Matthew Stafford is the Detroit Lions

>> 10.18.2011

11 SEP 2011:  Matthew Stafford of the Lions warms up before the regular season game between the Detroit Lions and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL.

The Lions lost their first game of the season because they were gashed by the 49ers’ Frank Gore on wham plays and trap blocks. Jahvid Best, already struggling to run between the tackles, may be unavailable Sunday due to yet another concussion. Clearly, the Lions need to adjust their defense to account for this vulnerability, and maybe pick up a between-the-tackles back who can replace Best in the lineup, right?

Wrong.

The Lions offense is Matthew Stafford and the bristling arsenal of skill position weapons they’ve supplied him with. The Lions defense is the defensive line—which gets after the quarterback first and asks questions later.

The Lions are built from the ground up to score points through the air, then prevent the other team from doing the same. Teams have been able to run the ball successfully against the Lions; they’ve even been able to dominate time of possession. But until Matthew Stafford and the offense failed to muster at 20 points, no team actually beat the Lions.

Fans and media assessing the Lions in the wake of their first loss are frequently citing an inability to grind out yards, and prevent others from doing the same, as the reason they didn’t win. They want the Lions trade for a power back, or feature Redskins retread Keiland Williams more. They want the Lions’ defensive line to quit pinning their ears back and maintain gap responsibility.

It's not going to happen.

There’s no available running back that will turn the Lions into the 2000 Ravens or the 2009 Jets [Ed.- as I wrote this, the Lions completed a trade for Ronnie Brown. My analysis stands]. The Lions interior line can’t run block like that, and the Lions’ massive array of downfield artillery would go unfired. Why assemble all that firepower and then pull a slingshot out of your back pocket?

The Lions can’t neuter the hyperaggressive defensive line; it’s what allows them to drop seven men back into coverage and take away the pass. As I (presciently) wrote last Friday, the Lions defensive line is allowing running backs to run through them. On purpose. They’re counting on the linebackers to clean up, which until Sunday they were doing brilliantly. Even with those two long runs, the Lions' defense allowed the 27.8 points-per-game 49ers offense to score just 23 points.

Much like the 2009 Saints, the Lions defense is built to stop teams from keeping pace with their offense. As of today, they’re allowing 19.0 points per game; the 7th-stingiest  scoring defense in football. But if the offense only ekes out 19 points, as they did on Sunday, there’s not much the defense can do.

I said during the Fireside Chat Detroit Lions podcast something was wrong with Matthew Stafford, the receivers, the coaching, or all three. Stafford was under pressure, yes, but just like in the Cowboys game he had enough time to throw. He didn’t have enough time to stare down Calvin Johnson and wait for him to get 40 yards downfield, but he had enough time to throw. Jim Schwartz gave us a hint of what was happening when talking about the decision to use Maurice Morris instead of Jahvid Best in the fourth quarter:

"He's been effective in the pass game," he explained, "but Mo's also been effective in the pass game. We're working a lot of different combinations and things like that. It really had nothing to do with anything other than that.

"We're sitting there, looking, saying, hey look, we can get Matt some more time - going a lot to Calvin down the field ... trying to push some of those balls down the field. They were playing a little bit different coverage -- rather than 2-Man, they were playing 3-Cloud -- all game decisions."

The Lions were trying to hit the home run. Just like the Chicago game broke open when they hit Megatron with the long ball, the Lions were trying to grab the lead and the momentum. They had Morris in to help pass protect, to give Johnson enough time to get open against a three-deep zone. But they couldn’t pass block long enough, or Megatron couldn’t get open enough, or Stafford couldn’t make a decision quick enough to make it happen. In trying to force the game-changing big play, they passed up a whole lot of little plays that could have helped them win.

In the end, that’s the error I prefer the Lions make. This league is full of almost-good-enough quarterbacks playing almost-good-enough dink-and-dunk ball and mostly hovering within a game or two of .500. That’s not how you win titles in today’s NFL—not without a legendary defense and a Hall of Fame-caliber running back. The Lions don’t have either of those—but what they do have is one hell of a quarterback, one hell of a wide receiver, and an excellent supporting cast.

