Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was ranked in the top 100 players in the NFL by a player poll conducted by NFL.com. That should be expected of a player who has thrown a record amount of passes during the last three seasons and did manage to lead one of the most dismal pro sports franchises to the playoffs in 2011. So, yes, he was included in the list, the problem is, he was #100. Stafford is a severely underrated player.
There is plenty to criticize about Stafford. From costly interceptions to people questioning his decision making, there are faults throughout Stafford’s game that cause concern about whether Stafford is the right player to take the Lions to the promised land. The problems aren’t always directly related to Stafford’s play. The Lions often haven’t been able to stop anybody from scoring. Former coach Jim Schwartz was ill prepared to make adjustments during games and Martin Mayhew has failed as general manager to surround Stafford with quality targets beyond all pro Calvin Johnson.
Stafford looked horrible last year as the Lions squandered a 6-3 start and failed to make the playoffs with a dismal 1-6 finish. The division was theirs for the taking and that collapse finally cost Schwartz his job. As bad as Stafford was, he didn’t have much to work with. Johnson was struggling with injuries, unavailable to practice and severely slowed in the second half of the season. His second best option Nate Burleson broke his arm trying to save a pizza in one of the most ridiculous in season injuries ever. The Lions as a team by far led the NFL in dropped passes, lowering Stafford’s completion percentage significantly and consistently putting the quarterback in bad situations where he ended up forcing passes and disrupting the offenses flow.
Stafford is far better than it appears. Let us not forget after the Lions beat the Dallas Cowboys last year in dramatic fashion, hall of famer Terry Bradshaw declared that there was not a single quarterback he would rather have than Stafford. Yes, Tom Brady managed to make something out of nothing last season with a less than stellar receiving corps and took the Patriots to the playoffs. Stafford is not Tom Brady. Nobody is Tom Brady, his success in the NFL is paralleled by very few and those names are Montana, Manning, Bradshaw and Young. That being said, in many ways Stafford’s numbers compared favorably to Brady’s last year.
While playing with a far better coach and defensive unit, Brady did top Stafford in completion percentage 60.5 to 58.5. Both quarterbacks suffered dropped passes and poorly or incorrectly ran routes by their receivers, so Brady should receive some credit where it’s due. Despite the fact that Brady completed nine more passes than Stafford, Stafford topped Brady’s yard total by over 300 and his touchdown total by four. Unfortunately Stafford did throw eight more interceptions than Brady, but that in part is from playing from behind on a 7-9 team instead of playing with a lead as Brady did on the 12-4 Patroits. It’s not to say that Stafford is close to Brady, no one really is, not even Manning. Brady did more with nothing last year than anyone could have dreamed, but in reality, so did Stafford.
This season is the year for Stafford to prove himself. In theory, Mayhew has loaded the barren cupboards for Stafford. He grabbed super bowl champion Seattle Seahawks top receiver, Golden Tate. The first round draft pick was tight end Eric Ebron. The new coaching staff is offensive oriented with Jim Caldwell taking the reigns and he brought in offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi from New Orleans. The Lions also resigned former first round pick Brandon Pettigrew and Ryan Broyles seems to be recovering well from yet another season ending injury. Basically, it’s put up or shut up for Stafford this year. Not only will Mayhew be run out of town on a rail if the Lions don’t excel this year, but the clock will start ticking on Stafford as well. It’s now or never and as much as I don’t see the hope in the Lions defensive moves, it has to happen or heads will roll. There’s a lot of pressure on one player for someone that the other NFL players consider only to be the 100th best player in the league. It is time for Stafford to prove them wrong.