Matthew Stafford Is Taking The Reigns

>> 6.13.2011

I love this team. I love the leaders on this team. I love the makeup of this team, and all the different ways the players set the tone for the others. I love the quiet giants, like Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh. I love the mouthy guys like Louis Delmas and Titus Young. I love the rusty-nail veterans like Kyle Vanden Bosch and Jeff Backus. But all these players, all this talent, all these leaders . . . one is the fulcrum between winning and losing. One can be the difference between another sub-.500 year and ten wins or more. One will be the difference between making the playoffs, and finishing third in the division, again.


Lions fans are loath to admit it, but the NFL is a quarterback’s league. If you have a great quarterback, he can singlehandedly make up for any number of flaws. If you have a great quarterback, even a terrible team is always a threat to win. If you have a great quarterback, a flawed team wins more than they lose. With a great quarterback, a good team is great, and a great team immortal. This picture puts it in perspective: Matthew Stafford holds the ball, he wears the captain’s C, and the responsibility is solely on him to elevate this team from one of the NFL’s Great Unwashed to the playoffs.

Fortunately, it’s a responsibility he’s borne his entire football life, and one he wears well. It was cool to read Mike O’Hara’s piece about Stafford staying “after class” with Titus Young and Mikel Leshoure, and how his tutelage of them doesn’t end at the sidelines of the practice turf, either. But those two are rookie skill position guys, just kids who’ll Stafford will directly interact with. What about all the veterans I reeled off in the first paragraph? What of the men much older than the still-just-23 Stafford, who’ve been doing this for a living for years?

Tom Kowalski said something on the STK Show, and I was driving so I couldn’t write down an exact quote, but I’m going to paraphrase as best I can. He said that when the Lions’ player workouts were being organized, the overriding questions from the vets was, “will Stafford be there?” Because, in their mind, if Matthew Stafford was all-in for the workouts, then they’d be the real—and if he wasn’t, then it’d just be farting around, and therefore not worth their time.

I really can’t imagine a more telling anecdote. Again, these men are leaving their homes, their families, their PS3s, to go work out for essentially no reason. All of them have weight racks,, personal trainers, and dieticians at home. All of them have alma maters, former teammates who’d love to see them, and local gyms they’re members of. All of them are perfectly capable of staying in game shape without these voluntary workouts—and yet, the Lions have had one of the best-attended player camps throughout the NFL, partly because the franchise quarterback was deeply involved.

I'm not trying to say that a bunch of shorts-and-T-shirt-work at Detroit Country Day will be the difference between 10-6 and 6-10. What I’m saying is, Matthew Stafford is already respected by his teammates as the leader he must be, if the Lions are going to fulfill their potential.


NorthLeft12,  June 13, 2011 at 7:14 AM  

Another fine article Ty. As you said, Staff has been wearing this mantle since high school, maybe even earlier for all I know, and carries it very well.
Those that say this is Ndamukong Suh's team only have to see what happened this off season to know whose team this really is.

As an aside, I saw the title of an article that mentioned eight Lions who faced make or break seasons in 2011. I have not read that article [probably won't] but I am pretty sure that Matthew Stafford will be on that list. However, that is just not true. The Lions, and most Lions fans, are pretty well all in on Stafford. I don't see the Lions moving in another direction until his rookie contract is up. And frankly, I am very confident that he will be the best QB that I have ever seen play for the Lions.

Ty,  June 13, 2011 at 10:49 AM  


Thanks! You hit the nail on the head, especially here:

"I am very confident that he will be the best QB that I have ever seen play for the Lions."

By the end of this season, he might already be there.


Jimmerz,  June 13, 2011 at 11:40 AM  

In the words of the great Winston Wolf..."let's not start sucking eachother's d*cks just yet." The guy's played in only 13 games in 2 seasons, and even when he has played he's been less than impressive with one of the worst YPAs in the league, and a completion percentage below 60%.

Now I haven't given up on him completely, but I felt like I had to point out that there are logical fans out there that realize he might not be the one.

Let me ask you this - if Stafford has a significant injury yet again this year, do you honestly think the Lions won't be exploring other long-term options at the position in the following offseason?

Regardless of what the Lions front office decides to do if Stafford flops this year, this is absolutely a make or break year for Stafford, both performance-wise and ability to stay healthy-wise.

