Matthew Stafford and the Lions are becoming masters of the turkey hole

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ALLEN PARK — Jon Gruden had one of those Jon Gruden moments on Monday Night Football, the kind that takes a broadcast over and sends the Internet world into a frenzy.

It happened when the color commentator and former Super Bowl-winning coach went to break down a throw Matthew Stafford made in the Detroit Lions’ 30-17 win over the Green Bay Packers.

“Watch Stafford fit the ball in the hole between the corner and the safety,” Gruden said. “I call that the turkey hole. Don’t ask me why.”

Of course, Gruden went into why, using an entire chart to break down the area in question. Gruden carried out the pre-planned segment by using the term almost every time Stafford squeezed a ball into that spot on the field that the defense left uncovered.

People in and outside the league have long praised Stafford’s success in connecting on throws along the sidelines, showcasing a unique blend of aggressiveness and arm strength. This was just the first time it gained a term so popular.

It wasn’t the first time Stafford had heard the phrase, even from coaches around the league, he revealed with a smile Wednesday. It’s just a lot more colorful than the term he typically uses.

“Just the hole shot,” he said. “Something like that.”

Stafford controlled that part of the field Monday night in one of his most impressive games in quite some time. He finished 26 of 33 for 361 yards and two touchdown passes with a 132.4 quarterback rating that is his best mark since Week 6 of last season, a stretch of 18 games. His 79 percent completion rate was the highest in any of the past 23 contests.

It involved a lot of completions into the turkey hole, per the NFL’s NextGen Stats:

Matthew Stafford’s passing chart against the Green Bay Packers. 

He had success with the same gap in zone coverages the week before against the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he threw for 423 yards, his highest total since 2013.

In many ways, Stafford’s ability to master these throws has gotten his 2017 season back on track. The highest-paid player in league history had been struggling with ball security and consistency for a few weeks behind a collapsing pass protection. Then the bye week came, and he emerged by threading the turkey hole for immense success.

But after two games of that mastery, his coach had not yet heard the references that had gone viral. Once the concept was explained to Caldwell, he said that he likes to call it “kind of the soft spot.”

It’s a little more boring of a term, he was told.

“I like to keep it that way,” he said.



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