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FOUR DOWNS: Stafford's been on a tear lately
December 17, 2017 02:30 AM | Tim Twentyman
FIRST DOWN: STAFFORD ON TEAR

Make it three games in a row now Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has completed more than 75 percent of his passes.

The Detroit Lions' signal caller was 25-of-33 passing Saturday vs. Chicago for 237 yards and two touchdowns. He didn't throw an interception, and finished with a passer rating of 115.3 to help guide the Lions to a 20-10 win. It's the seventh time this season Stafford's finished a game with a passer rating above 100.0. He hasn't been under 86.6 since the New Orleans loss back in Week 6.

"Matthew's been on a tear lately," Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said of his quarterback. "He's been playing well for a while. He hangs in there, delivers the ball, and he has some receivers making plays for him, too."

Keep in mind Detroit entered the game with the league's worst rushing attack, though they did give Stafford a little support in that department Saturday, averaging 4.6 yards per rush for a total of 91 yards on the ground. But for the most part, Stafford hasn't received much help from his run game.

For all of the second half against Chicago, only left tackle Taylor Decker was in his natural position as a starter upfront. T.J. Lang (foot) went out with an injury in the first half, and two new players were starting at guard with backups at both center and right tackle. Still, Stafford avoided the rush for the most part, and found a way to make plays.

"I just go out there and play," Stafford said. "Whatever happens, happens around me. You have to kind of be the calm one out there. If there's stuff flying around you, it doesn't matter. You just go out there and play.

"Go through your progressions and try to get it to the open guy and that's what I try to do."

Stafford's been doing a lot of that the last three weeks.

SECOND DOWN: AGNEW'S IMPACT


Watching rookie Jamal Agnew return a punt is one of the more exciting things associated with a Lions football game.

The Lions got their cornerback/offensive weapon/punt returner back on the field Saturday after he missed the last three games with a knee injury.

Agnew didn't break any long touchdown returns against the Bears like he did against New York and New Orleans earlier this year, but he can still make a 16-yard return exciting. He was one shoestring tackle from a big return in the second half against Chicago. He totaled 46 yards on four returns (11.5), which actually drops his NFL-leading average of 16.8 yards per return coming in.

The Lions missed Agnew over the last few weeks. They averaged a little better than eight yards per return with TJ Jones and Golden Tate back there the last three weeks.

Agnew brings the excitement factor to the position, and when punters give him an opportunity, they do so at their own risk.

THIRD DOWN: STUFFING THE RUN

The last time these two teams squared off Week 11 in Chicago, the Bears were the much more physical team, and Detroit was lucky to escape with a three-point win after giving up 222 yards rushing.

This time around, the Lions' defense was the more physical unit, holding Chicago to just 43 rushing yards on 15 carries (2.9 average) and just 10 total points.

"We came out there and punched them in the face," cornerback Darius Slay said after the game. "That's what was different. We out-physicaled them. Out hit them. That's what we preached to our defense and that's what we did."

Saturday's effort snapped a five-game streak of opponents rushing for at least 100 yards against the Lions' defense.

Detroit came in with a game plan to stop the run and make Bears rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky beat them. They executed the plan to perfection, and Trubisky wasn't up to his end. That's how it goes sometimes with rookie quarterbacks.

The Lions will need a similar defensive effort in Cincinnati on Christmas Eve and in two weeks when they close out the regular season at home against the Green Bay Packers.

FOURTH DOWN: SLAY'S BIG DAY

Slay has been considered one of the best young cover cornerbacks in the NFL for a couple seasons now, but the biggest thing missing from his game were the statistics, specifically interceptions.

With two interceptions off Trubisky Saturday, Slay now leads the NFL with seven. He's also defended 20 passes.

"Being in the right spot and making plays," Slay said of his seven interceptions this season, which are more than he got in his previous four years combined (6).

"Making plays I'm supposed to make. I've been supposed to make these plays, it's just that times in my career I was knocking them down. I'm just going for the pick now."

Experience has also played a big factor. Former Lions cornerback Rashean Mathis and current Lions safety Glover Quin showed Slay how to watch film and prepare himself for Sunday -- Saturday in this case -- and Lions fans are seeing the fruits of that labor.

"It's just a maturity factor," Caldwell said of the season his fifth-year cornerback is having. "He's always had an inordinate amount of athletic ability. You could see that when he first game into the league.

"Now, just through experience and seeing a lot of things throughout the years, he's really coming into his own and playing extremely well."

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