Drew Stanton: Detroit Lions Starting Quarterback

>> 12.02.2010

By now, you’ve certainly heard the news: Drew Stanton will be starting for the Lions as they face the Bears this Sunday.  This kicked off a cavalcade of reactions:

  • Sean Yuille at Pride of Detroit:
    “Apparently Schwartz said that the offense won't change with Stanton at the helm. All I can say is I'll believe it when I see it.”
  • Neil at Armchair Linebacker:
    "Hell had to find a way to ferret out the tiny pockets of hope that were still left in the fanbase and then crush their fragile spirits, and what better way to do that than to parade down the streets with a clueless Drew Stanton waving and smiling and throwing Grit at horrified onlookers while the devil rides an evil sleigh made from the bones of Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill?"
  • Big Al at The Wayne Fontes Experience just screamed, senselessly.

I come from a different school of thought entirely.  Way back in March of aught-nine, in this blog’s third month, I penned a little piece I called “On Quarterbacks,” which was much more about Drew Stanton in particular than quarterbacks in general:

Stanton is a player I have an extra soft spot for, because my then-toddler daughter was introduced to football through him. One of the games we'd play with her would be to point out Drew Stanton every time teh camera closed in on him. In fact, one of the first times she recognized a number was during a Spartan football game, and she started shouting, "Green Number Five!" It took us a little while to realize that she was seeing Stanton and calling out his jersey number: a green five. When got a little older, my mother taught her to say "Drew Stanton, what a babe!" (gee, thanks, Mom). Ultimately, DS was kind enough to do an autograph session at the Mall, and my little girl actually got to meet the man in person.

Anyway, when Stanton was drafted by the Lions, it was a dream come true, of course. A second-round pick, at just the right time to draft and groom a QB, and a very Millen kind of QB, a tough-nosed, smart, gritty, vocal leader. The kind of player who legitimately hates opponents and wants to beat them--not for glory, not for stats, not for money, but for the sake of victory. The kind of player who can't stand losing, and will give every last ounce he's got to come out on top. That is exactly the kind of quarterback that most Lions fans have been screaming for for years, yet have not ever seen.

I was both thrilled and scared to tell my daughter about Drew Stanton What A Babe becoming a Lion, because deep down I feared that what happened to Chuck would happen to Drew. That the dark presence that hangs over this organization would roll down upon Ford Field and smite him, and DS would never lead the Lions to anything. Sure enough, it's been two whole seasons now; thanks to injuries, blackouts, and the ineffable Will of Rod, my now-twice-as-old-as-she-was-then daughter has still never seen Drew Stanton play for the Lions.  She roots for the Buccaneers now.

If the Millen/Martz/Marinelli three-headed monster, and multiple untimely injuries, hadn’t snuffed out Drew Stanton’s hopes of ever becoming The Lions’ Quarterback (instead of a Lions quarterback), the selection of Matthew Stafford did.  As soon as the ink was dry on Stafford’s massive contract, the forecast for Drew Stanton’s Lions career read “Cloudy with a slight chance of Charlie Batch in Pittsburgh.”  From that point, Hometown Boy Career Backup was the best Detroit Lion he could hope to be.

Unfortunately, Drew hasn’t made enough of his few chances to get even there.  His first—and until Sunday, his only—NFL start didn’t go so hot: 11 of 21 for 130 yards, no scores, and 3 INTs.  Combined with his various relief and mop-up appearances, he’s completed 55 of 104 attempts for 611 yards, two TDs, and seven interceptions.  That’s a career passer rating of 49.0.

His limitations as a passer are undeniable.  At his best, Drew’s passes are in the right place at the right time, but lack zip, especially on deep routes.  At his worst, his throws are wildly inaccurate and easily intercepted.  As Neil is so fond of pointing out, though, Drew’s stock in trade is Grit: with heart and effort and general athletic ability, he goes out and makes plays and does his best to win, no matter the odds.  In college, it worked—sometimes spectacularly.  Drew did engineer the biggest comeback in NCAA D-I history, after all.

Unfortunately, the same hasn’t been true so far in the pros.  In preseason, we’ve seen Stanton scramble for scores and throw 50-yard bombs—but when the bullets have been live, he’s been a dud.  Some of it’s because his team’s been terrible.  Some of it’s because he gets almost zero practice reps outside of training camp, so never practices with the starters and barely practices at all.  Some of it’s because his best chance to make it in the pros was with slow, steady, careful grooming to build good habits and iron out bad ones.  Some of it’s because . . . well, his limitations as a passer are undeniable.

