This morning, Tom Kowalski wrote a piece on Mlive.com about Matthew Stafford watching the game from the coaches’ box, something I didn’t catch during the game itself. It struck me as a flatly brilliant idea: let your field general sit in the war room.
Remember, it’s only this season that Stafford’s been given the freedom to check out of the play sent in from the sidelines. All last season, the play came in through the headset, and Stafford had to run it. Even this season, it seems as though his audibles are limited to a Maddenesque handful: mostly “run it,” and variations on “throw it up to Calvin.” For the most part, Linehan and Stafford work hand-in-glove.
Of course, Stafford—and all the other quarterbacks—spend hours and hours and hours with Linehan during film sessions and position meetings and on the field; he knows what the offense is trying to accomplish. It’s not a surprise to Stafford what the gameplan is, so when the play comes in through the headset he knows exactly why Linehan is calling what he’s calling . . . or, so he thinks.
I’ve said before that sitting in the end zone seats gives you a whole different perspective on what the quarterbacks are doing:
We as fans are so used to the “TV angle”, the down-the-line-of-scrimmage-cam, that we lose appreciation for how wide the field is. It’s 160 feet---that’s fifty three and one-third yards. That’s right, folks--no matter what Tecmo Bowl taught us, the field of play is over half as wide as it is long. A “30-yard-out” is really a 40-plus-yard throw, assuming the QB’s standing in the middle of the field. When people say that arm strength “doesn’t matter”, to an extent, they’re right—the 50-yard sideline bomb is only deployed once or twice a game. But where arm strength DOES matter is getting the rock to the receiver while he’s still open.
The angles, the spaces, the distances all change when you switch seats from the sideline to the end zone. I can only imagine how wildly different things must seem from up in the box, after a lifetime of seeing things from the field of play. For the first time, Matthew Stafford got to physically see the Xs and Os come to life—and I have to believe that gives him a better understanding of not just the offense, but the why of the offense, of the things the coaches see that lead them to design the offense as they design it. Just as seeing game film breakdowns change a fan’s understanding of the game, I have to believe time in the coaches’ box changes a player’s understanding of the game. On Sunday, Stafford may have taken the red pill.
The other reason this was a brilliant move is because of who Matthew Stafford is: hope. He’s hope, personified. He’s the franchise quarterback, the icon, the avatar of everything that is good and right and getting better about the Lions. If he’s wandering around the sidelines in a ballcap and T-shirt, how can his teammates feel like they have a chance? Putting Stafford up in the box puts him out of sight and out of mind. The team on the field is the the whole team, and the quarterback on the field is the quarterback. No constant reminders that their best player isn’t playing, no reducing the team leader to being the team cheerleader—psychologically, removing Stafford from the situation entirely was a great move.
Above all that, though, the best thing about this move is knowing that the Lions are being coached by a staff that thinks about things like this. Rod Marinelli never would have put Stafford in the box; the thought would never have occurred to him. This staff thinks about football in an intelligent way, and they coach football in an intelligent way, and their players have a better understanding of the game because of it. That can only bode well for the future of the franchise.