Project Stafford? Seems like Lions’ plan

Matthew Stafford threw 19 interceptions last season and has taken a step back each of the last two years.

It’s been an eventful offseason for Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.

He recently got engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Kelly Hall, and he’s been the constant target of criticism from fans, media and nearly every so-called quarterback guru on the planet.

First, the personal-life aspect: How did he propose?

Suh a no-show

"I’m not going into all that," Stafford said.

Fair enough. He’s not likely to follow former Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron and agree to have his wedding turned into a reality TV show. Stafford wants his personal life to stay personal.

What he does on the field, however, is open for everyone to debate, and his performance has been picked apart since the Lions lost six of their final seven games last season to squander a potential division title and playoff berth.

For better or worse, Stafford understands he’s in the spotlight, and the scrutiny isn’t going away — not after signing a three-year contract extension a year ago that included $43 million guaranteed.

"I’ve learned not to pay attention to everything," Stafford said. "There’s a lot of things that are written. You guys got to fill the papers up and fill the airwaves. I understand that.

"But football is on the field. There’s definitely room for improvement. Not only for myself, but as a team. That’s what this time of year is about. Going out there and working on yourself and getting to know some of the new teammates, new coaches, new system, all that kind of stuff."

The perception is that the Lions did everything they could during the offseason with hopes of "fixing" Stafford, who threw 19 interceptions last season and has taken a step back each of the last two years since passing for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns while leading the Lions to the playoffs in 2011.

He completed 63.5 percent of his passes three years ago, but has fallen to 59.8 percent and 58.5 percent the last two seasons.

The Lions have brought in a new coach, Jim Caldwell, who worked with star quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco; a new offensive coordinator, Joe Lombardi, who worked with Drew Brees; and a new quarterback coach, Jim Bob Cooter, who also worked with Manning.

What’s more, the team also made receiver Golden Tate its top priority in free agency, signing him to a five-year, $31-million contract.

There’s even speculation the Lions might try to trade up in next month’s NFL Draft to get Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins.

To some, it appears anything and everything has been done to do whatever is best to help Stafford.

"I think it was more about us trying to be the best team we can be more than anything," Stafford said. "In this league, you win games, your quarterback’s going to get a lot of credit. You lose games, you’re going to get a lot of blame. Sometimes it’s right on, sometimes it’s not. It’s something you’ve got to learn to take with a grain of salt and just try to improve.

"This is a team game. We understand that as a team and a coaching staff and a locker room."

It’s a definite time of change for Stafford, who spent his first five years in the league with Jim Schwartz as his coach and Scott Linehan as the offensive coordinator.

Stafford has been watching tape of the New Orleans Saints in anticipation of what Lombardi, the Saints’ former quarterback coach, will bring to the Lions.

"It’s different," Stafford said. "New faces around. People that you’re not as familiar with as you once were with the other people.

"It’s exciting, too. Fresh opportunity. Everybody on our team has a clean slate. You have to go out and prove yourself to these coaches, and get them to trust you as a player on the field and a person off the field.

"These guys have great track records, have worked with some really great players at the quarterback position specifically. I’ll be picking their brains as much as they’ll allow. These guys seem like great people."

In the end, much of the Lions’ success or failure is going to come down to what happens with Stafford.

He’s entering his sixth year in the NFL. His demise has been greatly exaggerated, but there’s no doubt that he needs to end his personal regression and get back on track.

He’s still enormously talented.

"I’ve had some really great moments, some bad moments for sure," Stafford said. "The biggest thing I want to do is help this team win any way I can.

"In the NFL, if your quarterback plays really well, your team generally plays pretty well. I understand that. We’re no different than any team. The better I play, the better we’re going to play as a team. Common theory says that.

"Nobody puts more pressure on me than I do. I want to be as good as I possibly can be. Not for myself, but to help this team. That’s the No. 1 goal."