Dec 22, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) looks down during overtime against the New York Giants at Ford Field. Giants beat the Lions 23-20. Detroit will have a chance at revenge to start the 2014 season. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions: Make-or-Break Year for Matthew Stafford

Most Lions fans would agree that Matthew Stafford is the most talented quarterback Detroit has had in the last 30 years. The next best one was probably Kramer, who took the Lions to the NFC championship after Peete got injured. Beyond that, there’s Mitchell, Batch, Harrington, Kitna, Orlovsky… yeah, not many memorable signal-callers.

Since drafting Stafford, the Lions have improved greatly from the abyss that was the 0-16 season (although there was that 4-12 season in 2012, which was… special ). Stafford is often ranked near the top during the start of the season, but his late-season play always drops him lower on the list. He was ranked 10th in 2011, 14th in 2012, and 18th last year. While he isn’t at the bottom of the league (not even close), Lions fans would obviously rather have him in the top five. Much like it is with every QB, if Matthew plays well, Detroit does well.

How long can Stafford continue to slide? The fact is, he can’t. After two disappointing seasons, There is simply no one left to take the blame. Detroit has a new head coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator. A new talented receiver was hired on, and the Lions may yet still get another in the draft. The running game has come to life.

There is just no way around it: Stafford must play better this season. He may be on contract through 2017, but that is in no way a guarantee for him.  He got the big contract because he has talent, a drive to win and the front office believes he can be the man. It’s time for Stafford to step up and play at an elite level.

Most of the criticism taken from last season is due to the number of interceptions thrown. A good number of those picks were due to tipped passes or dropped passes by receivers. This shouldn’t be as big an issue as his decision-making. Stafford has a tendency to get tunnel vision looking for Megatron. He tries to zing too many passes into impossibly tight spaces. He has a cannon arm, which means that a pass thrown too soon gives the receiver almost no time to react.

It might serve him well to work on a lighter touch, and he needs to keep his field of vision a little more open. Matthew might take a bit less criticism if he weren’t throwing so many jump-balls to Calvin (although, when you have Calvin on your team, you need to give him a few opportunities for them). Golden Tate should really help Stafford out this year, providing him another quality target on the field.

If the Lions have another bad or mediocre season this time around, the majority will be calling for Stafford’s head, regardless of whether or not it is truly his fault. He is the starting QB, it comes with the territory, and when you’re making the elite pay, fans expect elite play. There is just no one else left to hold accountable in a ‘win now’ year.

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