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It's time for Matthew Stafford to step his game up

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With the NFC North title on the line, the Detroit Lions need the 2011 version of Matthew Stafford to show up this week.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

This week's question from Marshall Faulk revolves around Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. Specifically, Faulk wants to know what Stafford has learned this season and how that has prepared him to have the game of his life this week against the Green Bay Packers.

More than anything, I think the biggest thing that Stafford has learned this season is to be smarter and more careful with his throws. He regressed a bit last week with two bad interceptions, but over the course of the entire season, he's only thrown 12 picks so far. That's pretty good considering he averaged 18 interceptions in his first four full seasons in the NFL:

2009: 20 interceptions
2010: 1 interception (only played in three games)
2011: 16 interceptions
2012: 17 interceptions
2013: 19 interceptions

Avoiding turnovers has really been a point of emphasis for the Lions on offense this year. Perhaps their safe, conservative approach has been behind the offense's overall step back from a yards and points standpoint, but Stafford is a perfect example of how the Lions are doing a better job of taking care of the football. Last year, he had 23 total turnovers between his 19 interceptions and four lost fumbles, but he's only given the ball away 14 times so far this season (12 interceptions and two lost fumbles). On Sunday against the Packers, avoiding turnovers will be vital to coming away with a win.

Just generally speaking, the Lions really need the 2011 version of Stafford to show up on Sunday. As you can see from the numbers above, 2011 was his best full season from the standpoint of avoiding interceptions, especially when you consider that he threw for a career-high 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns that season. That was by far his best year in the NFL, and just look at what he did against the Packers in Week 17 that season: 36-for-59, 520 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions.

It's worth noting, of course, that the Lions lost that game to the Packers by the ridiculous score of 45-41. If they had the defense then that they have now, 41 points would have been more than enough to end their Lambeau Field losing streak. But they didn't, and Matt Flynn tore them apart as a result.

This year, it seems unlikely that a shootout will happen given the Lions' struggles on offense and dominance on defense. Even so, the point remains -- the Stafford we saw in that game and in that season in general needs to show up on Sunday. The Lions likely won't be able to rely on holding Aaron Rodgers and company to only seven points like they did at Ford Field earlier in the season, and I can't imagine 10 offensive points will be enough to secure a victory. (The Lions had a defensive touchdown and a safety in their first meeting with the Packers this season.) With that in mind, they need Stafford and the offense to step it up and take some of the pressure off of the defense. I'm not saying he has to throw for five touchdowns and over 500 yards, but he needs to play much better than he has in recent weeks.

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