By: Kyle Meinke | Michigan Live
DETROIT — There was a lot of hand-wringing over the Lions’ reluctance to invest in the backup quarterback position last offseason. They didn’t sign any of the top QBs, using their money instead to plug holes on defense and at tight end, then used their draft picks to build around Matthew Stafford rather than behind him.
That set Detroit on a bit of an odyssey at quarterback, trying out backups like Connor Cook, David Fales, Luis Perez and Tom Savage. Josh Johnson wound up signing with the club in training camp because of injuries, then beat out Savage for the No. 2 job. And after all that, Jeff Driskel replaced Johnson just two weeks into the season.
While not exactly an optimal way to fill the quarterback position, it has kind of worked out.
Driskel has started the last two weeks for Stafford, who continues to sit with fractured bones in his back. And while the Lions lost both of those games, including by a 35-27 score on Sunday against Dallas, Driskel has played well enough to win both times.
Against the Cowboys, he ran for one touchdown and hooked up with Marvin Jones for two others, including a 25-yard rope that drew Detroit with eight points in the fourth quarter. He completed 15 of 26 passes overall for 209 yards, plus ran for 51 yards on eight carries. His QB rating: 109.3.
That actually beats out Stafford’s average for the season (106.0).
Of course, no one is going to confuse Jeff Driskel for Matthew Stafford either. His arm isn’t nearly as good, and Detroit’s offense — which had been one of the best downfield passing attacks in the league — isn’t nearly as explosive with him on the field. But Driskel scored 27 points on a top-10 defense and gave Detroit a chance in the fourth quarter, and that’s respectable work from a backup who has been in the offense for just two months.
Especially when you consider the Lions were starting their fifth running back of the season — the time Bo Scarbrough, who was making his NFL debut — plus were down right tackle Rick Wagner and then lost center Frank Ragnow.
“I think Jeff is doing a great job of going and trying to run the offense and being efficient with the ball,” coach Matt Patricia said. “He’s certainly very athletic, (which) gives us a little bit of a different dimension — I would say with his athleticism and some of the things that we were able to do with him. He remains really calm out there.”
While Driskel doesn’t have Stafford’s arm, his legs have helped keep the offense moving. He ran for 51 yards against Dallas, and the Lions had 121 yards as a team. That’s their second-best output of the season, and their 4.3 yards per carry were third best. Not bad, especially when you consider the injuries at running back and on the offensive line.
One of their best plays of the day was a zone-read at the 2-yard line, where Driskel pulled out the ball at the last moment and then ran untouched through a gaping hole created by Taylor Decker and Joe Dahl for the score.
“It was just blocked up perfectly,” Driskel said. “They gave us the look where I pulled it, and Decker did a great job of sealing off the linebacker there, and it was just a huge hole for me. I just walked it in.”
Driskel also used his legs effectively in the passing game, including rolling out for a late bomb to Kenny Golladay for a second straight week. They hooked up for a 34-yard jump ball over the middle of the field that gave Detroit possession at Dallas’ 32-yard line while trailing by eight points late in the fourth.
That’s where the drive would die, though, thanks to a penalty by Kenny Wiggins and then a sack. Detroit was forced to punt on fourth-and-31, and never touched the ball again.
But scoring 27 points against a top-10 defense is pretty good work from Driskel. He kept the offense moving without turning over the ball, and the effective of the ground game helped drain some clock and limit the damage allowed by the defense — which was severe.
Detroit allowed a season-high 509 yards. You’re not going to win too many games like that with your starting quarterback, let alone a backup. But Driskel continues to offer some hope that the Lions can get viable quarterback play while Stafford is on the mend.