Matthew Stafford has put up impressive numbers throughout his career, but is generally viewed as an average starting NFL quarterback. A lack of playoff success in seven seasons has created a great deal of division over Stafford within the Detroit fan-base.
The other reason people don’t think much of Stafford is because he has had one of the best wide receivers in NFL history for all of his seven seasons. Calvin Johnson made a habit for bailing out his quarterback’s questionable decision-making and accuracy by making unbelievable grabs that no other receiver would have been able to make.
Most quarterbacks have one or two decent weapons but Megatron’s greatness has largely taken away any credit Stafford would have otherwise received. Now that Johnson has retired, many are predicting a down-year for Stafford, without his 6-foot-5 security blanket to bail him out.
The Lions have signed Marvin Jones and a few other free agent receivers to soften the blow of losing one of best to ever play. Despite having Golden Tate, an improved Eric Ebron and Jones, nobody nationally or locally seems to think Stafford can succeed without Johnson.
It’s not that Stafford hasn’t done some great things in his career. He’s lead the Lions to two playoff appearances after the team had missed the post-season for twelve straight seasons, before he arrived. He’s had his share of game-winning drives and clutch throws. Who can forget the Dallas game, where Stafford drove 80-yards in under a minute and jumped over the goal-line to complete an amazing comeback? (Relive the drive if you have forgotten).
It was an amazing moment, but like many other great moments in Stafford’s career, it was overshadowed by Calvin Johnson. Johnson finished that game with 329-receiving yards, an NFL record for a non-overtime game.
So while nobody is taking away that great drive or his many other game-winning drives, when you look at the stat sheet, Johnson’s 329-yards is the first thing you see. It’s not as if I’m saying Stafford hasn’t tremendously benefited from Johnson’s greatness, just that people seem to penalize him for utilizing his best weapon.
Did Johnson bail out some poor Stafford throws? Absolutely he did. As we saw during the Joey Harrington years however, many quarterbacks don’t want to take the risk and instead play it safe. Sometimes the best thing a quarterback can do is throw it up and give his receiver a chance to make a play. Stafford has never been afraid to do this.
Nobody is going to give him the respect they give the top-tier guys, until he does something in the playoffs. I just don’t think it’s fair to criticize Stafford for throwing the ball to Calvin Johnson.
So are fans underestimating Stafford’s abilities or is he a product of Johnson’s greatness? We will finally learn that answer next season.