NorthLeft12,  June 13, 2011 at 1:11 PM  

Ty, I forgot to ask, did you purposely use "reigns" in your title as opposed to "reins"?

randomguy313,  June 13, 2011 at 1:29 PM  

@Jimmerz I have to disagree with you about Stafford being less than impressive. Eye test wise this season Stafford left with injury in two games with the lead against playoff teams and beat Washington.

#completion %: I do not think that KC is unhappy with Matt Cassel at 58% or the Jets with Sanchez at 54%.

#YPA is flimsy especially when a defense can rush a front four and still be stout with the run. If you look at Cassel he has a 6.9 avg in part to the threat of Jamaal Charles.

I agree that the front office should entertain new options if Stafford were to be hurt again, but I would say that would be their mindset at every position.

As you saw this year. Shaun Hill was a capable back up. The Lions staff are trying to build up the defense so that a healthy Stafford can push us forward, but the Lions won't be hamstrung in the event he gets injured

Zac,  June 13, 2011 at 2:10 PM  

John Elway's career completion percentage: 56.9%

Ty,  June 13, 2011 at 2:42 PM  


"Let me ask you this - if Stafford has a significant injury yet again this year, do you honestly think the Lions won't be exploring other long-term options at the position in the following offseason?"

You're right, of course. In my mind, though, the question of "Is he good or not" has been long since answered. When healthy, he's the real deal.


Ty,  June 13, 2011 at 2:46 PM  


"Ty, I forgot to ask, did you purposely use "reigns" in your title as opposed to "reins"?"




Matt,  June 14, 2011 at 3:08 AM  

Zac, fair point. However, of the players who QBed the last ten Super Bowl champions, only Eli Manning had a sub-60.0 completion percentage during the regular season of the championship year (ok, Big Ben's was 59.9% in 2008 when he got his 2nd ring). Before Eli, you gotta' go back to Trent Dilfer's 59.3% for the Ravens in 2000 (in which he only started 8 regular season games). For a full-time starter, we're looking at Mr. Elway in both '97 (55.8%) and '98 (59.0%). Before Elway, you've got Favre's 59.9 in '96, then have to go back to Mark Rypien in 1991 (59.1%).

So, to WIN a Super Bowl in the "modern" NFL, you've pretty much gotta' have a QB who completes at least 60% of his passes. If the guy's a future 1st-ballot Hall of Famer, then it's ok if he's a little under 60. Otherwise you need a GREAT defense or to be playing the Buffalo Bills.

bigwalt2990,  June 14, 2011 at 7:11 AM  

Personally, I could care less what Stafford's completion percent is or his YPA stat. He scores touchdowns. He's money in the red zone. There's only one stat that matters.

randomguy313,  June 14, 2011 at 8:36 AM  

@Matt: although a lot of things go into a completion percentage it is encouraging that from the first year at 53% he moved it up to 59% and he had that percentage against stout defenses.

novasure arizona,  June 14, 2011 at 9:39 AM  

Good thing they still have progress on their playing going on. Probably this would be a good year for them.

Jimmerz,  June 14, 2011 at 2:26 PM  

"Personally, I could care less what Stafford's completion percent is or his YPA stat. He scores touchdowns. He's money in the red zone. There's only one stat that matters."

@bigwalt2990: Yeah, there is only one stat that matters...and it's not TDs. It's wins. And Stafford only has 3 of them in two seasons.

Mike,  June 14, 2011 at 6:30 PM  

Jimmerz, You're right that there's only one stat that matters in the NFL and normally I would agree 100% with you here if he were "healthy" through 36 games in the last two years (I say "healthy" because no NFL player is truly 100% after a 16 game season), but that's just not the case.

2009 he was playing through injuries through most of the season while playing on a team that was just one year removed from the talent-starved 2008 team. No QB, not even one of the greats in their prime, would have made that team anything better than mediocre. 2-14 is still pretty bad, but you have to cut the kid some slack on that season in context.

2010 Stafford started 3 games and left injured in 2 of them. Both games he was injured in he left with the lead and won the only game he finished.

Now this year, if he can stay healthy, we should really start seeing the kind of QB he is going to become. 10-6 is an attainable record for the first time in over a decade and they may go better than that.

Peyton Manning's first year ended at 3-13 with 56% completion rate. The next year he went 13-3 with a 62% rate. Give the kid some time and a REAL season to work with. He's the real deal, and that WILL translate to some real wins.

