The Detroit Lions have again failed to string together consecutive victories, falling in embarrassing style on Sunday at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings. At this point in the season, the greatest accomplishment of this team is their ability to fail in such a glorious fashion. It almost seems as if players seek out the most crucial times to turn the knife in the backs of their loyal fans. Things will not get any easier on Sunday as the Packers head to Ford Field after steadily improving after a rough start to the season.
Matthew Stafford vs. Perceived Pressure
Many Lions fans are placing blame for the lackluster performances displayed by their team, but sadly, much of that blame has been misplaced. People are quick to point the finger at the defense, and who can blame them considering the amount of media coverage garnered by this unit heading into the season. The truth, however, is that the defense has given the Lions offense every opportunity to win, in every game with the exception of the loss at Tennessee (If you disagree, view the Bears game as a microcosm of this entire season).
The truth is, although many simply refuse to admit it, that the vaunted Lion offense simply hasn’t been good enough. And Matthew Stafford also has not been good enough. Statistics will tell you that the Lions have a potent passing attack, and that Stafford is very efficient, amassing solid numbers. Unfortunately these numbers don’t tell the real story; the story of the first three quarters of each game, where the defense gives the offense opportunity after opportunity with no result. Statistically the Lions are saved by the fourth quarter, when teams have a three score lead and revert to their prevent defenses. Unfortunately the Lions learned some awful habits last season. Too many times they escaped after falling behind, and rallying in the fourth. Too many times did Stafford make a play throwing off of his back foot, or into double coverage. These bad habits were not only learned, but conditioned with success last season, and that success just doesn’t translate long term.
The biggest problem facing the Lions is the atrocious game plans and play calling of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who has a history of short lived success followed by failure due to his inability to adjust (See the Randy Ratio). But good players can overcome bad coaching in this league, and Matthew Stafford has the ability to be a great player in this league if he can break out of his bad habits that he has fallen into.
Watching the games from this season, one alarming difference from last year can be seen in Stafford’s play. Matthew Stafford is playing scared. In 2011 Stafford took a lot of hits, because he stood in the pocket, and delivered the ball under pressure. The 2012 version of Stafford doesn’t step up in the pocket, he steps out of the pocket instead. Stafford is avoiding pressure, that in many cases, doesn’t exist. This plays into the hands of any defense, as Stafford has been ineffective on the move, and it neutralizes the ability of the offensive tackles to run defenders past the pocket. Almost all of Stafford’s interceptions this season have been when he has fled the pocket, or simply not stepped into his throws, which is true of most quarterbacks. What is surprising is that on many of these throws, there has been no real pressure, and no reason not to use proper mechanics.
Whether Stafford has lost faith in his offensive line, or is afraid of taking the beating that he took last season, the Lions cannot win, cannot overcome predictable play-calling, without him making perfect throws like he did last season. Even with flawed mechanics, even with unnatural throwing motions, Stafford has the ability to make plays like no other quarterback in the NFL, when he is not afraid.