meet the cubs: the truth

>> 7.29.2009

With the exception of Aaron Curry and his immediate relatives, I doubt anyone on this Earth wanted the Lions to draft the linebacker from Wake Forest more than I did.  After weeks of learning about the extraordinary young man, I became hopelessly enamored with the freakishly talented linebacker captaining the Lions’ defense—and his selflessness, humility, and commitment to public service spearheading the economic renaissance of Detroit.  It got so bad that I penned an open letter to Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew, sent it to them, posted it here, disseminated it to the media, spread it around on forums, did whatever I could to convince anyone I could that Aaron Curry should be the cornerstone of the new Detroit Lions.

Further, while I readily admitted that the Lions’ quarterback situation needed to be addressed, few were as adamant as I that “addressing” the situation should not consist of slapping a pair of $72M handcuffs on one wrist each of the franchise and the fresh-faced Texan.  Matt Stafford had all the earmarks of the classic #1 quarterback bust: high-profile recruit out of high school, big career numbers compiled at a major-conference power—and a dearth of actual achievement while he was there.  He certainly didn’t live up to the outsized BCS-and-Heisman expectations.  On top of all that, he left school as a junior--a classic red flag—and did so, presumably, to avoid being buried in what’s projected to be a tremendous 2010 quarterback draft class. 

There’s no doubt that Stafford possesses all of the classic quarterback virtues: a big frame, a Howitzer of an arm, and a million-dollar aw-shucks grin.  If it were 1969 right now, Matt Stafford would be a mortal lock for the Hall of Fame.  However, the modern NFL quarterback has a different set of qualifications: impeccable decision-making, a quick, compact release, athleticism, leadership—and yes, marketability.  In each of these new post-Bill-Walsh quarterbacking dimensions, Matt Stafford looked like—at best—the #2 signal-caller available.  Especially in the months prior to April, selecting Matthew Stafford with the #1 overall pick seemed like folly on the grandest possible scale.

Nick Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press just published a big, beautiful two-part article about Stafford’s past, his grounded upbringings in the midst of extreme gentility, his incredible links to Lion Hall of Famers Bobby Layne and Doak Walker, and his legendary high school career in a state where high school football is a religion; re-writing it all here would in fact be folly on the grandest possible scale.

Suffice it to say, Stafford has been the Golden Boy with the incredible frame, arm, skills, temperament, and mojo from as soon as he was old enough to compete with others in contests of physical skill.  From lighting up middle school with his 70-yard arm, to starting as a sophomore at one of Texas’s premier programs and bringing them a state championship, to starting as a freshman in one of the SEC’s premier programs—and holding that chair for three years—Matthew Stafford’s entire life has been building up to this.  So, now that he’s arrived, does he have the tools to succeed?

First, let’s look at his production in college: 

YEARCMPATTYDSCMP%YPALNGTDINTSACKRAT
2006135256174952.76.835371312108.99
2007194348252355.77.2584191015128.92
2008235383345961.49.0378251017153.54

The first thing that jumps out is something that Stafford fans have pointed to over and over again: his improvement from year to year.  Each season, the number of attempts went up, the completions went up, the yards went up, the yards per attempt went up, the touchdowns went up, the passer rating went up, and the interceptions dropped or held steady.  In each year, Stafford was asked to do more and more of the work, and in each year, he did markedly better.  That’s definitely a great sign.

Looking a little more closely at his final year, we see some very respectable numbers: 61.4 completion percentage, 153.54 passer efficiency rating, 9.03 yards per attempt--all second-best in the SEC (Tebow had an edge in all).  The 3,459 yards and 383 attempts were each far and away the most in the SEC, showing that Stafford represented a far bigger percentage of the Bulldogs’ offense than any of the other quarterbacks did of theirs.  This lends credence to the oft-floated theory that Stafford didn’t have much in the way of a running game to help him out.

In order to judge for ourselves, we of course turn to the oracle which knows and sees all: the internet highlight reel.



These two clips comprise a fairly complete set of highlights for Matt Stafford’s final year of college.  When the Stafford rumors really started to pick up, I sought out as much video as I could find, to “TV scout” Stafford to the best of my ability.  Unfortunately, on first blush, my worst fears were realized.

Many of these “Matt Stafford highlights” are really Knowshown Moreno highlights.  There are a LOT of WR screens, quick outs, quick slants etc., where Stafford simply zips it out to the flat or to the side; either the receiver or the downfield blocking then turn a routine play into a big gainer.  Note that many of the actual passing plays came out of the shotgun spread alignment—for all the talk that Stafford played in a “pro style” offense, it looks like whenever the Dawgs wanted to go downfield, they went to the gun.  Finally, carefully examine the opponent, score, and time on these plays.  Many of the most impressive throws come against Central Michigan, Georgia Tech, and the like.  Most telling, perhaps, is the Alabama game.

