LIONS INSIDER

Scheffler's return to practices gives Lions a key weapon in the middle of the field

Posted Sep 27, 2012

That’s the part of the field where Lions tight end Tony Scheffler makes his living. It’s why getting Scheffler back on the practice field Thursday was a big deal for the Lions offense.

Opponents have decided early on this season that they’re not going to let the Lions make big plays in their passing game. In each of the Lions’ first three contests, the defensive game plan to stop them has been to put two safeties deep in the wide part of the field and keep everything in front of them.
 
Against that defense, the most vulnerable part of the field is in the middle behind the linebackers. The Lions tried to attack that part of the field early against the Titans last week with tight end Brandon Pettigrew and succeeded in doing so in the second half with receiver Calvin Johnson.
 
That’s the part of the field where Lions tight end Tony Scheffler makes his living. It’s why getting Scheffler back on the practice field Thursday was a big deal for the Lions’ offense.
 
“Well, I think you saw it last week even more so than the previous two, that that was a part of the field that was utilized for us offensively,” Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said.
 
“And Scheffler, just having him back in the lineup gives us another weapon on our offense. I think his range and his ability to get vertical is definitely a strength of his.”
 
The middle of the field – particularly the seam – is where Scheffler is a matchup nightmare for defenses. His absence in Sunday’s 44-41 loss to the Titans because of a calf injury he suffered the week before against the 49ers was bigger than most people probably realize.
 
“He’s definitely a guy down the middle that’s a big target,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said of Scheffler after practice Thursday. “He has a good feel for the middle of the field.”
 
At 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, Scheffler might be the best matchup weapon the Lions have outside of Johnson. He can put his hand on the turf as a tight end, but has the speed to stand up and play the slot. Most linebackers have a difficult time matching up with him one-on-one in the middle of the field.
 
Stafford targeted him 11 times in the first two games.
 
“That’s definitely one of the soft spots in that kind of defense and if you’re going to sit back and play in that defense then we have to be able to run the ball and attack the middle of the field,” Scheffler said.
 
“Those are the types of routes we run, over-the-ball stuff and getting vertical down the middle of the field, it’s something we have to take advantage of and I think Scott (Linehan) really honed into that in the second half of the Titans game.”

In their first three games, the Vikings have played a lot of single-high safety looks to help stop opposing run games. If the Vikings decide to take the same defensive approach as the Lions' first three opponents and play both safeties deep, Scheffler's potential return to the lineup Sunday could be a big bonus for the Lions offense.