Examining Stafford’s season before and after finger injury

Dec 11, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) puts on gloves during the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 11, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) puts on gloves during the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

Matthew Stafford came into 2016 on fire, building off of his sensational finish to the 2015 season. He was leading a fourth-quarter comeback practically every week, showing vocal leadership that fans have been waiting on for years,  and his accuracy was off the charts. Offensive coordinator, Jim Bob Cooter, seemed to figure out how to maximize Stafford’s skill set.

Dec 11, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) runs the ball during the third quarter against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Lions win 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

The Lions got off to a 9-4 start after another comeback victory over the Chicago Bears in Week 14. Unfortunately, Stafford suffered a ligament tear in the middle finger of his throwing hand during the game. The injury, which happened about midway through the Bears matchup, seemed to almost instantly affect his accuracy. Using his legs more than his arms, Stafford was able to run for the game-winning score against Chicago, nonetheless.

Despite being in great position, with a chance to win the NFC North for the first time in over twenty years, the Lions faced three extremely tough games to close out the season. Detroit went on the road against the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, and a home finale against the Green Bay Packers (all 2016 playoff teams).

As you all know, the Lions went 0-3, backing into the playoffs as a wildcard. While the schedule was tough, it was obvious when watching Stafford that his accuracy was slightly off — most likely because of the finger but Stafford did not admit that was the issue.

It’s commendable for Stafford to take the blame, but upon further inspection, clearly, he was not the same player that was heavily in the M.V.P. discussion a few weeks earlier. So let’s look at the stats and see how much his finger injury actually affected his production.

Stafford 2016 Season Stats:

4,327 Passing Yards, 24 TD passes, 10 INTs, 65.3  completion percentage, 93.3 QB Rating.

Overall, this was a solid season for Stafford, leading Detroit to the playoffs in his first year without Calvin Johnson at wide receiver. There’s a drastic dropoff, though, in most relevant stats from his first twelve games to his final four. Take a look at the numbers for yourself below.

Stafford Pre-Injury (Games 1-12)

Game 1:  340 Yards, 3 TDs, 79.5 Comp. Percentage, 128.6 QB Rating

Game 2: 260 Yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 55 Comp. Percentage, 72.9 QB Rating

Game 3: 385 Yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 68.3 Comp. Percentage, 112.3 QB Rating

Game 4: 213 Yards, 2 INT, 63.9 Comp. Percentage, 55.8 QB Rating

Game 5: 180 Yards, 3 TDs, 76 Comp. Percentage, 135 QB Rating

Game 6: 270 Yards, 4 TDs, 74.2 Comp. Percentage, 139.8 QB Rating

Game 7: 266 Yards, 1 TD, 62.1 Comp. Percentage, 103.5 QB Rating

Game 8: 240 Yards, 1 TD, 65.8 Comp. Percentage, 89.5 QB Rating

Game 9: 219 Yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 63.9 Comp. Percentage, 87.6 QB Rating

Game 10: 278 Yards, 72.7 Comp. Percentage, 97.8 QB Rating

Game 11: 232 Yards, 1 TD, 57.5 Comp. Percentage, 82.5 QB Rating

Game 12: 241 Yards, 2 TDs, 71.4 Comp. Percentage, 111.3 QB Rating

12-Game Totals: 3,224 Yards, 21 TDs, 5 INTs, 67.5 Comp. Percentage, 101.5 QB Rating

Stafford Post-Injury (Games 13-16)

Game 13: 223 Yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 60 Comp. Percentage, 64 QB Rating

Game 14: 273 Yards, 1 INT, 61.5 Comp. Percentage, 71.8 QB Rating

Game 15: 260 Yards, 1 INT, 56.5 Comp. Percentage, 63.7 QB Rating

Game 16: 347 Yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 63.4 Comp. Percentage, 96.3 QB Rating

4-Game Totals: 1,103 Yards, 3 TDs, 5 INTs, 60.4 Comp. Percentage, 74 QB Rating

Analysis: Looking at the numbers, Stafford saw a significant decrease in completion percentage, TD-INT ratio, and overall QB rating (101.5 to 74). After throwing 21 TDs in twelve games, he threw just three over the final four games. His career-low interception total ballooned after the injury, as he threw five picks down the stretch, despite throwing just five total in the first twelve games.

Stafford played through the injury and while he should be commended for that some might say he shouldn’t have played if he wasn’t 100% But with Dan Orlovsky as the primary backup, he was still the best option, even with the finger injury. He didn’t make excuses, yet, as you can see, he was not the same player from a statistical perspective. This carried into his playoff performance in Seattle (75.7 QB Rating 1.7 points higher that final four-game average).

As Stafford is on the verge of getting a mega extension, remember that he was playing at an M.V.P. level and in the actual discussion for the award (unlike his 41-TD, 5,000+ yard 2011) before this late-season injury during the Bears game seemed to drastically alter his accuracy production, and ability to win games late. At 29, Stafford’s best days may still be ahead of him with what looks like a very good G.M. in place.

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