Now when it comes to college football, I bleed green and white, I follow the Big Ten, and I pay casual attention to the rest of the NCAA.  Excepting bowl games, I typically watch two or three non-Big Ten college football games per year--and last year, ‘Bama at Georgia happened to be one of them.  There was a huge buildup to this game.  It was a marquee 7:45 pm matchup, both teams were undefeated and thinking BCS, and Georgia had issued a “blackout”—black uniforms, black shirts on fans in the stands, black face paint, black everything.  It was  absolutely a circle game for both squads.  Said Georgia coach Mark Richt before the game:

"We are playing a great team -- a top 10 team and one that is coached by one of the finest coaches in America," Richt said. "They have been tested, they just have whipped everybody so bad it didn't seem like they were."

What happened? Matthew Stafford and the Georgia Bulldogs we completely blown out of their own stadium.  ‘Bama absolutely whipped them in every phase of the game.  To be fair, Stafford wasn’t really the problem--the ‘Dawgs defense was completely worthless that night, and several freak turnovers (see the 7:09 mark) dealt Matt Stafford a brutal hand to play.  However, even in the midst of all that, I was still waiting for him to take his team on his back like a great college quarterback can.  Instead, he stuck to the gameplan.

In the face of an onslaught where ‘Bama was scoring at will, Stafford was chipping away with screens and slants, watching his title season swirling down the drain.  At halftime, it was already over.  If you advance the video to 7:17, you’ll see a series of very nice 15-to-25-yard completions out of a variety of sets.  Stafford plays with urgency, accuracy, and you can see him willing his team to win.  Unfortunately, it was already 31-0.  ‘Bama was already rotating in their second-stringers, essentially ceding first downs to the Bulldogs.  I came away from watching that game thinking Matt Stafford had gamely brought his B+ knife to a 22-man gunfight.

At this point in my predraft research, I was dead set against Stafford.  He seemed to have Tim Couch written all over him--and if the Lions were to whiff on another quarterback, all the positive momentum generated up until this point would be wasted, Schwartz would already be a dead man walking, and the next three years would be just another long, slow rake across the coals.  However, while the national media was convinced that Stafford was the no-brainer pick, the news out of Allen Park seemed to point to either a left tackle or Aaron Curry.  Matt Stafford then had his Pro Day, and the consensus seemed to be vague positivity: those who were already sold saw nothing to dissuade them, and those who were convinced he was a bust saw nothing to convince them otherwise.  ESPN and Scouts, Inc.’s Todd McShay:



McShay was absolutely correct with his last point on that clip: far more important to the Lions than Stafford’s scripted Pro Day workout was his own private workout with the Lions.  As McShay said, the Lions flew a “cast of thousands” down to Athens to put Matt Stafford through his paces their way.  As Jim Schwartz put it prior to the event:

"There's nothing wrong with us saying, 'We want to see the come-back (route) thrown into the wind, but also with the wind.' You can direct that. You can put him in some situations and throw some curveballs at him, see how he reacts and how he handles that.  Before we go down, we'll have it planned out. I don't see us communicating that to him. I see us hitting him with that at the last second. We don't want him to get ready for it," Schwartz said. "Sometimes, you can have a canned nature to the workout, it can be too scripted."

So the Lions went down to Georgia with the expressed intent of getting Stafford uncomfortable.  They wanted to get him off rhythm, force him to improvise, test his instincts and his understanding, and see what he’s really made of.  How did he do?  Well according to a piece on SI.com:

“Sources described Stafford's workout as flawless, stating it was significantly better than his March 19 pro-day workout, also held at Georgia.”

My reaction to this was extreme skepticism.  Of course, in a workout hosted by Stafford and his camp at Georgia’s facilities, and viewed only by the Lions’ staff, the reports would be nothing but glowing.  The Lions, even if they weren’t interested in Stafford, had to build value for that pick if at all possible.  They needed other teams to believe that they were sitting on a gold mine.  If Stafford wasn’t the choice, the Lions needed to convince somebody else that he was worth it—or the Lions would be stuck paying cartoon money to a linebacker or lineman.  However, if it WAS true . . . then the Lions were sitting on a gold mine. 

I decided to take matters into my own hands, and sit down with the only “game film” I had: a DVR’d copy of the 2009 Capital One Bowl.  Now, I knew going into it that this game is not considered Stafford’s greatest performance.  I also watched this game on TV when it happened, and from what I remember of Georgia’s offensive possessions (in between hanging out with my family and playing Assistant Grillmaster to my man Jim, who was hosting a party), my general impression was “not impressed”.  Still, I figured I’d get right to the heart of the matter, and chart the performance.

With an arm-breakingly large tip of the hat to Brian at MGoBlog--for both the inspiration and the permission--I used his Hennechart (or “Threetsheridamnitchart”, as it’s been rechristened) concept and grading scale.  Here’s Brian’s Hennechart legend, which explains exactly what all these numbers and abbreviations mean.  Finally, let me add the caveat that I counted every time the ball left Stafford’s hand in passion as an “attempt”; thanks to plays called back on penalties, screens reclassified as laterals,  and other gray areas, there are differences between the numbers I’m putting forth, and the official stats.  Since I was really anxious to see if my hunch from watching the highlights—that Georgia runs a “pro” offense but only really throws from a spread--was on target, I broke it down by formation:

FORMATIONDOCAINBRTABAPR
shotgun spread41372101
single back 3WR0110000
I-form 2WR0100000
I-form 3WR0010000
TOTALS41592101

Yikes.  This was the last thing I wanted to see: Nearly every passing attempt came from the gun, with three or more receivers on the field.  Georgia was doing a lot of lining up in a traditional pro set or I-form, then they’d run—or, a few times Stafford would then back up and take the snap from the gun.  It would seem that if Georgia is typically this predictable—spread means pass, pro set means run—then it’s no wonder that their offense failed to meet expectations.  I’m going to chalk this up to Georgia’s staff presuming that a lot of spread looks would flummox a Big Ten defense that only sees four or five predominantly-spread teams a year (cue a hearty roll of the eyes).

