I didn’t think Detroit Lions fans would turn so quickly on their quarterback after the Green Bay loss. But that’s just what’s happened despite Matthew Stafford missing the number one wide receiver in the game, Calvin Johnson, his number two wide receiver Nate Burleson, and his number three receiver, Ryan Broyles, who played but is clearly still on a pitch count and hardly impacted the game.
Through week five (stats are based off players who have played at least four games) Stafford is among the NFL elite with 1,524 passing yards (fifth in the NFL), completing 64 percent of his passes (eighth), with 8 touchdowns (tied for eighth) and 3 interceptions (tied for third). He is averaging almost 8 yards an attempt (eighth) with a QBR rating of 94.9 (eighth). That puts Stafford in the top ten in every statistical category.
Many fans are complaining about his accuracy this season and saying that he’s just an average quarterback that looks good playing alongside Megatron. Those who share that opinion think it was proven Sunday against the Packers when Johnson didn’t play, but that may not be a very valid argument looking at the circumstances a little closer.
First, the Lions offense is centered around Stafford’s arm and Johnson’s all-world ability. That said, the complementary offensive weapons built around the two were built around the coverage that Johnson draws which is why Reggie Bush has been so effective in a Lions uniform and why the offense isn’t as dynamic when one of the two are missing. In reality, the Lions’ other weapons aren’t supposed to be number one targets and that has become painfully clear with the absents of Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles still limited.
Without a healthy Broyles and an injured Johnson and Burleson, Stafford has to be even more careful with the ball, i.e turning the ball over less and taking what the defense gives him.
Last week we saw Stafford miss on a few throws, perhaps because he was being a little more cautious, but we also saw a few big drops that changed the complexion of the game. Kris Durham had two passes late in the first bounce off his hands and another bounce of his helmet that would have put the Lions inside the Packers 10 yard line. We also saw Stafford scramble for a first down late in the first half inside Packers territory that would’ve been good enough for a first down had there not been a questionable holding call.
I think the concept some are missing is how much differently a quarterback has to play given the situation he is in. When Bush or Johnson isn’t in the game the defenses play the Lions differently, which changes the way Stafford distributes the ball. When Johnson, Burleson, and Broyles aren’t playing, the Lions simply don’t have the fire power to make the plays down the field, which leads to more stalled drives and more blame on the quarterback.
The closest situation to compare is the Patroits and quarterback Tom Brady, who has a much worse situation given he’s played the entire season without Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and most of the season with a gimpy Danny Amendola. Through five games, Brady has amassed 1,211 yards, 7 touchdowns, 3 interceptions and a QBR of just 50.9. Even one of the top three quarterbacks in the NFL need playmakers and Brady hasn’t had them.
Some might think I’m making excuses for Stafford, and unlike Brady, Stafford did play three games with Nate Burleson, and just one without Johnson and one without Bush. But, the numbers don’t lie and after analyzing his throws, he’s clearly doing all he can to help the team win, putting the ball where it needs to be to change the game early against the Packers had his receivers made the plays they are paid to make.