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 The philosophical change that helped Stafford curb turnovers 
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Post The philosophical change that helped Stafford curb turnovers
MLive wrote:
The philosophical change that helped Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford finally curb his turnovers
By Kyle Meinke | kmeinke@mlive.com
on December 18, 2014 at 8:01 AM, updated December 18, 2014 at 10:19 AM

ALLEN PARK -- Peyton Manning is so smart, and so talented, that it always kind of seemed inevitable he would become great.

But he also had a turnover problem as a young quarterback, throwing 28 interceptions as a rookie in 1998 and averaging 20.3 in his first four seasons.

Then when he was 26, a guy named Jim Caldwell took over as his quarterback coach. He threw 19 interceptions that season, then no more than 10 each of his next four seasons.

He never threw 20 again.

"I felt like once he got to Indianapolis and became my quarterbacks coach, that my game really improved," Manning said earlier this year. "It took a step up, and I thought Jim had a great deal to do with that."

Caldwell was hired as the Detroit Lions head coach this offseason, and tasked with sorting out another talented-yet-turnover-prone 26-year-old quarterback.

But Matthew Stafford is not Peyton Manning. And despite Manning's endorsement, many wondered whether Caldwell would be able to replicate those results with a lesser quarterback.

Yet here we are, with two games to go in the regular season, and Stafford has just 10 interceptions. His career best for a full season is 16.

And the first-place Lions (10-4) are just one win from clinching a berth in the postseason heading into Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears.

"That's something I put a lot effort into, not only during the season, but this offseason, trying to make sure that I was training myself to make right decisions and try and make good throws," Stafford said. "It's worked so far. It's on me to do continue to keep making those decisions."

Stafford threw 19 interceptions last year, the most since he was a rookie, and looked as though he was regressing. How has Caldwell pulled him out of that nose dive so quickly?

It started with the physical, including various drills designed to improve his accuracy and especially his footwork. But the mental was equally important.

Stafford was used to putting up some prodigious passing statistics under the previous regime, and continues to eclipse all kinds of records because of it. That includes becoming the quickest quarterback in NFL history to 20,000 passing yards.

But he gained a lot of that production by making risky plays, which sometimes paid huge dividends -- particularly when the target was Calvin Johnson -- but other times resulted in negative plays and turnovers.

And Caldwell had to convince Stafford that he would be better off sacrificing some of that production in the interest of making fewer mistakes. Sounds simple, but it was a change in philosophy for the big-armed gunslinger.

"I think one of the big things is that you have to keep talking about it. You have to make it a priority," Caldwell said. "You keep looking for ways to reinforce it. You keep talking about it. You keep talking about it. And after a while, they start to believe it."

Stafford eventually bought into the philosophical change. Helping matters, of course, is that defense.

Detroit is allowing a league-best 17.0 points per game. And that means the offense no longer has to win games for Detroit. Stafford doesn't have to win a track meet every week.

He just has to make sure he doesn't make critical mistakes, and let the defense do the rest.

"With how well our defense is playing this year, you try to avoid negative plays and negative decisions as much as you possibly can," Stafford said. "(Caldwell's) harped on that since Day 1."

Calvin Johnson, the target of so many of Stafford's forced plays, says he's noticed the difference in mentality.

"It's just making the smart decision," Johnson said. "Maybe not throwing into triple-coverage, whatever it may be."

All is not well with the Lions offense. They rank 17th in yards (340.9) and 23rd in points (20.1), even after scoring 34 in two of their past three games. They have to be better in the long term.

But they've also committed just 16 turnovers as a team, the sixth fewest in the league. They had 31 at this point last year.

Paired with a dominating defense, that has proven to be a winning combination even without the offensive explosiveness.

This is the philosophical change that Caldwell promised. And he has, to this point, delivered.

"I don't know if I put too much on my shoulders (in previous years), but I was definitely trying to score as many points as possible, that's for sure," Stafford said. "This year, our defense is doing a great job of keeping the score down."

http://www.mlive.com/lions/index.ssf/20 ... l_ins.html

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December 18th, 2014, 2:52 pm
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