So the 49ers stopped the unstoppable Stafford-to-Johnson connection, and the Lions by extension. Fine by me! If that’s the only way the Lions lose, they won’t lose more than five games this season. The Lions should not, will not and cannot make wholesale changes to the way they play the game. They have bet their franchise on Matthew Stafford, and they should ride him as far as he’ll carry them.

16 comments:

Anonymous,  October 18, 2011 at 6:23 PM  

Stafford did not look very sharp against SF. His accuracy was off, but worse, he was not getting rid of the football fast enough, which led to the safety and some of the sacks. It could very well be that he was looking to throw long, because the up close stuff was covered, or perhaps, it was the coverage or the reads he was (or wasn't) making. In any case, it did not help that Pettigrew dropped some key passes, but in my mind, the player they missed the most was Scheffler, who may have been able to create more separation.

But even though the offense was not able to score the expected number of points they could have still won the game had it not been for the safety and the failed two point conversion. Good offenses and QBs learn to hunker down and take what is available during defensive slugfests and play more of a field position game. I'm not sure how many games Stafford has under his belt now due to his injuries, but he is effectively a 2nd year QB, so chalk this up as a learning experience.

I thought the Lions had a good chance to go on a 16-0 perfect storm run, but the good news is that they are still 5-1 and a bit wiser. How they play against Atlanta will determine how the remainder of the season will go and whether or not they make the playoffs.

Jeremy October 18, 2011 at 7:37 PM  

I agree with pretty much everything. We win and lose by Stafford...which is why I'm a little worried.

Now before I jump into this, I'm going to say that I think Stafford is likely a top 10 quarterback in the leagues(sorry, not top 5 yet).

But the knock on Stafford has always been his accuracy. And while this problem seemed to have disappeared in the preseason and what little we saw of Stafford before this season, we're starting to see it emerge again now. Stafford has a completion percentage of 57 in the past three games, which, while not terrible, is undoubtedly disappointing given what we've been expecting.

I'd also really like to see him improve his game management. At times he's looked dominating running the no-huddle, knowing exactly who's going to be open before he even gets the snap. Lately, he's looked confused, indecisive and unable to get rid of the ball quickly enough.

Of course, I'm not going to over-react to three or so games of mediocre performances and claim we need to draft a new quarterback. But if we live and die by Stafford, he's certainly going to have to start playing better, because the schedule is about to get even tougher.

Jeremy Reisman,  October 18, 2011 at 7:39 PM  

I agree with pretty much everything. We win and lose by Stafford...which is why I'm a little worried.

Now before I jump into this, I'm going to say that I think Stafford is likely a top 10 quarterback in the leagues(sorry, not top 5 yet).

But the knock on Stafford has always been his accuracy. And while this problem seemed to have disappeared in the preseason and what little we saw of Stafford before this season, we're starting to see it emerge again now. Stafford has a completion percentage of 57 in the past three games, which, while not terrible, is undoubtedly disappointing given what we've been expecting.

I'd also really like to see him improve his game management. At times he's looked dominating running the no-huddle, knowing exactly who's going to be open before he even gets the snap. Lately, he's looked confused, indecisive and unable to get rid of the ball quickly enough.

Of course, I'm not going to over-react to three or so games of mediocre performances and claim we need to draft a new quarterback. But if we live and die by Stafford, he's certainly going to have to start playing better, because the schedule is about to get even tougher.

Stiffy,  October 18, 2011 at 8:15 PM  

The thing that worries me most about this game is that Stafford showed flashes of this in every single game this season. It was just in the other five he eventually settled down and did what he had to do. Unfortunately this game wasn't an aberration for him and unless he can settle down and be more consistent this team will finish 8-8.

Stiffy,  October 18, 2011 at 8:16 PM  

The thing that worries me most about this game is that Stafford showed flashes of this in every single game this season. It was just in the other five he eventually settled down and did what he had to do. Unfortunately this game wasn't an aberration for him and unless he can settle down and be more consistent this team will finish 8-8.

Anonymous,  October 19, 2011 at 12:14 AM  

The thing that worries me most about this game is that Stafford showed flashes of this in every single game this season. It was just in the other five he eventually settled down and did what he had to do. Unfortunately this game wasn't an aberration for him and unless he can settle down and be more consistent this team will finish 8-8.

