Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
One of the big stories to keep track this offseason will be the development of Matthew Stafford. The 2013 season started out quite well for Stafford. Through the first four games he was completing over 64% of his passes, had a near 2-1 touchdown to interception ratio, and had an average passer rating of 96.1. Even better though, the Lions finished the first quarter of the season with a 3-1 record.
Compare that with the how Matthew Stafford finished the season. Over the final four games Stafford’s completion percentage plummeted to under 55%, his interceptions nearly doubled his touchdowns, and he finished the last quarter of the season averaging a 64.4 passer rating. The Lions ended up losing the final four games. Maybe the hardest part to swallow is while Stafford was falling into his late season collapse he was taking the Lions’ playoff dreams with him.
When evaluating Matthew Stafford’s performance this offseason keep the following quote in mind:
"I see Stafford as a guy who too often tried to get by on the strength of that big arm and who threw too many killing interceptions as a consequence. I see a quarterback who wasn’t so much a team leader as a solo act. More to the point, I’ve never seen in Stafford the attention to detail that you get with Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or, yes, Matt Ryan."
No, this quote was not some pundit analyzing Matthew Stafford’s late season collapse. It was an opinion given after his final year at Georgia–before he was chosen with the number 1 pick in 2009. It’s the attention to detail, or lack thereof, that caused his late season demise, and eventually got his coaches fired after the season. Yes, everyone wants to criticize his odd arm angles, but it’s more than that. It’s all of the details. It’s footwork. It’s properly reading the defense. It’s throwing to your receivers and not at them–there’s a big difference. Over the past five years, but this past season specifically, these are the poor traits that continually haunt Stafford:
For Matthew Stafford to improve in this area he’ll improve his rhythm when passing. Far too often Stafford trusts his arm rather than using proper footwork in concert with releasing the ball.
Instead of releasing the ball immediately after this 3 or 5 step drop, he tends to float around in the pocket and then use his arm strength to force a throw at the receiver. I emphasize “at” because Stafford far too often trusts his arm (see more below) rather than resetting his base in order to make an accurate throw.
Stafford’s accuracy and timing will continue haunt him until he starts to correct these issues.
The former coaching regime lauded Matthew Stafford’s aggressive nature. And that complete lack of details got them fired. They were far too often blind to Stafford’s flaws, and rather than help correct them they stood pat, calling their franchise quarterback “an accurate passer” and “a very mechanically sound quarterback.”
Decision-making is the most important part of playing quarterback in the NFL. Arm talent isn’t enough when the opponent is paid millions of dollars to make sure you don’t succeed. The NFL is such a close league in terms of parity that when even the smallest details are missed, losses start to pile up.
Matthew Stafford loves to sling the ball all over the field, but he gets caught forcing a lot of passes into double or even triple coverage. He relies far too much on his big arm rather than his head to make the right play rather than the big play.
Patience, patience, patience. Near the end of the season he was rushing throws. Even with a clean pocket to step into he wouldn’t wait for the play to develop. Stafford needs to slow down, and take what the defense gives him–much like he did at the beginning of 2013.
Outside of Calvin Johnson, he got very little help from his other receivers. Nate Burleson broke his arm. Brandon Pettigrew was reduced to a blocking role at tight end. Ryan Broyles got hurt again. Kevin Ogletree was signed midseason. Patrick Edwards was sent back to the practice squad. And almost all of them dropped far too many passes.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Lions had 58 drops over last season and had a league leading drop percentage of 9.1%. A lot of Matthew Stafford’s flaws were self-inflicted, but he didn’t get much help either.
Again, Stafford forced a lot of passes into tight coverages, but his receivers weren’t able to create separation from defenders. If you have access to NFL Game Rewind go watch the first game against the Packers when Calvin Johnson was out of the game. It’s a perfect example of receivers not getting open and helping their quarterback.
If there is a silver lining for the Lions it’s the fact that Matthew Stafford has the ability to fix all of the problems. He’s shown the ability to make any throw on the field. Now he needs to learn to do it consistently.