What Happened to Matthew Stafford?

November 26th, 2013


Justin Simon, DLD Writer

Editor’s note: this is Justin’s debut piece for Detroit Lions Draft. He has written for several Lions-centric sites, including Restoring the Roar and The Sidelion Report. He will periodically contribute some film breakdowns and game reviews here, and we’re happy to welcome Justin. 

“Matthew Stafford can be a top 10 quarterback in this league. Whether or not he can begin to put it all together is the real question. He has the arm talent, deep accuracy, and intangibles that make him a legitimate quarterback in the NFL. It really is just a question of whether or not he can take all of those things and do them consistently.”

This is the ending paragraph to an article I penned (or typed) last summer after the Lions extended their franchise quarterback into 2017. And after yesterday’s stunning loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers nothing rings more true. As Matthew Stafford has shown, he has the physical tools to make just about any throw on the field. The problem has always been putting the physical and mental sides together.

Early on this season it looked like he was finally starting to put together consistent games, and you finally thought you knew what to expect out of Stafford week in and week out. Through the first quarter of the season Stafford’s stats looked like this:


G#   Opp Result Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int QB Rating



W 34-24











L 21-25











W 27-20










W 40-32
















His completion percentage was well over 60%, his TD-INT ratio was almost 2-1, and he had a quarterback rating in the high 90’s. Stafford was patient with his throws and was taking what the defense gave him rather than chucking it to Calvin Johnson on every play. And with a steady Stafford, the Lions started out the season 3-1.

But since the bye week, we’ve seen a different Stafford. Here are those same numbers in his three games since the bye week:


G#   Opp Result Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int QB Rating




W 21-19











L 27-37










L 21-24
















The first thing that sticks out is how far his completion percentage has plummeted. The Lions have started throwing downfield more, but that’s no excuse to average under 50% over a three game stretch. He hasn’t had a quarterback rating over 90 in a single game, and worst of all the team has only won one game since starting the season 5-3.

It’s easy to play armchair quarterback and blame pressure, dropped passes, or bad timing, but the truth is that Stafford simply isn’t playing well right now. His consistency is to the level where each throw seems to be an adventure. That’s not something you want out of your franchise quarterback.

Let’s take a look at some plays from Sunday’s game which show just what an enigma Stafford is at quarterback right now.


Here’s a play from late in the first quarter. The Buccaneers are playing zone Calvin Johnson runs a perfect route to beat the coverage. Stafford is given a clean pocket to step up and deliver a strike for a big gain.


The problem is that Stafford’s pass is way off target. Rather than hitting Johnson in stride the pass is late and behind–a throw even Megatron can’t hold on to.


In the second quarter Stafford shows up with a pretty throw in the end zone to Joe Fauria. Much like his game-winning throw to Calvin Johnson against the Bears in Chicago, Stafford delivers a perfect fade with touch and accuracy. This is what makes him so frustrating at this point. He has all of the ability in the world, but fails to live up to it consistently.

While some of Stafford’s errors were physical early on, this one was purely mental. Stafford trusts in his abilities to a fault, and this tendency comes back to hurt him here. With under a minute to go in the half, Stafford backs up to avoid the rush and throws off his back foot toward Brandon Pettigrew breaking out in the flat.

The key issue here is that Stafford never sees Leonard Johnson breaking toward the football. He must have thought Johnson would carry the receiver down the field, otherwise he would have never thrown that ball. It’s a play where Stafford has to do a better at recognizing the opposing coverage. A similar play can be seen on Stafford’s 3rd interception of the game. He expects the defensive back to one thing while getting baited into doing another.


Late in the second quarter with the Lions trying to make up for a costly pick six, they dial a deep ball to Calvin Johnson. Here Stafford has a little pressure at the start (even though the Bucs only rush three linemen), but he’s able to work his way back up the pocket. He rushes his throw slightly, and ends up overthrowing an open Calvin Johnson down the field. The Lions end up punting before halftime. Another missed throw that leads to missed opportunities.

Stafford, in his true gun-slinging ways, also had some tremendous throws on Sunday. One beauty that gets overlooked because of the eventual result is the fourth quarter throw that Kris Durham fumbled.


On 3rd and 11 with the Lions backed up at their own 35 yard line, Stafford delivers. He gets the ball in the shotgun and by the time he throws the ball he’s standing on his own 25 yard line. Completing an accurate 30 yard out is a throw few in the NFL can complete. This is the good side of Stafford’s aggressiveness. He’s willing to keep slinging it regardless of anything that’s happened before. That’s a good quality to have. The last thing you want is a timid quarterback in the pocket.