I decided to also break it down by, well, down:

DOWN-DISTANCEDOCAINBRTABAPR
1st-and-101641001
2nd-and-short1100000
2nd-and-long0530000
3rd-and-short1310000
3rd-and-long1011100
TOTALS4 1592101

This isn’t any great revelation; to be frank, Stafford wasn’t great in this game no matter how you slice the numbers.  9/32 throws being “inaccurate” means that almost a third of the time, his throws weren’t catchable, or were routine throws that required a circus catch.  However, there is one thing that caught my eye: on second-and-short and third-and-short (I defined “short” as five yards and under), Stafford was either “dead on” or “catchable” with 6 of 7 throws.  If you add second-and-long in to that total, Stafford came up with good, catchable throws in 11 of 15 reasonable passing situations.  That’s when it occurred to me: those are the throws Joey Harrington couldn’t make

Remember how infuriating it was that on second and third down, Mooch would have every target run curls, slants, and comebacks?  Joey would have like four six-yard-deep options on 3rd-and-5, and invariably he was either inaccurate, or he threw it to Az Hakim, and therefore it would go incomplete.  I don’t know how many drives got killed with a Kevin Jones run, then two incompletions.  That was the entire point of the Walsh-style offense that Mariucci ran; short, quick, accurate throws put the skill position players in space with the ball.  If Joey had executed the dink-and-dunk stuff with placement and zip, like Stafford, Mariucci’s offense would have been significantly more successful. 

Suddenly, I realized my problem: I was only looking for evidence to support my hypothesis!  I came in looking for proof that Matt Stafford is the next Jeff George; a caveman with a rocket arm who can’t make decisions or execute a gameplan.  Yet, all the evidence shows that at Georgia, Stafford rarely used that arm as a club—he often used it like a scalpel.  Here he is running a 3-to-4 WR offense, being pretty efficient with his throws, executing the gameplan and moving the ball, and I’m complaining that he’s not spraying it all over the field like Kyle Boller!

I’m certainly not saying that Stafford is going to come in and shred NFL defenses apart with his psychic defense-reading and pinpoint accuracy.  A lot of these throws are designed plays, screens and flares where Stafford isn’t making a read, he’s just pulling the trigger.  However, that in and of itself—being a quarterback who can successfully pull the trigger on second and third down—means that a top NFL offensive coordinator like Linehan ought to be able to use him, right now, just fine.  With an unstoppable deep threat in Calvin Johnson, and a short-range broad side of a barn in Brandon Pettigrew, Matthew Stafford should have all the tools he needs to perform at a serviceable level in the NFL right away.

It’s certainly not all sunshine and lollipops here; I found very little film of him executing an NFL offense from under center.  He also was mostly uninspiring in his final game as a Bulldog, when he knew the entire football world was watching closely.  However, I also saw a lot more touch, a lot more quick throws, a lot more short-range accuracy, and a lot more athleticism than I was expecting.  He played behind a makeshift line his final year at Georgia, and he made a lot of plays happen after things broke down—or, importantly, as they were breaking down around him. 

I’m not convinced that he’ll be the next Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger, but I now believe the potential is there.  Think of it this way: if he can top a 65 passer rating, he’ll be the best quarterback on the roster.  If he can be better than Charlie Batch, he’ll be the best quarterback the Lions have drafted since Rodney Peete.  If he can be better than Scott Mitchell, he’ll be the best Lions quarterback since the man who set the bar for his high school over fifty years ago: Bobby Layne.  Since Stafford already did what Layne never could—lead Highland Park to a Texas State Championship—I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’ll be better than Scott Mitchell.

38 comments:

Jimmerz,  July 29, 2009 at 10:20 AM  

I was against taking Stafford, but I have no doubt he'll be a better pro than Joey. Not that that's saying much. And for the record, the best QB the Lions have had since Bobby Layne is Jon Kitna. And I'm not even kidding. Just look at the numbers. Pathetic, isn't it?

Jim,  July 29, 2009 at 11:03 AM  

Hm...

I'll be sold on Stafford when he performs like Matt Ryan. In 16 starts, completed 265 of 434 passes for 3,440 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for an 87.7 passer rating. That was good for 11th in the league overall.

Does that seem unreasonable? I think it does a little. There's a Matt Ryan once every five years, most rookie QBs just suck or are at best average. Matt Ryan was the best rookie QB since Big Ben and he was five spots above average.

I would be elated if Stafford finished in the top half of QBs this year. Preseason will tell the tale of whether Stafford snapped from the shotgun because that's what the UGA staff wanted or because he needed the extra 3/4ths of a second to make his five yard dink and dunk reads. If it's the former, we might be fine, if it's the latter we could be cooked.

