INDIANAPOLIS – Colts backup quarterback Drew Stanton knows all about the Lions den, and he's willing to share with anyone who's interested.
Stanton spent four years with the Detroit Lions – the Colts' opponent this Sunday at Ford Field in Detroit. He has insight into the Lions' offense, since he's run it. He has insight into Lions' defense, since he's faced it. If anyone wants to tap into his knowledge, he's ready.
“Some people want to know and some people would rather just go out and play,” Stanton said. “There are some little nuances I can talk about, but how much can you digest in a week's time that carries over?
“That offense has evolved so much. They're doing so many more things than when I was there. There are little things here and there I can offer. There hasn't been a ton of questions coming about how to stop these guys. It's pretty evident what we have to do.”
The Lions are 4-7 but they're far from lousy. They rank No.2 in total offense, No.1 in the passing game. They have the games' best receiver in Calvin Johnson. They have a formidable front line on defense, including kick-boxing prospect Ndamukong Suh and the less controversial Cliff Avril, Corey Williams, Nick Fairley and Kyle Vanden Bosch.
They're dangerous, in other words. And the Colts (7-4) haven't exactly torn up the NFL on road trips.
It might be wise to listen to Stanton. Any little tidbit can help.
“Detroit has a bunch of talent, great players, and they play in a tough division,” Stanton said. “If they make a handful of plays, they're sitting in our position with seven wins, that's how close the margin of error is in this league.”
Offensively, the Lions start with Matthew Stafford – the quarterback Stanton mentored before he took that role with the Colts and Andrew Luck – and Calvin Johnson.
Stanton looks at Stafford and says he believes he has a better mastery of Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's offense. Stafford threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns last season. He might not match those numbers this year – he's at 3,429 and 14 scores – but that doesn't mean he's slipped.
Johnson, the affectionately nicknamed “Megatron,” already has 1,257 yards and is within striking range of Jerry Rice's NFL record of 1,848 yards.
He was named the NFC's offensive play of the month (32 catches, 619 yards). His 154.8 yards per game were the most in a month since Lance Alworth posted 156.3 for the Chargers in 1963. Yes, 1963.
“He has a 42-inch vertical, he's 6-6 and you can put the ball in places only he can touch,” Stanton said. “I know that first-hand. I don't know if you can throw a ball that's uncatchable for Calvin.”
Stanton threw for 1,158 yards and five touchdowns in 12 games (four starts) with the Lions from 2008 to last season. Two of Stanton's touchdown passes were to Johnson.
Stanton will certainly offer some insight on the Lions' defense to Luck as he prepares for a pass rush that comes with some extra danger. Suh was fined $30,000 for kicking Houston's Matt Schaub in a real below-the-belt move.
Suh is only one factor, Stanton emphasizes.
“If you just focus on Suh, which is what everybody wants to do, then you'll have problems on the edge,” Stanton said. “Corey Williams and Nick (Fairley) are starting to play well. Corey's been at a high level for awhile and Nick is starting to come along in his second season now that he's healthy.
“Their line is as good as anybody's in the league. Those four guys can create pressure by themselves.”
Stanton's role as a backup/mentor means it can be hard for outsiders to assess his production from week to week. Much of his work is done before the game, behind the scenes.
But as Stanton learned in Detroit, he's always one play away from running the offense.
“As long as we win, that's all that matters,” Stanton said. “I feel like if I'm helping Andrew and helping our offense over the course of the week and on game day, that's all I can do.
“When my time comes, if it's this year or down the road, I have to be prepared. I don't want there to be any drop off. So, you trying to absorb everything even though you're not getting the physical reps. Without a doubt, you can go from third guy to the first guy very quickly.”
As he returns to Detroit, Stanton hopes to help the Colts' “first guy” find a way to move the offense. He knows the Lions have plenty of ways to move theirs.