It’s very tough to win in the NFL, especially when you turn the ball over 5 times. The truth is that the Lions got what they deserved. This game ended the way the Dallas game should have if it weren’t for Stafford’s last minute heroics. The Lions let the Buccaneers stay in the game even when they tried to give it back. The Lions also didn’t do themselves any favors in the playoff race. With this loss the Lions now have very little breathing room down the stretch–even with the entire NFC North going winless yesterday.

These next 5 games mean a lot for a lot of people. There are many jobs at stake, and not just with the coaching staff. The Lions, and Stafford, swear they’re not the “same old Lions,” but now it’s time to prove it.


*All images were created using NFL Game Rewind, unless otherwise noted. (subscription required)


*All statistics are courtesy of Pro Football Reference, unless otherwise noted

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8 Responses to “What Happened to Matthew Stafford?”

  1. The Strategy Expert says:

    I very much disagree that he was looking good or promising earlier in the season. He has played awful in just about every game. I do think he could be an elite QB, but not unless they get the right people to work with him and they aren’t close to figuring out what his problems are and how to improve on them. The coaches of the Lions are completely oblivious and that’s why I have BEGGED for him to be traded ever since his name was called on draft day. That was a ridiculously stupid decision and we are losing massive amounts of money to lose with a horribly overpaid QB. This is disgusting football and an insult to the city of Detroit that is on the verge of bankruptcy. And now our football team is showing not intelligence in regards to spending dollars and managing assets. This is PATHETIC, and hopefully next year we will finally wake up and dump his ass in a trade. If they can’t get somebody in here who can figure out how to get him work, then he’s nothing but a wealthy loser and the last guy I want to watch play football for my football team on Sundays. Or any day of the week for that matter.

    FIre Mayhew because this is all stuff that he as the GM is supposed to be on top of. Any other NFL team would have more wins on the year if they had CJ. We are still in a way the worst team in the league and keep finding creative ways to make a case for it.


    • The Strategy Expert says:

      The other thing too is that if Shaun Hill or Kellen Moore were our QB this year, then I say we have more wins than 6. I have NEVER seen a season like this so flukey where ALL 11 of our opponents each played a horrible game. There is no excuse for us to have really lost ANY of our games this year. Those other guys aren’t flashy and even though I believe they would have won more games it still wouldn’t have made sense not to go with Stafford. If you are going to have a highly paid QB like that then you have to play him and hope you get him to pan out. There’s no strategy in having him to not play him. But still both of those QBs showed during the preseason a better hold of making smarter decisions and being more technically sound, despite obviously not having a glint of the talent that Stafford possesses. I bet either of those QBs would have netted us more than 6 wins at this point for sure.

      Still thought, we COULD have been undefeated if we prepared ourselves better.

  2. The Real Strategy Expert says:

    ‘The Strategy Expert’ is not a fan the Lions need.
    I guess your not really a fan of the Lions, just a ‘Stafford Hater’.
    But ignorance is bliss.

    If you don’t enjoy the watching the Lions play feel free to follow any other team.

    P.S. No one cares if you BEG for something you don’t run the personnel for the Lions. So zip it up. It is getting tired all this whinging about Stafford. Did he beat you in High School Football or something.

    P.P.S. Hill or Moore don’t play CB so I don’t see how they would change the record of the team. Our corners are atrocious and our coverage scheme is weak that is the biggest problem on this team, NOT Stafford.

    • The Strategy Expert says:

      I am a hardcore and serious fan. But I’m also open and honest with my analysis. Sorry if you don’t care for it.

      • The Real Strategy Expert says:

        I understand winning is important, and we have had years of losing but why can’t any Lions fans just be excited and happy to watch them play; WIN, LOSE, or DRAW.

        I am a fan of the DETROIT LIONS, not of a few people who just happen to play for the Lions.

        • The Strategy Expert says:

          No I’m not happy with football that doesn’t make sense to me, and what the Lions are doing doesn’t make the grade for me. If you are happy then who cares what I think? I’m a fan of the DETROIT LIONS as much as you are.

  3. The Strategy Expert says:

    Also nobody has done any stories on the ugly cap situation for 2014. Just another thing to think about as we watch what we shortchanged the future for. I still can’t believe that a team owned by a car manufacturer doesn’t understand how depreciation works and how escalating contracts for resources that are not worth what you are paying for them is a disastrous combination. That car has no chance of consistently moving forward. You can hardly get it out of the parked position.

    There’s miles of road ahead of us and nobody else out there, and we’re stuck in first gear still. After ALL this time.

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