How Calvin’s retirement affects Matthew Stafford
By Mike Payton
All of the talk recently has been about Calvin Johnson, and rightfully so. If the all-world receiver decides to officially walk away, the question immediately has to be, how does this affect Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense?
In my opinion you have to start things off by going back to the anomaly that was the 2011 season. The Detroit Lions went 10-6 and their offense looked like an unstoppable juggernaut off the play of Stafford and Johnson exclusively. Matthew targeted Calvin 158 times that season and Megatron made him glad he did by catching 96 of those targets and taking 16 of them to the house. Unfortunately what this berthed was this idea that Calvin Johnson is Matthew Stafford’s security blanket and the Lions offense consists solely of him throwing the ball that way. You hear it on sports talk radio everyday. If Stafford does something wrong, it’s because “he has his eyes focused on Johnson” or “he just tries to force it to Johnson.” I could not agree more with these comments. But my agreement on these comments expired after the 2013 season. I’m not sure why everyone missed it, but Stafford reliance on Johnson clearly shrunk over the past two seasons. Don’t get me wrong, he still threw the ball Calvin’s way because who the heck wouldn’t? But we are talking about a quarterback that’s changed his game despite the perception of him not changing at all.
Why do I call the 2011 season an anomaly? I do it all the time, if you know me you’ve heard it constantly. I judge it that way because I’m well aware that it will never happen again. Guess what? That’s ok. Consider this, besides the 158 targets that Calvin saw that year, Stafford also targeted Nate Burleson 110 times, Pettigrew 126 times and Titus Young 86 times. After that there is a massive drop off. In 2015 you saw the ball spread around a lot more. Of course Calvin as he should, took the most targets with 149. Then Tate with 128 and Riddick with 99. Here’s where it gets nice. Ebron checks in with 70 targets, then Moore with 43, Abdullah with 38 and Bell with 27. As you can see the ball was both thrown a lot less and distributed a lot more evenly.
What do you suppose would happen if you took away the 149 targets that Calvin had and evenly distributed them amongst the remaining receiving options? You’d have to like how that looks, that’s an ever changing passing offense that’s hard to stop because you never know where to go. That’s the whole point of 2016. take one leg off the chair and there’s a pretty good chance it’s stays standing up if the weight is distributed right.
The key for the Lions shouldn’t be to find a super awesome titanium chair leg to replace the lost one this offseason. Just find a normal leg that can make a full chair. Ok enough of the chair. All I’m saying is the Lions shouldn’t pool all their money into getting a guy like Alshon Jeffery to come to Detroit. All you’re doing then is forcing a guy to be a player that he isn’t just because he has a similar build as Calvin. The Lons already have a number one receiver in Golden Tate. If the Lions can get themselves a nice rookie or sign a guy like Jermaine Kearse to compliment Tate, they will find themselves in pretty good shape. The point is that you don’t need a superstar receiver to make an offense or a quarterback successful. Look at Seattle, Carolina and New England for example. Better yet look at this. Odell Beckham Jr, Julio Jones, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey, Steve Smith, Sammy Watkins, T.Y. Hilton, Allen Robinson and of course Calvin Johnaon all missed the playoffs in 2015. Superstar wide receivers aren’t the key.
Lions Positional Anaysis: Wide Receivers
What is the key? Balance. Consider this, the NFL is definitely a passing league right now. This is pretty hard to dispute. But what’s interesting is that teams like Carolina, Minnesota, Seattle and Kansas City made it into the playoffs with the highest ranked passing offense of the four being the 20th ranked Seahawks. However these teams are in the top six in rushing offense. This balances out their attacks. The Lions ninth ranked passing offense is great, but their downfall came from having the 32nd ranked rushing attack. Let’s say the Lions use all their resources on improving that and it actually works. Place that together with a decent young group of receivers and you’ve got something. The offensive line must be fixed regardless of what happens with Calvin. Stafford getting sacked 89 times in the last 32 games is nothing that Johnson could have changed.
So once again the game plan is simple. Spend wisely and get yourself a cheap and effective receiver in free agency and maybe grab an extra midway through the draft. Then use the rest of the money to fix the offensive line to block for the talented running back group that you have. Stafford continues to grow in Jim Bob Cooter’s offense and you may have yourself something special in 2016. Something the Lions haven’t had since 1995, a balanced offense. One hand washes the other though. You’ll see Stafford fail real quick if he has no run game and he’s getting sacked every other play. If the Lions use this opportunity to finally be one of the smart kids in class, then Stafford could be going back to the Pro Bowl in 2016. We shall see soon enough what the Lions true fate will be.