Eric Goska column: Pass-happy Lions take aim at NFL record book

Nov. 16, 2012
Matthew Stafford
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) / AP

Spiraling upward

Teams that have run the most pass plays (attempts plus sacks) since 2009.



Automobiles and Detroit have been synonymous since the early days of the 20th century. From Horace and John Dodge to Henry Ford to Louis Chevrolet, the largest city in Michigan has been home to many car manufacturers.

The cityís professional football team, despite being owned by William Clay Ford Sr., grandson of Henry Ford, apparently prefers another mode of transportation. The Detroit Lions regularly fill the air with so many footballs, the teamís bags should fly free.

Jim Schwartz has been the Lionsí coach since 2009. In 31/2 seasons, his team has called more pass plays than any other.

During his first season, Schwartz saw his offense drop back to pass 628 times (including 43 sacks). Thatís understandable as the team was trying to rebound from a winless season (0-16) in 2008.

But rather than decreasing its dependence on the pass after winning twice in 2009, Detroit increased its preoccupation with air travel. Dropbacks jumped in 2010 (660; 27) and again in 2011 (702; 36).

Throwing became so prevalent that the Lionsí 702 pass plays a year ago led the league. It was the first time the team surpassed the 700 milestone.

Today, the Lions remain unabated in their reliance on the quarterback. This season, they are taking aim at the NFL record book.

In its 34-24 loss to the Vikings last week, Detroit became the first team to surpass 400 pass plays this season. With 418 dropbacks (17 sacks), the club is on pace for 743, which would break the league record of 738 set by Tommy Kramer and the Minnesota Vikings in 1981.

That leads to a question: Which is more surprising, that the record has stood for more than 30 years or that the Lions are the team that might break it?

That year, 1981, is noteworthy for another reason. It was the last season in which Detroit called more rushing plays than passing plays.

In the 31 seasons since, each of the other teams has had at least one year in which they favored the run more than the pass. Not so the Lions.

Perhaps, then, it is appropriate that the Lions, a team so accustomed to slinging the ball, should be the one to claim the record.

But quantity, as we know, doesnít necessarily equate to quality. Detroitís preponderance of passing plays hasnít resulted in the team being the league leader in passing yards or in passer rating since 2009.

Instead, the Lionsí 14,558 net passing yards rank eighth over that span. New Orleans tops the list with 16,878.

Over the same time frame, Detroitís passer rating of 81.4 is only 18th best. Green Bay is the pacesetter with a rating of 107.9.

But quantity matters in at least one respect. It can make for interesting discussion.

Last season, the Packers experienced firsthand what the Lions are about. Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford set numerous records at the expense of the Green and Gold.

Stafford had 68 completions in 104 attempts for 796 yards in two games against Green Bay. He snapped marks that had existed for some time. In order, the previous records and their owners had been Kramer (57 completions in 1981), Trent Dilfer (90 attempts in 1995) and Randall Cunningham (706 yards in 1998).

Clearly, quantity has not been a problem for Detroit. But, thanks to interceptions by Clay Matthews, Robert Francois and Charles Woodson in the first game and Jarrett Bush and Sam Shields in the rematch, the sheer volume of Staffordís efforts (87.7 rating) wasnít enough to delivery victory.

Stafford, with 1,051 pass attempts, is one of only two quarterbacks (Drew Brees; 1,031) to have attempted more than 1,000 passes since the start of last season. If the Packers arenít sure what to expect of the Lions heading into Ford Field, Stafford will be more than happy to show them come Sunday.

Extra point

Stafford threw six TD passes against the Packers last season. Thatís one short of the record seven thrown by Tommy Kramer (1986), Daunte Culpepper (2004) and Brett Favre (2009).

Regular-season series

Overall: Packers lead 91-65-7.

At Ford Field: Green Bay leads 7-3.

Starting QBs

Packers: Aaron Rodgers (47-24 overall; 6-1 vs. Detroit).

Lions: Matthew Stafford (17-21; 0-3 vs. Green Bay).

Once a Lion, now a Packer

There are no former Lions on the Packersí roster.

Once a Packer, now a Lion

Cornerback Pat Lee (2008-11) and defensive tackle Corey Williams (2004-07) are former Packers.

Spiraling upward

Teams that have run the most pass plays (attempts plus sacks) since 2009.

Eric Goska is a Press-Gazette correspondent, a Packers historian and the author of ďGreen Bay Packers: A Measure of Greatness,Ē a statistical history of the Packers. Email him at

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