Either way, I'm looking forward to finding out.

Ty July 29, 2009 at 11:13 AM  

If Matt Stafford is an above-average NFL quarterback for 10 years, this pick is a big, fat win . . . and I think that it's more likely that he'll get there than that he won't. I think the thing that most Lions fans were petrified of is another Harrington--and judging from what I read in comments here, other blogs and their comments, forum posts, Mlive comments, Stafford is widely regarded as a lock to be exactly that.

From what I've seen, I think the floor for Stafford is a Byron Leftwich-type career. Promsing start, decent for a few years, thought of as an up-and-comer, never quite takes the next step, franchise starts getting antsy, and after six or seven years there's a sexier options.

As far as Kitna vs. Mitchell, I'm going to partially agree with you. I think that for the most part, Jon Kitna was probably a better overall quarterback during his time with the Lions than Scott Mitchell was. However, in 1995 Scott Mitchell completed 59.3% of his passes for 4,338 yards, threw 32 TDs to 12 picks, and led the Lions to a 10-6 record and the playoffs. Kitna's best season with the Lions, he completed 62.4% of his passes, for 4,208 yards, 21 TDs and 22 picks, while leading the Lions to a 3-13 record and nothing. Kitna was the Lions' QB for, essentially, 2 seasons, and Mitchell was the Lions' QB for, essentially, 4 seasons. I guess I'll give a slight nod to Kitna for consistency, but IMO there's no doubt who had the "greater career" here.

Yeesh. Did I really just write all that?

Peace
Ty

Anonymous,  July 29, 2009 at 11:15 AM  

Thanks for all the video. This was one of my favorite blogs of yours by far.

One thing that I noticed is that Stafford could really get the ball out to the sideline with some zip on those quick sideline passes. That could force the corners to give Calvin less of a cushion than they would normally, allowing him to blow past them for the long ball.

I was hoping that the Lions would go in another direction in the draft, but there is one reason that I am glad that they took Stafford. If Stafford is as good as the coaches seem to think he is, that will improve the Lions more than any other player could have. Getting a star MLB or LT would have helped the team, but a stud QB will take a team farther than any other one position can.

Lopper

Ty July 29, 2009 at 11:39 AM  

Jim--

You bring up a couple of interesting points.

First, Matt Ryan entered the NFL, and immediately executed the quarterback position at an above-average level. It's true that that level of immediate success is really, really rare. However, that's at least partially because the best quarterbacking talents often go to the worst teams, and it's rare that a really talented young QB gets the quality coaching and supporting cast he'll need to succeed right away.

As an example, Charlie Batch's rookie season put Peyton's to shame--and yet, Manning had the sexier toolset coming into it, and ended up having a far better career. Why? Well, the Lions had more pieces in place than the Colts in 1998 (Herman, Barry, etc.), and Batch was a second-round pick who took over a flailing team thought to be playoff-caliber, and Manning was nominated the savior of a franchise in ashes. As we all know, that rookie year was probably the best Batch ever had, and the superior coaching (and Marvin Harrison, and Edgerrin James) catalyzed Peyton Manning's Hall of Fame career.

Obviously, Stafford's situation resembles Ryan's in that there is a whole new front office and coaching staff coming in with him, a Pro Bowl-level #1 WR, and a solid running back. His situation also resembles Manning's in that he's the #1 overall pick of a franchise at the very bottom of the NFL. It will indeed be interesting to see whether he reaches moderate success right away, takes a couple years to builds up to the Pro Bowl, some kickass hybrid of the two--or flames out completely.

Peace
Ty

Weston Corbitt July 29, 2009 at 11:58 AM  

I can see the comparisons to Matt Ryan easily, but I do not think he will match those lofty standards. Stafford sometimes reminds me of Jay Cutler. A SEC QB with a big arm and questionable accuracy issues. Stafford had a better supporting cast and a better program to perform in, but he has the tools to be a great NFL QB. Having tools and succeeding is a tough leap to make. Ryan Leaf had the tools, Tim Couch had tools,Jeff George had tools. They all failed for one reason or another, but I think Stafford has the right mindset and attitude to be good. Every college football player in the NFL needs coaching and work, so if Linehan can groom another QB (Culpepper, Bulger) than we could be seeing a solid first overall pick. If not, we could be hurting for a while.

popeww,  July 29, 2009 at 2:45 PM  

outstanding stuff. this article would be the best i've seen in a month if it was up at ESPN right now.

Leonid,  July 29, 2009 at 3:40 PM  

Wow - Thank you - This is the best article that I have read in months, from any professional or non-professional source. It is very thorough, insightful, objective yet personable and articulate. I too wanted Curry more than anything for the Lions and am still worried about Stafford. I also despise the notion that just because I am a little sceptical about Stafford due to certain reports, means that I do not support him. Of course I support the quarterback of my favourite football team. We all wish him well, the best actually!

Thank you and take care,

In Veritas,

Leonid

Scotty G July 29, 2009 at 4:20 PM  

Hey Ty, great article as always. I love that you had an epifany and relized that you were looking at Staford with pre-concieved notions, in the sense that you wanted to find his flaws to support your endorsement of Curry. I love Curry's potential also but, he is still a LB and the dividens for success would be much lower at that position than Staffords.