Jimmerz,  October 19, 2011 at 12:14 AM  

The thing that worries me most about this game is that Stafford showed flashes of this in every single game this season. It was just in the other five he eventually settled down and did what he had to do. Unfortunately this game wasn't an aberration for him and unless he can settle down and be more consistent this team will finish 8-8.

Empherical Evidence October 19, 2011 at 2:57 AM  

I think the Lions can run - and it will only improve the passing game. They are built for the shotgun, and that is about the hardest formation to run out of. Do the Lions need to run more? No.
They do need to be more effective when they run, and this will only improve the passing game. Yes, we know the Lions are built around Matthew Stafford, but that doesn't mean they can't run more effectively. The offensive line will get a few upgrades this next off season. The Lions can't keep drafting running backs with an average career of 3 years in the NFL until they build that offensive line, and that means young talent at key positions, not aging and average at best veterans.

Empherical Evidence October 19, 2011 at 2:59 AM  

Look at the performance of the OL when you see a bad game from Matthew Stafford, and you will find the answer. Stafford is fine.
Can't have it both ways here, it is the OL or it is Matthew Stafford. We have seen Stafford at the start of the year when the OL wasn't allowing pressure or sacks.

Empherical Evidence October 19, 2011 at 3:00 AM  

Again, Stafford will live and die by the performance of the OL.

NorthLeft12 October 19, 2011 at 7:19 AM  

Ty, I agree with you about 95%. I don't agree that the line is "letting" RBs through or that by design they have no gap responsibilities. If that is true, the Lions made a tremendous strategic blunder against the Niners. Letting the 49ers run and not forcing Alex Smith to move this team through the air is almost incomprehensible to me. You are almost exactly playing to their strengths and to their game plan.

And secondly, if they are going all out for the QB, they are not doing a very good job of getting there.

And lastly, a large portion of the Lions fan base is already backing off on their support of Stafford. It seems like the base expects him to be playing to an elite level every week, if not series.

LionsFanROC,  October 19, 2011 at 10:12 AM  

I agree that you don't change your team's entire overall strategy on the whim of one loss when your team has been winning. That would just be silly.

But they do need to make some corrections. Without those two trap plays from the 49'ers, Detroit wins that game. Also, they need to freakin tackle. I love Louis Delmas (enough to own his jersey) but he could have stopped one of those long runs for a gain of 4 and just whiffed on Gore, something he's doing far too often trying to make the big hit.

Dennis Schwartz October 19, 2011 at 2:29 PM  

You make an excellent point looking down the road and in Ty's Old Mother Hubbard it starts with finding a center to eventually replace Raiola.

Unfortunately, I think the staff is content with the system they have in place. For the most part, given the collection of talent they have, I am happy with the focus they have.

When receivers don't get separation in the middle of the field and Stafford is off his game, the Lions will look terrible. But I am confident that over the course of the season this formula will prove beneficial for this team.

With that being said, I still think passing 50 times during a game the Lions are in the lead is way too much. That is were I would disagree with you as I think they need to pound the run a little more.

I know quite a few people were not happy with that statement, especially when things bogged down in Tampa in the second half, but if you want to come out on top more often than not you have to hand it off.

With Stafford throwing 50 times and completing close to 50% that extends a game and allows teams the opportunity to come back.

I think the Lions have built a defense that we can put out there to get a stop in crucial situations.

Matt,  October 20, 2011 at 10:06 AM  

Ronnie Brown, we hardly knew ye

Muggins,  October 20, 2011 at 9:02 PM  

My biggest concern with Stafford going forward is he pocket presence. The best QBs have the ability to simply take a simple step or two in either direction to buy themselves an extra second or two. Matt just isn't good at this, yet.

Muggins,  October 20, 2011 at 9:15 PM  

I'll add that agree with Ty, here. We roll as Stafford rolls. If he's feeling good in the pocket, he's confident and we move the ball, score points and get leads. If he's "feeling pressured", we see more quick throws, bad throws and short drives.

I think our O-Line pass protects very well, but Matt needs to learn how to subtlely move around the pocket better.

Post a Comment


  © Blogger template Simple n' Sweet by Ourblogtemplates.com 2009

Find us on Google+

Back to TOP