The Detroit Lions Then and Now: Quarterbacks

Then and Now is a SideLion Report mini-series in which we look at each position group from the 0-16 season of 2008 and compare it to the current roster.

Show me a team with an unsettled quarterback situation and I’ll show you a team in turmoil.Unfortunately, the 2008 Detroit Lions are a case study in this. Five different quarterbacks attempted a pass for the Lions on their way to the league’s first 0-16 season. Some coaches faced with a quarterback controversy have said that if you have two quarterbacks you really don’t have any at all. Try having five. Ranked from most pass attempts to least they are: Dan Orlovsky, Jon Kitna, Daunte Culpepper, Drew Stanton and Drew Henson.

While the offense actually had more trouble running the ball than throw it, the passing game wasn’t anything to write home about. Jon Kitna started the first four games before having his season (and career in Detroit) ended by being unceremoniously dumped on injured reserve. Dan Orlovsky, who had relieved Kitna in gamess two, three and four, got the start in games four through eight. Daunte Culpepper signed mid-season and started games nine through 13 before hurting himself. Orlovsky then finished out the season by starting in the 14th, 15th and 16th games (losses). Sprinkle in a few cameos from Drew Stanton and Drew Henson and you’ve got a quarterback carousel that will make the strongest stomachs start to gurgle.

The statistics:

No. G GS Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Lng Rate Sk Yds
6 Dan Orlovsky 10 7 143 255 56.1 1616 8 8 96 72.6 14 95
8 Jon Kitna 4 4 68 120 56.7 758 5 5 47 72.2 15 89
11 Daunte Culpepper 5 5 60 115 52.2 786 4 6 70 63.9 14 95
5 Drew Stanton 3 0 9 17 52.9 119 1 0 41 95.0 6 35
12 Drew Henson 2 0 1 2 50.0 20 0 0 20 85.4 3 25
Team Total 16 281 509 55.2 3299 18 19 96 71.3 52 339
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 5/23/2011.

That is a lot of numbers to take it. What the Lions got out of their quarterback situation is more easily summarized in one short video clip:

Being a fan of the only franchise to ever go 0-16 is enough of a punch to the gut but the 2008 season with little hope for the future. The Lions didn’t get to 0-16 with a young, but promising, quarterback taking his lumps. They got there with two tires with very little tread remaining, two tires that didn’t appear capable of steering an NFL “car” and one tire that was more along for the ride than an actual spare that could ever be counted on in an emergency situation.

Now > Then


The futility of the 2008 season did put the Lions in the position to draft Matthew Stafford with the number one overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft. He is the very reason the “Now” is so much better than the “Then”. While his injuries have been disappointing, there is little reason to doubt that Stafford has the ability to be the kind of quarterback this town hasn’t seen in generations.

The Lions ultimate success hinges on the right arm of Matthew Stafford but his backups proved capable last year. Shaun Hill was better as the ’10 Lions’ number two than anything on the ’08 roster and even Drew Stanton was able to do something the 2008 team couldn’t: win.

Not surprisingly, the statistics from the 2010 season look much better than they did in 2008. The news is much better throughout the statistics; higher completion percentage, more yards, more touchdowns, fewer interceptions, higher quarterback rating, fewer sacks allowed.

No. G GS Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Lng Rate Sk Yds
14 Shaun Hill 11 10 257 416 61.8 2686 16 12 75 81.3 17 113
5 Drew Stanton 6 3 69 119 58.0 780 4 3 87 78.4 6 42
9 Matthew Stafford 3 3 57 96 59.4 535 6 1 36 91.3 4 36
Team Total 16 383 633 60.5 4001 26 16 87 82.0 27 191
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 5/23/2011.

With the expectation that Drew Stanton returns to the Lions, the team is in a good position at quarterback. They have their franchise quarterback, one of the best backups in the league and a third quarterback that has some experience and earned some trust. The third quarterback spot is traditionally reserved for a younger quarterback that the organization wants to see develop. Stanton may be beyond what is typically considered the development years but he was stunted by Mike Martz and the uncertainty of the labor situation makes retaining Stanton a safe and smart move. I doubt there is a more settled quarterback picture in the league and as a lifelong fan of this franchise, that is remarkable to say.

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Tags: 0-16 Dan Orlovsky Daunte Culpepper Detroit Lions Drew Henson Drew Stanton Jon Kitna Matthew Stafford Shaun Hill

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