I have to admit that leading up to the draft, I was a proponent of drafting J.Smith (LT). I still think this year will be Backus' last as the starter on the left side. With next yr's qb crop, it would have been better served to fill that need in the 09 draft and take care of qb next yr (I personally would rather have Tebow than Bradford...stick that in your pipe and see how it smokes[not directed toward you Ty, just everyone in that thinks Bradfor is superior to Timmy]).

But alas, I - like everyone else I believe - have become enammered with Stafford and want to see him in action asap. Only the start of the pre-season and opening day of bow season, to me, compair to a childs anticipation as he dredges through the month of December waiting for Christmas day. And once that day finally comes, you put on your best "gratitude face" and open present after present (which turn out to be mainly cloths, gromming accessories and books) while you can only think, that each prestent you open, gets you that much closer to what your parents have been saving for last. The one thing you've been asking for the whole year. The one thing that is so special it's not even in the same room as the rest of the presents. I want to unwrap my brand new first round draft pick and see what he can do. Is this a present that will provide hours of entertainment and live up to all the hype and expectation? or, is this the "made in China" version of what you were expecting? Not living up to it's billing and leaving you to wait hours in line to return it after the holidays had ended (if you were lucky).

No, in hindsight, I have put full faith and confidence in Swartz and Co. that they WILL BE the saviors of this franchise. I know it's still July but the aproach has been drasticly changed. I don't think Stafford will bust because of who he was chose him to begin with. Are their going to be adjustment periods, unfair compairasons, overly critical analasis??? sure. Comes w/ the position and it comes w/ the league but I think we got a guy that can handle it. We got a GM who knows what NOT to do (which is always a good thing) and was aggresive in recruting a competent staff (long overdue). We got a coach who is smart, experienced (albeit not as a HC), and ready to fulfill his destiny, so to speak. Granted, or roster has a mile to go yet but I think even the casual fan can see the change and, in this case, the change is good.

GO LIONS

Scotty G July 29, 2009 at 4:20 PM  

PS, forgot to spell check. sorry for the butchery.

Ty July 29, 2009 at 4:42 PM  

Lopper--

You're welcome! I really don't think most fans or media folk yet understand just how powerful watching for yourself can be. If a picture is worth a thousand words, well, video must sure be worth much more. There's a LOT of great football film out there; you just have to look.

You make an excellent point about his zip on the quick, short stuff. How many WR screens did we see during the Joey era that were good for a couple-three yards, because the passes either weren't zipped out fast enough, or weren't on target, or both? How many swings, screens, and flares didn't work because the quarterback didn't hit him in stride?

And of course, I agree completely with you that if Stafford is the real deal, he'll have a bigger, longer-lasting impact than any other player could have had. Quarterback still is the lynchpin position, and the ball still must flow from the QB to the rest of the offense. As I've said before, just look at the Colts with Peyton Manning versus the Colts with Jim Sorgi . . . it's the difference between a guaranteed 10 wins and a possible 10 losses. I can't even begin to put into perspective how huge it would be to this franchise if he worked out.

Peace
Ty

Bag July 29, 2009 at 4:52 PM  

Love the analysis - thanks! It's funny that one of the knocks against Staff is that he didn't have the 'touch' for short passes. Did you see anything that would indicate why anaylists would say that? I haven't.

Here is what I like about him:
1. He has the physical skills. Better arm than most in the league.
2. He made a lot of plays with his feet, as you said. I wonder how that will translate at NFL speed though...
3. I like his personality. He has that Manning (Peyton)-esque take charge thing going on. I don't see loses early in his career unraveling him.
4. He has been consistantly getting better. Which means that his potential is unknown.
5. Schwartz liked him. Schwartz may not have exp as a head coach, but he is insane with stats and he knew what he was looking for. My opinion is that if anyone knows what stats translate to success for any position, it's Schwartz.

Anonymous,  July 29, 2009 at 4:53 PM  

This is the best article I've read about anything ever. :)

Ty July 29, 2009 at 4:54 PM  

Weston--

I think we need to keep in mind that the "lofty heights" of Matt Ryan and the "accuracy issues" of Jay Cutler are extremely relative. As Jim said above about Ryan: "In 16 starts, he completed 265 of 434 passes for 3,440 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for an 87.7 passer rating." In Cutler's 16 starts, he completed 384 of 616 for 4,526 yards, 25 TDs and 18 INTs and a passer rating of 86.0.

So basically except for efficiency rating, which was a dead heat, Cutler absolutely blew Ryan away. Again, what made Ryan exceptional was not incredible production, but that he was "pretty good" as a rookie. If Stafford is "pretty good" as a rookie, and acheives Cutlerian levels of production by his third year, he'll be a home run--and we should all be ecstatic.

Peace
Ty

Anonymous,  July 29, 2009 at 8:44 PM  

Matt Ryan fell into a situation where he had a solid O line and more than solid running back. He didn't have to pass as much. Look at Big Ben's first year. There were many games he only attemped 20 passes. Much easier to succeed when the D has to respect the run.

Anonymous,  July 29, 2009 at 9:12 PM  

Let the games begin... and the debate end. Hopefully by the end of the season we will all be pleasantly surprised at Stafford's ability.

