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Lions' passing game explosive, varied

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Posted Sept. 17, 2011 @ 3 a.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Were the Lions' passing game to have the Matthew Stafford-Calvin Johnson connection as its only element to be respected, it would likely still be an attack that would have its moments of spectacular play. Such are the gifts of Stafford and Johnson, who connected twice for touchdowns in Week One.

The tough thing for opposing defenses is that even if they take away Johnson — easier said than done — Stafford, whose third NFL season is off to a wonderful start, has viable alternatives. Although Johnson is unquestionably the pass catcher whom defenses fear most — which doesn't hurt the cause of the Lions' other receivers — Stafford, who was outstanding in the regular-season opener at Tampa Bay, has shown he will spread the ball around. Nine different players were officially credited with targets in Week One, and a 10th, TE Will Heller, was the intended receiver on an interception that was returned for a touchdown. Stafford completed 18-of-23 passes for 217 yards with one TD and one interception to players other than Johnson in Week One.

Nate Burleson, who starts opposite Johnson, is consistent and quick. In time, swift rookie Titus Young could earn more playing time and targets as the third receiver, adding to the offense's field-stretching capabilities. Veterans Maurice Stovall and Rashied Davis are other capable options off the bench.

The Lions are particularly deep at tight end, with Brandon Pettigrew's size and athleticism making him a tough matchup downfield and in the red zone. Tony Scheffler, another solid pass catcher, adds to the depth of the targets Stafford has at his disposal. And RB Jahvid Best's speed makes him an asset when targeted.

Adding to the difficulty matching up with the Lions' passing game: The offensive line is in good form. It did not allow a sack in Week One, and head coach Jim Schwartz praised the group's play in the opener. He also noted that the quality of Stafford's receivers are a form of pass protection, too, and more so than the Lions operating out of the shotgun as heavily as it did in Week One.

"I don't think shotgun has anything to do with it; it's the quarterback getting rid of the ball and having playmakers to go to," Schwartz said of Stafford not being sacked in Week One. "You can try to get rid of the ball quick all you want, but if you don't have guys open, if you don't have guys that can make a play, then you can't do it."

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