One criticism that has surfaced about Matthew Stafford during the Lions' recent slide is that the fifth-year quarterback's play has plateaued the past two seasons due to a lack of coaching.
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who works closest with Stafford, said Thursday that's not the case and that he challenges Stafford regularly behind closed doors.
"He's challenged daily, no doubt, and answers those challenges," Linehan said. "When we have a turnover by the quarterback position, he knows where the responsibility lies, whether the ball got tipped or anything else.
"So, it's not a matter of accountability and being challenged, it's a matter of keep moving forward and learn from them and know that if we make those improvements that there will be better days ahead, just like there have been."
The first overall pick in the 2009 draft, Stafford already holds most team passing records and is closing in on his third straight 4,900-yard season with two games left. But he has struggled with turnovers the past month as the Lions (7-7) have lost four of their past five games to fall out of first place in the NFC North.
In six games since the bye, Stafford has thrown 11 interceptions and lost two fumbles. He's completing 58 percent of his passes, which ranks 29th among 34 players with at least 200 attempts, and has seen his mechanics and decision-making come under intense scrutiny again.
Last year, Stafford passed for 4,967 yards and set an NFL record with 727 attempts, but he saw most of his peripheral numbers drop from 2011, when he became the fourth NFL player to top 5,000 yards.
Linehan said the offense shares responsibility for whatever drop in production Stafford has had this year and that some of his 17 interceptions -- the same number he had last year and one more than in 2011 -- have come from "trying to make plays."
"I mean, the guy's been a great player for us, and you're going to have peaks and valleys in your season," Linehan said. "We've had, really the first half of the year we did a nice job, I think. We were really doing a good job of keeping the turnovers to a minimum. And we've had a couple games where some of it's bad luck, some of it we've got to look at where we went with that ball in that situation and learn from it. There's nobody that learns better than him. He's working really hard at a lot of those things."
Stafford declined to talk to reporters this week, but is scheduled to hold his weekly news conference after practice today.
Coaches and teammates said they haven't seen a change in their quarterback's demeanor this week as the Lions prepare for Sunday's must-win game against the New York Giants (5-9) at Ford Field.
"He's a tough kid, like I've always said, and like all of us he's trying to bounce back," center Dominic Raiola said. "I think we all went through a rough spot Tuesday, early Wednesday, so I don't think it's just him."
Linehan said Stafford is his own harshest critic, "the most accountable kid I've ever coached," and working hard to get the offense back on track.
"You just got to remember, the guy is 25 years old, and he owns every franchise record -- it might not be everyone, but it's pretty close," Linehan said. "So what I think of every day is how well he's played this young in his career and that when he does have games that aren't as good as others, he's got to use that as an advantage, as a learning experience so we keep moving forward. And he does a great job of that."
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