Anonymous,  July 29, 2009 at 9:37 PM  

Great article! Keep up the good work.

Anonymous,  July 29, 2009 at 9:43 PM  

I lot of people do not understand just how young and inexperienced Stafford's offensive line was his last two years at Georgia. They had a difficult time holding their blocks during the passing game, that's why most passes were from the shotgun. They simply could not hold up against the SEC DEs for long.

His sophomore year he had two freshmen (LT, LG and RG) and two seniors, whose true position was guard but had to play C and RT. His junior year he had three freshmen and two sophomores protecting him. The C and LG were tr freshmen. Had a 4th string LT protecting him for half the season after the 1st and 2nd stringers went down with torn ACLs. The 3rd stringer, who had been converted from DE to TE then to LT, couldn't cut it. The offensive line's motto was 'Fake It 'Til We Make It.' Even the head coach said that the QB had to make calls at the line of scrimmage to protect the offensive line instead of the offensive line protecting the QB.

Ty July 29, 2009 at 11:43 PM  

popeww--

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I really appreciate that.

Peace
Ty

Weston Corbitt July 29, 2009 at 11:56 PM  

Very Great article by the way. I was just trying to denounce one of Stafford's biggest trouble spot in college being accuracy. His wideouts had a ton of drops (probably something him and Drew Stanton stay up at night talking about over a beer) and he has improved his accuracy every year in college and could continue that trend in the pros. Matt Ryan walked into a great turnaround with an all-universe season turned in by Michael Turner. He did not have to be great, but good enough. Now that Tony Gonzalez is on the team he can really flourish. It will take us probably about 3 years to gauge if Stafford is the real deal. Lets hope he pans out.

Pacer July 30, 2009 at 12:17 AM  

Ty-as always, good stuff. As football fans we are always making comparisons to other players at the same position. So I think it appropriate to dispel some of those comparisons.

1)Joey Harrington-Killer re-published an article prior to the draft re: the selection of Harrington. If you have not read it I submit it should be required reading. The head coach was against the selection of Joey-yet he was drafted anyway. The dissension within Lions management doomed Harrington before he even got to training camp. I have no idea what Harrington might have done under different circumstances but I will say this-there is no basis in fact to compare Harrington's selection to Stafford's-at all. Right or wrong the Lions brain trust like Stafford-period.

2) Matt Ryan-was a 5 year senior upon graduation. The new Falcons management knew they were on the right track when they subjected Ryan to a series of different QB options, plays, play selections etc. and when he pointed out where THEY were wrong and then proved it, they knew they had their man. Even though Ryan was drafted by a 4-12 team, that team was better than 4-12 and then they added "the Burner" and some really smart draft picks. But Ryan's college career was on a lesser stage. What makes Ryan'a 1st year really good -he's smart and knows the game.

Joe Flacco-need anyone say anything more then the Ravens defense, decent OL and running game.

I believe that Mayhew has set it up to be able to have Stafford start right away or sit for awhile. Thus the resigning of Culpepper who just coincidentally (??) is reunited with his former offensive co-ordinator, who also is recognized as one of the best OC's in the game. He tutors QB's and has had success with Pep and Bulger in the past.

While, like you and others' I was not a big fan of Stafford, like you and a lot of other posters, the more I see and hear from him, the better I like him. In retrospect, the Lions draft Curry ( my wife and I just loved that guy), Jason Smith, (we loved him too)-what now? Tebow etc next year-maybe!!-a defensive end??-a middle linebacker. As much as Pit and Mav drove everyone on M-Live crazy prior to this years draft, with their absolute adoration of Stafford, they were reacting to the one constant in the NFL-if you have the quarterback, you have a good shot at moving forward, and in the end, just prior to going on a 3 week cruise, I posted on M-Live-Draft Stafford. Yes-I missed the draft-but my wife and I taped it and 3 weeks after the fact we watched the whole thing-how sad is that?

I believe the Lions have their QB-I think it was the right choice. Thanks to everyone for the pleasure of their intelligence.

TuffLynx July 30, 2009 at 4:13 AM  

Great article Ty. I appreciate all of the work that you put into it. It is too bad that the mainstream sports media won't work that hard to create an article any more.

I have looked over some of Stafford's games at Georgia and what I have decided is that the guy is not presented by the "experts" in the national sports media in an accurate way. He does seem to have some issues with footwork at times. But he also has pretty good athleticism and can make an accurate short pass. He is not just a rocket arm. There is more there.

I am thinking Stafford may surprise some of us, including me. I was a huge fan of drafting Jason Smith. So I am super happy that camp is starting and we will see something real soon.

Ty July 30, 2009 at 8:37 AM  

Leonid--

Thanks many times over! It's kind words like yours that help keep me writing.

Also, I love your attitude; even though you're (understandably) skeptical about the pick, you still earnestly root for him to succeed. That's what being a fan is all about, man.

Peace
Ty

Ty July 30, 2009 at 8:45 AM  

Scotty G--

Actually, my pro-Curry and anti-Stafford sentiments really didn't have anything to do with one another. I really didn't think Stafford had the "right stuff" to succeed as an NFL quarterback; I thought he had all the classic red flags. Meanwhile, I was absolutely in love with Curry's physical ability, intelligence, and character--and, oh yeah, he fit a huge need, and would sign much more cheaply.

