It seemed that everything the Detroit Lions were hoping to achieve heading into the new season came out working perfectly in the opener, beating the New York Giants 35-14 as Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson clicked brilliantly. On the other side, the same problems the Giants had last season haven’t gone away, with another abysmal performance from Eli Manning.
Manning was bad in the preseason, so seeing him throw two interceptions while finding it difficult to dodge pressure as his offensive line continues to fold quite easily against less than elite pressure wasn’t that surprising. Stafford wasn’t always protected perfectly, but actually his improvisations and scrambles led to great results, throwing two touchdown passes to Johnson and rushing for one himself on what seemed to be broken plays.
Some called this the best game in Stafford’s career. He completed 22-of-32 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns, earning him a 125.3 passer rating and a 97.5 QBR, although that ESPN rating continues to be a huge mystery. Manning completed just 54.5% of his passes for 188 yards, throwing one touchdown pass but turning the ball over twice. He led the NFL in interceptions last season, and seems to be in the same kind of mindset starting off in this season.
Calvin Johnson had plenty of time to get open. Even with the Giants having an improved secondary, their front four are struggling to put the kind of pressure they’re known for, a problem that is also carrying from last season. Stafford had enough time on both touchdown passes to step out of the pocket and find an angle to Johnson, showing his improved feet work after working out in the off-season with the best wide receiver in the NFL.
There’s also more for Stafford to work with on offense. Golden Tate had a very good debut with 6 receptions for 93 yards, catching all of the passes he was targeted on. The Lions didn’t drop a single pass after leading the NFL in dropped passes with 10 more than any other team. Johnson finished with 7 receptions for 164 yards and two touchdowns. Both of the touchdowns came on passes going for more than 15 yards, and he leads the NFL in touchdowns and receptions on deep throws since 2010.
It was interesting to see the difference between Stafford and Manning under pressure. The Lions’ quarterback completed 6-of-8 passes for 146 yards and his two touchdowns while under duress, perfect while targeting Johnson. Manning was 3-of-10 under duress including just 1-of-5 when targeting wide receivers. The Giants didn’t score a single point in the first quarter, something that happened to them seven times in the 2013 season, and failed to score a touchdown in the first quarter 12 times.
It even didn’t take something special to make things difficult for Manning. He completed just 13-of-25 passes against four or fewer pass rushers, and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots was the only quarterback in week 1 to do any worse under standard pass rush. Manning completed 60.5% of his passes against four or fewer pass rushers last season, ranked 30th among the 39 quarterbacks who qualified for the rankings. Without these problems changing, it’ll be another very rough season for the Giants.