggle when Calvin Johnson isn’t fully healthy, as was the case last year. Stafford is a serious threat to finish with QB1 numbers, though we have more confidence in the passers ranked ahead of him.