Even so, this season we saw some real progress out of Drew. When he came in cold against the Giants, he turned in a performance that was a little shaky—but, yes, gritty.  He made plays when he had to, and nearly shocked the Giants at Your Company Name Here Stadium.  He impressed everyone, even Giants head coach Tom Coughlin:

"The third quarterback came in and, geez, he played very, very well,'' Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.

And Dominic Raiola--part of a Lions offensive line that worked incredibly hard to give Drew time against one of the better pass rushes in the NFL--voiced his support of Drew, too:

"Drew is mentally tough. You're not going to tell him he can't play and then he'll go in the tank. The guys are behind him -- he got better and he did a good job for us,'' Lions center Dominic Raiola said. "Drew's come a long way. He's so improved. People who think he's not an NFL quarterback ... he looked like one out there to me. He did a great job of preparing and he gave us a chance."

. . . and Stephen Peterman, too:

"I thought he did great,'' guard Stephen Peterman said. "He came in and stepped in and played a helluva game. He made checks and looks that you wouldn't expect from a guy who hasn't been in there. He did a great job."

In the wake of the Bills loss, I angrily blamed Jim Schwartz for starting a severely hampered Shaun Hill (who was too hurt to practice the whole playbook that week), instead of giving Drew a solid week of preparation with the starters.  Surely, I said during the Fireside Chat, if you knew that that was all Shaun Hill could give you, you have to start Drew.  If you can’t count on your third quarterback to play when your second-stringer is too hurt to take snaps under center, then what is he doing on the roster?  Schwartz answered that very question this week:

"There's a reason we've kept him around, and you only keep a guy around if you have confidence to put him in a game," Schwartz said. "His role has been third quarterback, and now it's time for him to be able to answer that and be able to go."

Obviously, actions speak louder than words: if Shaun Hill, playing at about 52% of his usual ability, gets the nod over a healthy Drew Stanton, then in fact you don’t have confidence to put him in a game.  Then again, actions speak louder than words—Schwartz and Mayhew have had plenty of opportunities to cut Drew loose and bring in someone else.  The Lions have not been shy about churning the roster; there’ve been no sacred cows.  Even beloved, respected, hometown boy, brought-in-by-this-regime Jon Jansen was sent packing when the Lions thought his roster spot would be better served on someone younger.  In fact, they have brought in several other quarterbacks: Brooks Bollinger, Kevin O’Connell, Zac Robinson—and they just worked out Josh McCown and J.T. O’Sullivan earlier this week.  If any of those guys offered a floor, or ceiling, higher than Stanton, Drew’d be gone.

I realize, at this point, that I sound like a fool.  I realize, at this point, that everyone else long ago boarded the Drew Stanton Sucks So Bad it’s Funny train, even though the reality of his situation hasn’t changed: he’s still a 2007 second-round draft pick, and he’s still only getting his second real shot at playing quarterback for this team.  He’s getting a full week of practice reps with the ones, a full week of preparing as the starter, a sellout home crowd, and a team eager to play for him—and get the victory over the Bears that was taken from them.

Go get ‘em, Drew.


14 comments:

J. Smitty @jasmith579 December 2, 2010 at 12:33 PM  

Good stuff. I believe that Stanton is a GAMER. Whatever the other coaches didn't see in him was because he isn't good enough in practice. I have seen enough to know that with the right coaching & system that not just Stanton but any 3rd string QB can have success. Otherwise they wouldn't be on the roster.

Kris December 2, 2010 at 2:30 PM  

I hoped for Stanton to be given a shot to play but I've lost faith in him long ago. He couldn't beat out Cullpepper (who was terrible IMO) or Orlovsky for even the 2nd string spot and then Detroit drafted Stafford as their QB of the future. The trade for Hill and playing Hill hurt doesn't bode much better.

This Bears defense is too good to be inaccurate and decisiveness against and without the benefit of any run game that puts even more pressure on the passer. The probability of a brutally bad outing is extremely high.

Kris December 2, 2010 at 2:37 PM  

Should be "indecisive" not "decisiveness".

All things considered, Stanton is probably the best option at this point (not a good option but the best available option). He knows the system. Anyone else you bring in is going to have to learn a lot in a very short time. I wish him well and will be rooting for him to succeed but I think understandably I'm not expecting much.

Old Man Winter,  December 2, 2010 at 5:19 PM  

I just read an article asking why there is no MVP love yet for Cutler. That should set him up for about 3-4 picks and a bad head ache on Sunday(time to make your comeback A-Smith). And just for a little more karma, Hometown Boy's high school won another state title at FF last weekend. These are the kind of games the Lions win--when they have no business doing so. U R right to have high hopes this time Flamekeeper!

