With nearly 50 years of NFL experience between them, Tom Brady and Bruce Arians should be licking their lips at the chance to play a struggling and shorthanded Detroit Lions defense that likely will have a first-time NFL play caller at its helm Saturday.
But the way Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford sees it, there’s at least one silver lining to his team’s COVID-19-related losses.
“The only problem is you got no scouting report on the new guy calling the plays,”‘ Stafford said. “So we do have that. A little bit of the, as far as whoever’s calling it, there’s not a big book on them. So we have that in our advantage, I guess.”
That’s about the only advantage the Lions have defensively against Brady, a six-time Super Bowl winner, and Arians, one of the most aggressive offensive coaches in the game.
The Lions (5-9) could be without as many as four defensive starters Sunday — Trey Flowers, Danny Shelton and Desmond Trufant are on injured reserve, and Jamie Collins has not practiced the past two days because of a neck injury — and their top four defensive assistants are in quarantine after either testing positive for COVID-19 or because they were a close contact with a confirmed case.
Interim Lions coach Darrell Bevell, who does not have COVID, also is in isolation, meaning the Lions could be without their play callers on both sides of the ball.
“Obviously, from the start of the season, even back with Coach (Matt) Patricia (was here), obviously this was something that we had to plan for,” Bevell said. “So there are contingency plans and each and every time something happens, we’re making adjustments to that.”
Bevell did not name his fill-in play callers Wednesday, but quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan likely will take over duties on the offensive side of the ball.
Ryan has worked closely with Stafford the past two seasons, but like available defensive assistants Ty Warren, Tony Carter and Stephen Thomas, has never called plays at any level.
Stafford, who is finishing his 12th NFL season, said he could get the offense in and out of plays on his own, but that the Lions need a coordinator to manage the finer points of the offense.
“The way we run this offense with mixed personnels and different people in different spots for certain reasons, yeah, I mean, I think we do (need a coordinator),” he said. “If we needed to go out there and throw the ball all over the yard and we didn’t have anybody physically able to call plays, sure, we could get away with it and go for it. But I think we’d be at our best calling plays in this offense and mixing and matching personnels and getting matchups we like.”
While the Lions have been besieged by bad news in recent weeks, from the firing of Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn last month, to the firing of special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs on Monday after he went rogue with a fake punt call, to this week’s COVID outbreak that has left the Lions with a shell of a coaching staff, Stafford said he and others have taken this season’s “wild ride” in stride.
“We all just got to be ready to adapt,” Stafford said. “I kind of, it’s been that way all season. Shoot, I was locked in a hotel room for a week not too long ago, too, so we’ve all been there taking our turns. It’s not easy, it’s not fun. It’s understandable. We’re trying to do what’s right, trying to keep everybody safe in this building, but at the same time it’s difficult, yeah, but there’s plenty of teams in the league have dealt with these things. We’re just one of them at this moment. It’s on us to make sure that we’re prepared and ready to go play well.”