I'm really not enamored of any of the '10 quarterbacks. I don't think Tebow has an NFL arm, and have doubts about his ability to read defenses at the next level, too. Great kid, great athlete, tough leader . . . no.

I also don't want anything to do with a quarterback who ran a full-time spread. You can't learn to play football like that; every all-spread quarterback has either busted out in the NFL, or needed several years to develop. I really thought that Sanchez was going to be the best NFL QB in next year's class, but he came out early, probably to his detriment . . .

I REALLY enjoyed your Christmas analogy; that's absolutely perfect. I have faith, too! I love the moves the Lions have made, and I'm confident in the direction they're headed.

Peace
Ty

PS--I fail at speling all the time. Don't worry about it.

Ty July 30, 2009 at 9:09 AM  

Bag--

You're welcome!

I think the trap that most analysts fell into is the same one that I fell into. The first thing you hear about Stafford is the huge, huge cannon that he has. The second thing you hear is how he was a three-year starter at Georgia. You go, "Georgia? Weren't they the preseason number one? Didn't they get housed by Alabama? Didn't they end up in like the old Citrus Bowl?" Then--this is the important part--you decide that he's Jeff George. You mentally put him on that burn pile of college quarterbacks with big arms, big frames, big career numbers, and no titles to show for it. You start ascribing all of those usual flaws to him--no touch, no accuracy, bad decision-making. You look at his career total or career average stats--which were dragged down severely by the year he started as a true freshman in the SEC.

The only cure is to ACTUALLY WATCH HIM PLAY--which as Schwartz has said several times, most people pounding the table to draft this guy or that guy has never actually watched either guy play football. It's the groupthink, the hivemind. People all read all the same articles and then repeat them all back to each other.

The clearest example I can find is the time Kowalski mentioned offhand that a scout he talked to once expressed doubt that Backus had enough raw strength to excel at guard. I don't know how many hundreds of times I've since seen fans who don't know footwork from footlongs screaming to the heavens about how Backus is "WAY TO WEAK!!!"

I appreciate you reading and commenting, Bag! Stick around . . .

Peace
Ty

Ty July 30, 2009 at 9:11 AM  

Anon--

I'm still grinning about your comment.

Peace
Ty

Ty July 30, 2009 at 9:19 AM  

Anon 2--

I don't think the Falcons' line was all that highly regarded. Here's a pre-2008 rundown of the worst offensive lines in football--note that the Falcons and Lions both feature prominently:

http://nfl.fanhouse.com/2008/08/29/2008-offensive-line-breakdowns-the-bunk/

"Welcome to hell on earth Matt Ryan. Ever wonder why Joey Harrington's career never got a fair shake? Everywhere he went, he had no time to throw. And Matt Ryan, you are about to find out exactly how it feels. Right tackle Todd Weiner underwent major knee surgery and will likely not play. First-rounder, Sam Baker will start at left tackle, but unless he can block five guys simultaneously, stick a fork in this offense. Center Todd McClure and right guard Kynan Forney are veterans, but the rest of the line is totally up in the air and very inexperienced.

2007 Sacks Allowed: 47

2007 Yards Per Carry: 3.9"

See, I think this is what they call "resemblance logic". Turner blew people up, and the passing game was both efficient and effective, ergo their offensive line must be pretty good, right? Actually, it wasn't. This is another reason why I roll my eyes at everyone screaming that the Lions can't put Stafford on the field until the offensive line is one of the best in the league--if you're good, you're good. Stafford will struggle a bit if they can't protect him well, but with good coaching, a great WR, and a great TE, he'll be able to get by without a great OL.

Peace
Ty

Ty July 30, 2009 at 9:20 AM  

Anon 3--

Seriously! When is football? Give me football.

Peace
Ty

Ty July 30, 2009 at 9:21 AM  

Anon 4--

Thanks! I will try to keep it up, indeed.

Peace
Ty

Ty July 30, 2009 at 9:27 AM  

Anon 5--

Holy wow. "The offensive line's motto was 'Fake It 'Til We Make It.'"?? That's horrifying. And the QB calling line protections?!? Wow.

I hinted in my article about how Stafford is used to making do with a patchwork offensive line; I had no idea how bad it really was. Take note, folks!

Peace
Ty

Ty July 30, 2009 at 9:33 AM  

Weston--

I wasn't trying to take you to task, I just wanted to point out that as extraordinary as Matt Ryan's rookie performance was, it was extraordinary because he was a ROOKIE performance. In terms of actual production, he was efficient and effective, but far from devastating.

I really believe that between Megatron and Pettigrew and the running game, Stafford is going to have more than enough tools around him to (to borrow a phrase) fake it until he makes it.

Peace
Ty

Weston Corbitt July 30, 2009 at 10:15 AM  

Good Call Ty. I understand how incredible Matt Ryan was. I'll be the first to admit I wanted Curry and a OT with our first rounders, but am satisfied with our selections. Every QB loves a big security blanket in a TE. Pettigrew looks like a winning TE from the start. Smith and Morris should be a solid running attack and Megatron is probably a top 3 receiver. Great dedication responding to every comment, its something I try to do with my personal blog. Can't wait for the next article! GO LIONS!

