The Miseducation of Matthew Stafford

The quarterback and his coach, Jim Schwartz, have been the two primary targets of blame for Detroit's struggles. Schwartz's future with the Lions may be nonexistent, but it's not too late for Stafford—but only if he learns some key lessons

By
Greg A. Bedard
· More from Greg·
Matthew Stafford is on pace for his lowest completion percentage (58.0) since his rookie year in 2009. (Paul Sancya/AP)
Matthew Stafford is on pace for his lowest completion percentage (58.0) since his rookie year in 2009. (Paul Sancya/AP)

Maybe it’s too late for this season. Maybe Matthew Stafford and the Lions did too much self-inflected damage with their 18-16 home loss to the Ravens last Monday night.

Once in the driver’s seat for the NFC North title at 6-3, the Lions now need the near impossible after losing four of their past five. They have to win out, and have both Green Bay and Chicago lose once down the stretch. Considering the Bears and Packers meet in the season finale, the Lions need the winner of that game to lose this weekend. Got it?

So, yes, it may be too late for the Lions. Just like always for the team that’s never made a Super Bowl, and only appeared in one conference championship game in the Super Bowl era (a 41-10 loss to Washington in the 1991 season).

And it may be too late for coach Jim Schwartz, who probably needs a playoff berth to be back next season.

But even though it seems like everyone wants to write Schwartz’s career obituary—too much careless gunslinger, not enough smart play when the team needs it—it’s not too late for Matthew Stafford.

There’s no question he hasn’t been good of late. In the six games since the Lions’ bye week, Stafford has completed just 51 percent of his passes, lost two fumbles and thrown 11 interceptions against 12 touchdowns. There’s no denying that Stafford has much to learn, about his footwork, arm angle and the concept of risk and reward. But he has more time.

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Not a whole lot more, but some. Just look at the recent Super Bowl winners at quarterback. Joe Flacco and Aaron Rodgers were 27 when they broke through. Drew Brees was 30. Eli and Peyton Manning were 26 and 30, respectively. Yes, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady won for the first time at 23 and 24, but they had defenses that the team was built around.

We have seen the potential of Stafford. In 2011, he completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 5,036 yards and threw 41 touchdowns with 16 interceptions. In clinching the team’s first playoff berth since 1999, Stafford was exquisite against the Chargers: 29 of 36 for 373 yards and three touchdowns.

Is greatness in Stafford? Impossible to say at this point. But now comes the proving time. “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up,” Vince Lombardi famously once said.

Stafford has certainly fallen down this season. But the great thing about football is there’s always another game on Sunday to change the narrative, until there isn’t. The Lions have two games to play against the porous Giants and Vikings. Rolling over those two teams won’t prove anything, and in fact it would probably only inflame the chorus that Stafford can get it done except when the games really matter.

Next season will be vitally important to Stafford. There’s a reasonable chance the Lions will have a new coach—Schwartz is the only coach Stafford has known. Maybe somebody else can make Stafford believe that just because he put up great numbers in ’11, it doesn’t mean he has all the answers. Stafford still has time to heed those lessons, but it’s going to run out eventually.

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10 comments
gary41
gary41

Jon Gruden will be the next HC of the Lions...

dbum
dbum

staffords still young and he can totally become an elite qb. i love how he plays with passion (see the fake spike dive into the endzone this year) but hes still got to learn to focus all that gusto into some more consistent play. i would expect him to play at a very high level with some better coaching. the whole team playes pretty undisciplined and that speaks to a coaching problem. 


sure, he still plays like a purely talented kid flinging it around in his backyard but it seems pretty clear that hes got the will and skill to become an outstanding qb in the nfl.

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

Good new for Stafford? Mike Shanahan may be available next season. You listening Detroit??





And yes, that is a joke.

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

Stafford has tons of talent but he doesn't appear to be a student of the game.  I know he won't study, prepare and practice like Peyton does, but Stafford NEEDS to realize that his footwork must improve as well as his overall knowledge and preparation of the QB position.


His talent has done everything for him so far (which is admittedly a lot), but it is NOT enough to bump him into the games best QB's, which he is not.  He is good, not great.


I guess we'll see if he really wants to be great as it will take effort, work and preparation for him to become a great QB.


Maybe he expects to be great while only doing what he has done so far.


Time will tell.

MichiganMade
MichiganMade

Thanks for saying there is still time for Stafford to improve, seeing he is all of 25. The same age as Wilson & Kaepernick. A staff change could be useful, but he's better at this age than Favre was, and he can fix his errors.

Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan
Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan

Certainly, not all of Detroit’s performance issues as of late can be put at the feet of Stafford.The way I see it, Stafford’s blessing may also be his curse.While blessed with a “gun” for an arm, he also exhibits some tendencies reminiscent of “gunslingers” like Fouts, Marino, and Favre.(Despite their greatness, only Favre won a ring, and that was against the ’96 Parcells-led Patriots, arguably one of the weaker contenders in Super Bowl history.)Perhaps Stafford should instead take a page out of the playbook of one Tom Brady, who to this day continues to work with coaches to improve on his mechanics (i.e., throwing motion, footwork, etc.) and game management skills.

Zvikes
Zvikes

Maybe Stafford falling apart will start to end the myth of Linehan being a good offensive coordinator. He's not. Culpepper also regressed and never recovered, though Linehan wisely left in the same offseason Moss did so no one would blame him. Moss, Holt, and now Calvin Johnson have meant that his offensives have always been good at gaining a lot of yards, but he's consistently struggled starting around the opponents 35 yard line since those WRs aren't able to back safeties up as much. Don't believe me? Go back and look at his yards per point - http://www.teamrankings.com/nfl/stat/yards-per-point He's relied on big WRs to make him look good.

dbum
dbum

@Zvikescouldnt agree more. with linehan as his o-coordinator and schwartz in the leadership role, staffords gotto be given another look with a more solid coaching group. hopefully the lions can find someone good in the offseason.


as a redskin fan jay grudens near the top of my list, but hed be a great pickup for the lions as well.

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