By: Will Burchfield
When the Lions first began installing their up-tempo offense earlier this offseason, Golden Tate asked Matthew Stafford what he thought about it.
"I love it," Stafford replied. "I know it's a lot right now, but once we learn it we're gonna be dangerous."
That was back in the spring, and now, with almost a full summer of work in the books, Tate can see Stafford was right.
"The biggest reason we're gonna do so well I think this year is because this is something that Matt is very comfortable with, this is something that he's wanted and he's thriving in this right now. He's out there ballin'," Tate said.
Stafford's skill-set has always seemed designed for a get-up-and-go offense. He is a confident, eager passer and has the arm strength and precision to keep defenses on their heels. When the reins come off, Stafford the gunslinger is often at his best.
"If you look back at last year and over the past years, Matt's done very well when you have to score, when you have to make something happen," Tate said. "To have that type of offense all the time, comfortable no-huddle, just go out there and play ball, I think it's gonna help us."
The Lions, it should be pointed out, will hardly be a one-track offensive team.
"I don't want you to get the wrong impression, that's not all we're going to do," said Jim Caldwell. "It's part of what we do."
And there is a fine line between up-tempo and reckless.
"Going fast and not being effective is just going fast. We want to be effective as well," Caldwell added.
But the Lions – Tate especially – seem enamored of their offense with a no-huddle approach.
"It just doesn't allow the defense to settle in, it gets defenses tired…and I think that's something we're going to be able to take advantage of," Tate said. "If we can wear defenses down, get them playing lazy, we might get them to jump offsides, we might get catch them slipping and hit 'em for a big run because they're tired and we're gonna be in tip-top shape."
By setting the pace on offense, the Lions hope to dictate the flow of the game. What feels comfortable on one side of the ball, Stafford explained, should feel chaotic on the other.
"The faster you can push the tempo, when you want to really, just makes it more stressful on the defense. If you feel like you're playing at a normal speed and they think you're playing really fast, it feels a whole lot better for us," he said.
If the Lions' offense can execute without huddling up, opposing defenses will be forced to adjust on the fly. And Tate thinks this vulnerability is something the Lions can capitalize on.
"I think it's gonna be easier to read [the defense] because every time they're not gonna have a chance to line up picture-perfect," he said. "They're not gonna have those extra 30 seconds to sit there with their hands on the waist and really catch their breath because we're gonna be moving so fast.
"We wanna control the flow of the game as the offense. If we can do that I think we have a really good chance at beating a lot of teams and running up the scoreboard."
A dynamic, high-speed offense has been Jim Bob Cooter's staple since taking over for Joe Lombardi as the Lions' offensive coordinator midway through last season. Cooter was the team's quarterbacks coach prior to his promotion, and has a keen appreciation for maximizing Stafford's talents.
"He and Matt work really well together," Tate said. "They bounce ideas off each other non-stop and they spent a lot of time with each other over the last three years I've been here, so Jim Bob knows what's expected of Matt and vice-versa, and Jim Bob knows what Matt does well and what Matt's comfortable with."
Backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky said this is the most confident version of Stafford he's seen throughout their two seasons together in Detroit. And he used an interesting metaphor to illustrate Stafford's suitability within an up-tempo offense.
"I've always said since I've been here, Tiger Woods can always go play well at Augusta because it fits his eye. No matter what type of physical condition he's in, if he's at Augusta, he's gonna play well. I think just this kind of offense fits [Stafford's] eye, so he's certainly most comfortable, at least in this offense," Orlovsky explained.
That bodes well for the Lions, who are looking to build on the offensive success they enjoyed at the end of last season. Their next chance to demonstrate their high-speed potency will come Saturday night against the Ravens.
But Tate is already chomping at the bit for Week 1.
"It's gonna be a fun year," he smiled. "It's gonna be a fun year to watch us. We plan on keeping the defense off the field as much as possible and we're gonna try to light up the scoreboard."
for more features.