Ty July 30, 2009 at 12:55 PM  

Pacer--

Whew! Lots of good stuff here.

1) I wrote extensively about that very tidbit when it came out, check it out here:

http://thelionsinwinter.blogspot.com/2009/04/sins-of-father.html

To sum up, I agree with you completely.

2) "I believe that Mayhew has set it up to be able to have Stafford start right away or sit for awhile." Exactly right. If Stafford isn't ready, Culpepper will be the scarecrow quarterback we can semi-creditably run out there, and Linehan will probably be able to extract points from his play--especially with the overwhelming targets he'll have to work with. If they're crutches for Stafford, they'll be crutches for Culpepper too.

Thanks for the kind words, and thanks for reading and commenting!

Peace
Ty

Ty July 30, 2009 at 1:04 PM  

TuffLynx--

I think the media have it really tough right now; they're trying to evolve from competing with each other on quality, to competing with the Internet on speed, to being the kings of timely quality on the Internet. Some media folks, like, Killer, are doing a good job of balancing semi-regular quality content with daily "here's some meat for the wolves" tidbits. One of the key differences between hobbyist bloggers and professional journalists is that a blogger like me can spend hours watching YouTube clips and writing about it--but at the same time, while many thousands of people enjoy being informed by journalists' quotations and summations, the audience for this type of obsessive stuff is smaller, and MUCH harder to identify and attract.

Peace
Ty

Anonymous,  August 1, 2009 at 8:31 AM  

Once bitten, twice shy.

There was no doubt in my mind that Stafford was the pick, and reading your analysis brings back the nightmare months leading up to the draft on numorous draft boards. You seem to lean on a lot of quotes that seemed to support your skepticism instead of looking for the ones that were from people that supported Stafford.

And a big note, Stafford didn't come out this year to dodge the class for next year, he came out because this year's class was weak, and next year's class will be even weaker with all of Stafford, Freeman, & Sanchez declaring. I'm sorry but Tebow, McCoy, & Bradford will not be good pro QBs. MAYBE Bradford with a lot of fine tuning, but he's years and years away with his skill set. Stafford is the most pro-ready QB to come out in a long time, and is lightyears ahead of anybody next year. In fact the best QB in next year's draft will be another junior, Jevan Snead.

I'm convinced the Lions made the right pick.

Ty August 3, 2009 at 4:47 PM  

Anon--

If you happen to check this space again, I'd like to respond to something you said:

"You seem to lean on a lot of quotes that seemed to support your skepticism instead of looking for the ones that were from people that supported Stafford."

If I've been effective in my writing, you'll have noticed that I moved chronologically from the beginning of the postseason, through the pre-draft period to today. I certainly "leaned" on quotes from talking-head types and draft website types, because for the most part, we all do. In the blogosphere, in forums, at the water cooler, and in the living room, fans are mostly parroting the Kipers and McShays of the world, whether they know it or not. Fans will spend hours and hours making hundreds of posts, comments, threads, emails, replies, etc. waging holy for for or against a particular college player, fervently declaring their undying love for a player, and bitterly swearing to disavow their fandom forever if their THAT guy or THAT guy is drafted . . . and ninety percent of the time, none of these fans have ever even watched these kids play.

So yes, at first, my opinon of Stafford was informed almost entirely by this groupthink. Part of it was that I really thought the Lions needed to address the defense--the offense was and is much closer to being an effective, talented unit. Part of it was that I couldn't bear to see this new-from-the-logo-up franchise immediately bound to a bust at quarterback--LT or LB seemed like a much "safer" pick. Finally, I thought that the Lions really needed to see what they had in Dan Orlovsky and Drew Stanton--two promising young quarterbacks who'd shown they could do well enough to keep the Lions in games.

Most of the doubts voiced by talking heads about Stafford--didn't win anything in three years with a good team around him, sometimes struggled with decision making, padded stats against bad opponents, got whooped by good ones--were all the classic "red flags". Most of the quotes/thoughts in support of him were either raves over his arm strength (which has no correllation with NFL success), or excuses ("his offensive line ws banged up", "his defense let him down", etc.).

It wasn't until I did this--really closely watched the game tape I had access to--that I really started to see with my own eyes what Stafford's capable of, what his strenghts and weaknesses REALLY are (instead of pigeonholing him in the "million dollar arm/ten cent head" category), and how they might project to the NFL.

FWIW, I agree that none of the '10 class quarterbacks have me drooling as pro prospects. I think the only "legit" NFL quarterback is McCoy, and even then I want to see his body mature a lot more before I draft him very highly.

Peace
Ty

Lionsbloodnw,  August 4, 2009 at 2:52 AM  

That is a fair reply. As I read through your original post, I got fired up and started typing a response. Not until later, I actually finished your entire post (oops)and noticed an evolution to where your perception and opinion changed. I guess my own eyes mislead me because the majority of the post was anti-Stafford, and just that little bit at the end showed where you started seeing the talent for yourself. It would have been great to see/hear what made Stafford really sway you. It would have been a complete 180 and really gave some insight and hope for fellow Lions fans.

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