Stafford will be a better QB in 2016
By Matt Urben
There has been a sense of predictability in the Lions’ offense over the past few years. Johnson would be double or triple-covered, but the team would find ways to get him the ball.
Matthew Stafford has been a statistically prolific quarterback during his time in the NFL. Some have taken to calling him “Stat Padford” based on his great numbers and lack of wins. Those great stats are expected to decline next season, without Calvin Johnson.
There’s no question Johnson made Stafford a better quarterback in his seven years starting for Detroit. However, as crazy as it sounds, I think Stafford will become a better quarterback next season without Calvin there to bail him out.
There has been a sense of predictability in the Lions’ offense over the past few years. Johnson would be double or triple-covered, but the team would find ways to get him the ball. Stafford became a master of looking off coverages and getting the ball to Johnson, or eyeing Johnson to get other parts of the defense to soften up.
The point is whether he received the ball or not, Johnson often dictated the team’s offensive gameplan. It helped to have him early in Stafford’s career when Detroit had one of the worst rosters in NFL history. As the years went on, opposing teams figured out if you take away Johnson, you essentially neutralize Stafford.
Most quarterbacks have one or two good receivers, but Johnson was a once in a lifetime talent. The kind of talent that coaches would be grilled about post-game, if he wasn’t utilized enough. Up until Golden Tate arrived, there was nowhere else for Stafford go with the ball most games. As teams got better at taking Johnson away, Stafford’s interception numbers went up.
He’s always been good at making tough throws into coverage, but when a team knows that you’re throwing it to one spot ten times a game, corners can cheat. Golden Tate even mentioned last year, during Detroit’s dreadful 1-7 stretch, that some defensive players were coming up to him and saying they knew exactly what plays the Lions were going to call.
Some of that was on former offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. But when you can’t run the ball, it makes it significantly easier to cover guys on the outside. The Lions had the worst rushing attack in the league last year, which added pressure to both Stafford and Johnson.
When Jim Bob Cooter took over, the Lions’ offense finally clicked on all cylinders. The difference was creative play-calling, tutored around Stafford’s skill set. They didn’t stop throwing Calvin the ball, but they used him in a much more effective way. They spread the ball around and took their shots when they were there.
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This was a completely different mentality than Stafford has played with for the majority of his NFL career. The mentality used to be throw it up to Calvin and most times it would be a great catch or an interception. This was why he has been prone to high interception totals for most of his career. Down the stretch, Stafford was deadly accurate, completing around 70% of his passes and throwing an astonishing 19-touchdowns to just 2-interceptions after Cooter took over the play-calling.
Now for the first time in his career, Stafford will enter a season without Johnson. The offense will be built around his strengths as a quarterback, not a $20-million wide receiver. It’s hard to imagine the Lions’ offense will be better without one of the greatest receivers to ever play the game, but It does bring a certain unpredictability to the Lions’ offense that they can use to their advantage.
Marvin Jones will never be as good as Johnson, but he represents a team-centered philosophy shift under new GM Bob Quinn. Jones is a good deep-threat, but Stafford won’t feel obligated to get him the ball the way he had been with Johnson. There will be an adjustment period for the 8th-year quarterback without question. With all due respect to Calvin Johnson, however, this is finally Stafford’s team. It may be exactly what he needs to get to that next level like we’ve all been waiting for.