Lost in all the talk this week about the greatness of Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is one important fact – someone has to throw him the ball. And that "someone" happens to be one of the best in the league. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford became the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 5,000 yards last season, joining Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Dan Marino.
"He's a good quarterback. A very good quarterback," defensive end Darryl Tapp said. "He broke 5,000 yards last year so he has a lot of weapons and all the tools and hopefully he doesn't piece together a complete game against us this week."
For the Eagles defense, the key will be to knock Stafford out of his rhythm. When he's firing on all cylinders, Stafford is as good as any signal caller in the league. But when he's rattled, he's shown that he will let pressure affect his play. While Stafford threw 41 touchdowns last season, he also threw 16 picks.
Stafford's 2012 campaign has not started out like he or the Lions had hoped. So far this season, he has thrown three touchdowns against four interceptions, including three against the Rams on opening day. For comparison, through the first four games of 2011 he had thrown 11 touchdowns and three interceptions.
That scouting report surely comes as music to the ears of the Eagles' defensive linemen. No Eagles defender has recorded a sack since the team recorded three against the Cardinals in Week 3. This game gives the defensive line a chance to get back on track.
"He's a great quarterback," said defensive end Trent Cole. "He's streaky. He's got a top receiver that he can get the ball to. With a guy like that we just have to keep him from getting hot. That's what it's about."
On the back end, the pressure up front will help limit opportunities for the Lions' playmakers. For the Eagles, one player who may know Stafford's capabilities better than most is rookie cornerback Brandon Boykin. Both he and Stafford were teammates at Georgia, and Boykin has seen first-hand what Stafford is capable of.
"(He's) a very accurate guy," Boykin said. "Somebody who can throw the ball a long way and put it on the money ... He's definitely gotten a lot better since he's been in the league. He can even continue plays on with his feet a little bit. He's not really a fast guy but he can kind of maneuver and make people miss. That's something we have to watch out for."
Johnson may be an elite receiver, but he's only one of the many weapons on the Lions offense. Last season, the Lions made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade thanks to an explosive passing game. And leading that fourth-ranked offense was the quarterback the Eagles will see Sunday.
"We have to keep pushing; not get discouraged," Tapp said. "I hope we get to him early so he can't get the ball to (Johnson). He has a lot of weapons, but that works for any quarterback. You get to him early and get him thinking about the rush moreso than looking downfield. It's going to be a huge challenge once again."
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