Mike aka CJ81TD,  December 2, 2010 at 5:34 PM  

My sports team affiliations are such that there exists an indelible mark on my psyche from the long and storied tradition of Spartan turned Lion busts. After years of rooting against Charles Rogers with every fiber of by being, the Lions took him #1 thereby seemingly ensuring at least a solid decade of all-pro level WR production. Um, yeah.... Chaz R primed my contempt pump with his embarrassment of a career and predisposed me to have no faith in Stanton. I'll admit I let the fantasy of Drew on a bootleg rifling a pass down the field to Roy, BMW or CR cross my mind once or twice, but I never expected much. What I really think we have is a guy who is "gritty" "gutty" (like Scotty Skiles) and a "gamer" but not really an NFL caliber talent. You can argue circumstance and lack of opportunity temporarily excuses him from joining CRog but I maintain he never won the big games in college and to think that should change now is wishful thinking at best. That said, I am all for wishful thinking and IF they tailor the game plan to his strengths and he plays with the reckless abandon of someone on punt coverage in the Big Ten (not much of a stretch), he could hold them in the game given the weapons at his disposal. The blind faith afforded me by my Lion's fandom wants to believe but the Wolverine in my knows better.

Mike aka CJ81TD,  December 2, 2010 at 5:35 PM  

Dave Raymer - you can stop this vicious cycle!

Matt,  December 2, 2010 at 6:11 PM  

For the Sparties-turned-Lions haters, I'd like to point out that Julian Peterson has been, arguably, the second best defensive player (behind Suh, of course) on the team this year. . .horrible-blown-tackle-plus-late-hit-penalty versus the Jets aside.

Matt,  December 2, 2010 at 6:13 PM  

I would also like to point out that the poopheel of the OL, offense, and perhaps the whole team since he was drafted is U of M offensive tackle Jeff Backus (if only the Seahawks hadn't snagged Hutchinson just one pick before the Lions).

Mike aka CJ81TD,  December 2, 2010 at 6:45 PM  

Matt,

Calling JP the second best defensive player on the Lions is roughly as good crowing about the second best offensive player on the 97 Lions. Mitchell, Herman Moore....no one outside of Detroit will know or care.

Backus may have his faults but you can't argue with longevity. Obviously someone thinks he is serviceable or else he wouldn't be in there every week. You obviously can't say the same for Drew.

Anonymous,  December 2, 2010 at 8:00 PM  

not gonna happen. lions are gonna be in for a long day unfortunately. still don't think duh bears are for real though.

theicon77,  December 3, 2010 at 1:27 AM  

Stanton starting and a house full of Bears= me selling my ticket this week.

Matt,  December 4, 2010 at 2:58 AM  

Mike, I can argue with longevity when it's combined with mediocrity. Yes, Backus is available to play each and every Sunday. And on each of those Sundays, he's been an at least marginally better option than anyone else on the roster. Of course, those other options have been the likes of Jonathan Scott, Matt Joyce, Kelly Butler, etc. I absolutely believe he would and should have been replaced many times over, but the Lions have always had either A - more pressing needs (which sounds strange when we're talking about our LT) or B - inept management or both. Another problem is that elite LTs rarely become available in free agency (the only recent one I can think of is Jason Peters and the thought that immediately follows is "What were the Bills thinking letting him walk?"). The Lions have drafted 3 WRs, 2 RBs, and 2 QBs in the 1st round (plus DS in the 2nd) since Backus was drafted. They have also drafted 2 "book-end" RTs in the 1st round (ok, Stockar was drafted the year before, but I still say Millen's worst move was trading back for Gosder instead of up for Ryan Clady). My point is that all you can really say about Backus is that he's been the best option available and that ain't saying much. He does everything okay, but nothing great and routinely gets punked by elite pass rushers (remember the KGB days?). Don't forget he's the one that Julius Peppers humiliated on the play that has essentially cost Matt Stafford the 2010 season. Has there been a worse LT in the NFL the last decade that has consistently started? If the OL isn't the biggest problem with this offense (and team) and Backus isn't the biggest problem on the OL (by this I mean the problem that, if fixed, would result in the greatest overall improvement), then I have no idea what/who is.

Mike aka CJ81TD,  December 6, 2010 at 1:54 PM  

Drew played better than expected. He avoided the big mistake and used his athleticism to make some plays. Needs to work on his TD celebration but good overall effort. I'd still rather see a young developmental guy in that spot but good overall effort.

Mike aka CJ81TD,  December 6, 2010 at 1:59 PM  

On the Peppers play specifically I blame JB but I also blame the coaches. No way he should be singled up on one of the game's elite pass rushers in that situation. If your standard is "can he successfully block Julius Peppers one-on-one" then a lot of good tackle are going to fail. I know that's only one example but I guarantee you he would be starting somewhere else if they cut him tomorrow...I think.

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