Jimmerz,  June 15, 2011 at 8:45 AM  

@Mike: I'm noticing a pattern there. If he's not on the field, he's not helping the team, no matter how good he is.

Ty,  June 15, 2011 at 8:57 AM  

You guys are killing it. Racing to finish Meet the Cubs for Nick Fairley.


Matt,  June 15, 2011 at 12:10 PM  

@bigwalt, ask the 1998 Vikings or 2007 Rams about translating TDs to Super Bowl Rings (note: The QBs for each of those teams had a better-than-60% completion percentage). If you're not completing passes, then you're not sustaining drives and, in turn, not scoring TDs. That kinda' leads me to Jimmerz's point. Wins are all that matter. Every other stat is in service of wins.

@randomguy, totally agree. I don't have a major concern about Stafford's completion percentage. I think he's shown that he's got the talent to be successful in NFL (i.e. WINS). That talent will cause his stats to sort themselves out. I just balked a bit when Zac brought up Elway. I like Stafford, but let's not cast his bust for Canton just yet.

@Mike, nice work. One line I'd like to draw attention to is "Give the kid some time and a REAL season to work with." This is the sticking point with Stafford, IMO. It's not just that he has durability concerns (which he absolutely does, at this point in time), it's that he's already missed a ton of "development" time and can't afford to miss more. Again, I like Stafford and think he'll be very good. However, I also think that he'd ALREADY be very good if he had played more than a handful of games. He's gotta' get out there and play not just because he's the Lions' best QB and gives the team the best chance to win, but also because it'll make HIM a better QB (really, it's probably the only thing that'll make him better). This fact is buried in the Manning numbers you mentioned. I think his 2nd year stats are mostly due to the 3-13 record his rookie year (translation: he played 16 games). Of course, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison, Jeff Saturday, Tarik Glenn, Marcus Pollard, etc. had a lot to do with it, too. The Lions have a lot of guys like those guys now, all that's missing (on offense) is the QB.

Mike,  June 15, 2011 at 4:01 PM  

@Jimmerz True, but that is the same as any player. The biggest key is staying on the field and his history of injury on this team is a definite red flag but that doesn't necessarily mean that he won't be able to stay on the field. IMO his injuries the last few years lean more on his transition from college and pro and learning how to take hits from players far faster and stronger than the ones he was playing in college. I'm very encouraged by the talk of his rehab using strength training to build up his shoulder muscles which should prove to be more durable. Remember that the Dolphins passed on Drew Brees because of an injury issue, and many people wondered how durable Sam Bradford was going to be in the NFL after sustaining two throwing shoulder injuries in his last season. Injury prone is a mantle given after the fact. If he spends this year sidelined with injury after injury then Mayhew should start weighing his options, but in no way does the past two years mean he's going to be battling injuries his entire career.

@Matt I agree 100% with you. He NEEDS to be on the field. No matter how much film study and practice you do, nothing compares to the experience of being on the field, but I don't think the concept of "now or never" that some people attribute to young players is apt. Stafford was one of the youngest QBs to ever start an NFL game; he is roughly 4 months older than Jake Locker. He is still very young, and still has plenty of time to develop into a premier QB.

A comment on your response to my Manning reference; it's funny how similar turnaround stories like the Colts and the Lions are. There's also an article in the Detroit News about how similar the Lions of today are to the Steelers from the late-60s and early-70s. Turning a franchise around isn't random, and the more I see from Mayhew and company the more confident I am that we're heading for a lot of success.

Here's the link to the article if anyone wants to read it:

SmittyDMR,  June 16, 2011 at 9:51 PM  

Good read. I truly think the fact that two of our rookies are skilled players gives Stafford a great responsibility that he has grasp. The workouts do make a difference for these players. There will be plays made by Young and Leshoure that come directly from this invisible playbook that Stafford is giving them.

Anonymous,  June 17, 2011 at 7:54 AM  

Awsome read Ty!
I've been reading TLIW for a long time this is my first post. IMHO this will be the year our lions shock the world. Staffords spending 10 weeks in rehab with DR. Andrews team must make a difference with his shoulders, and as long as he stays healthy it will be a great year for us watching them play.
Also I believe the long winter is over and u need to rename the blog The Lions in Spring. lol
thanx againg for the great blog

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