Lions

The evolution of Matthew Stafford

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Detroit Lions v New Orleans Saints

It doesn’t matter if you love him, hate him or are still indifferent, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is your guy and I’m going to tell you why he should continue to be.

Before the season I wrote a piece saying how this is a make or break year for Stafford and we needed to see “it” from him. Well at 5-3 at the 2013 season midpoint I’d say he has answered the call. Stafford spent his time this past offseason mostly at the Allen Park head quarters working out, watching endless hours of film all with the intention of making himself the complete QB. He is a smart player and brings leadership on and off the field plus you can’t forget about his savvy.

So let’s get into it. First off why is Stafford criticized on every over throw, any mistake? Lions fans, do you watch any other games? Brady, Manning, Brees, Rodgers all miss throws as well. And mostly, the critics need to stop comparing Stafford to the NFL’s quarterback elite who is arguably the best crop of quarterbacks to ever play the game. But even today’s elite have had their drawbacks in terms of development. Drew Brees didn’t become Drew Brees until he was 27-28 years old, Aaron Rodgers didn’t get the starting job until he was 25-years old and I remember even the great Peyton Manning catching criticism at the age of 25 after having a 6-10 season.

Second, another gauge of a quarterback’s greatness how many Super Bowl rings they’ve been able to garner. Personally this is a terrible barometer of a QB’s greatness. Eli Manning has 2 rings, Ben Rothlisberger has 2 rings so tell me are you taking these two over Dan Marino, Brett Farve and Peyton Manning? I don’t think so.

I do have some great numbers for Lions fans though regarding their signal caller. Stafford has been the fastest quarterback to 15,000 yards and has the most yards in the first 50 games of his career. Furthermore in 52 starts Stafford has led game winning drives 12 times which is good for 23% of the time in games he’s played. That late game percentage is better than Peyton Manning’s 22%, Joe Montana’s 20% and Tom Brady’s 20%. Stafford also throws the ball more than anyone so the completion percentage isn’t ever going to lead the league. But he happens to be an accurate passer, betrayed by the dreaded dropped ball. Please tell me how many quarterbacks make the 50 yard bullet strike to Kris Durham across his body then laces a ball into Megatron to put Detroit in position to win that game against Dallas?

Stafford is also in the top 10 for every major category quarterback statistical category and in advance stats he lies anywhere from No. 2 to No. 6.

Many also need to keep in mind that Stafford was drafted in 2009 right after the worst season an NFL franchise has ever endured. After two forgettable years with injuries, Stafford led the Lions to a 10-6 record and back to the playoffs. He is 19-21 as a starter over the past 2 ½ seasons and yes last year was truly a disappointment for everyone, but can you really put that entirely on him?

One of the criticisms I had of Stafford was his seemingly inability to make the bargain guys better. Well, I have to point out Stafford has made Kris Durham useful and undrafted tight end Joseph Fauria an end zone weapon. Also how about using Joique Bell in the passing game as well? Furthermore can we do away with this notion that Calvin Johnson has made Matthew Stafford? What was Megatron doing before or without Stafford? Not to say Johnson hasn’t helped but it was Stafford that was helped make Megatron unstoppable.

Stafford also had struggled with teams that have a winning record something that critics took that and ran with it. However the fact of the matter is when your QB goes .500 or better against winning teams it’s a blessing. Stafford was 1-23 against teams with .500 or better records prior to this year however he now has three wins this season against teams with winning records. Also another stat that NFL personal really focus on with their quarterback is YPC (Yards per Catch) which is the noticeable difference for Stafford this year. His 7.7 YPC ranks him 9th in the NFL but if you look at the adjusted YPC Stafford is 5th with 6.5 and making him more valuable.  Career-wise Stafford’s YPC is closer to the low sixes. In 2011 he was at just over 7 YPC while in 2013 (and a 5-3 start) he’s up to 7.7 YPC. It’s just a yard to a yard and a half, but it’s the difference of a first down roughly every time you’re short of the first down.

At the risk of getting too nerdy, Stafford currently ranks 2nd in the NFL behind Peyton Manning total EPA which is a way of measuring clutch factor and expected points. Furthermore this Stafford led offense is No. 8 in the NFL on 3rd down with a 42.5 % conversion rate.

Again he’s not the best quarterback in the NFL but you cannot deny the evolution of Stafford into a very good signal caller for the Lions. The numbers simply don’t lie.

About Jason Bray

Detroit Sports Columist. Joined The Majors staff in 2012 covering the Detroit Lions.

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