Back in March, we here at DetroitLionsPodcast.com talked about Matthew Stafford’s passer rating, and just last week we talked about how good Stafford is in the red zone. Now it is time to sum it all together and paint the bigger portrait of Matthew Stafford. Stafford is better than you think, and I’ll be sharing stats to back this claim up. In his first two years in the league, Stafford seemed like just another Lions quarterback, and that wasn’t good. This first overall pick in the draft who looked like another bust with two injuries that limited him to just 13 games in his first two seasons. Fans didn’t expect him to ever produce and become the quarterback he is today and some still don’t think he is the franchise quarterback and that we need to move on. Yet, those who were paying attention saw that this was a young man who grit and determination the likes of which we hadn’t seen from any player in this franchise for memorable history. This never showed itself more than in his play in his rookie season during the Cleveland Browns game:
That was a heroic performance, one which Stafford’s critics should revisit any time they think they might try questioning his desire to win. He came back from his two injury-plagued seasons to have his best season yet, throwing for over 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns.
Stafford is so underappreciated by the community, that David Carr called him the most underrated quarterback in the NFL. He said “He’s done a great job, even towards the end of last year, was playing as good as any quarterback in the league. Has every throw in the book. The guy can throw from all angles, he can move around, he’s sneaky athletic, he’s got a laser rocket arm, as they like to say. So Matthew Stafford is my no.1 most underrated quarterback. Watch out for the Lions this year.”
Joe Lombardi had this to say last September about the quarterback, “I think he’s pretty damn good right now and people don’t appreciate how good he is.” Last October, fans were burning the quarterbacks jersey after an 0-3 start. His wife Kelly went to Instagram saying “Although many in this city have already turned their back on the Lions and Matthew, we will never stop supporting Detroit, no matter how many #9 jerseys people burn or how many negative things people say about these players they will continue to fight for a championship for this city.”
So we have a former pro quarterback, and the former offensive coordinator saying how underappreciated the man is and after just three – yes, three – games last year, and fans are already burning his jersey in anger as if he was the one who was the problem, not the defense who blew a big lead against the Chargers, or the offensive line who couldn’t protect their quarterback and help create a running game. Jersey burnings usually happen to people who have failed or left a city, like Lebron James did, not three games into a season after going to the playoffs the season before.
Sadly Stafford gets pushed to the front and center for the team’s mistakes every time and it just blows my mind how people point the finger at him while yes, he has had bad games and he isn’t a perfect quarterback, he is probably the best quarterback we have ever had in this franchise. Has he won anything? No, but he has great potential to do so and he is still young at just 27 years old.
What does the data say about the Lions quarterback?
Stafford started last season with an 83.5 passer rating and while it was in flux, going as low as 50, he ended the season with a 119.4 rating. Before the bye week, he had a rating as high as 126.4 and as low as 50, but after the bye week he improved. His lowest passer rating was 84.1 and he took it all the way up to 148.6. Last year in the red zone, Stafford was ranked fifth in his completion rate with a 67.3 percent completion percentage, and first completion rate inside the 20 at 65.75 percent, and inside the 10 at 75 percent. Now many fans say that Stafford’s success was “because of Calvin Johnson.” Nope. While Megatron did help with those numbers, he only had seven of the 26 red-zone touchdowns. Stafford’s completion percentage would have been better, at 69.1 percent, without Calvin. Calvin actually dragged Stafford’s completion percentage down in the red zone. Think about that for a minute.
Matthew Stafford has broken records in the NFL. Last year he became the fastest quarterback to reach 25,000 yards, doing it in just 90 games. He was the second youngest quarterback to throw for over 5,000 yards. He also became the first quarterback to complete 60 percent or more of his passes during an entire season.
Along with the NFL record, Stafford has set many records in the Lions franchise history books. He has a career high quarterback rating of 148.6 and broke the single game franchise record for completion percentage of 88 percent. He has played in the most games at quarterback with 93, he has the most passing yards at 25,976, most passing yards in a season with 5,038, most passing yards in a game with 520, and most touchdowns in a career with 163. He also has 41 touchdowns in a season, five touchdown passes in a game, most career pass completions with 2,246 and in a season with 435, 37 completions in a game, and the highest QBR rating in his career at 85.8 – all of which are franchise records.
Now of course, the reason for all of these records has to be because of Calvin Johnson right? He MADE Stafford a good quarterback; without him Stafford is just trash. That is the narrative that many share and they think that just because one of the best wide receivers in history has retired, the Lions quarterback will fall flat on his face. While you can’t deny that Calvin did have a role in Stafford becoming a better player and he did help with these records, that doesn’t mean without him Stafford isn’t anything. Calvin Johnson didn’t even have the most catches last year, as Golden Tate lead the team with 90, compared to Calvin’s 88.
Jim Bob Cooter’s offense has spread the ball around, making everyone a threat on the field. The big three (Calvin, Tate, and Riddick) each had at least 80 catches during the 2015 season. Ebron had 47, and nine other players had catches last season. Getting rid of Bell, Wright, Moore and Johnson, but adding Kerley, Jones, Washington, Lee, and Ridley, ensures that Stafford has a good set of weapons going for the upcoming season.
Looking Back at History at Quarterback
While some people are saying that this quarterback isn’t elite, great, or even good – history shows that prior players haven’t been anything special at the quarterback position. The table below shows the main quarterbacks we’ve had back to 1998:
As you can see, Stafford has the second highest completion percentage, the most completions, yards, touchdowns, 4th quarter comebacks and game winning drives. Also a fun fact, he was sacked the most out of any of the five quarterbacks. One might think that his stats are so far above the others because he has played the most games out of the quarterbacks listed, why wouldn’t he have the highest sack numbers? Well he got sacked 89 times in just the last two seasons. Tom Brady has gotten sacked 57 times, Peyton Manning 33, Joe Flacco 35, Aaron Rodgers 74, Drew Brees 60, and Cam Newton 71 just to name a few. Stafford has had an uphill battle achieving his numbers, particularly because he’s been flat on his ass for most of the game.
When you analyze the data, it certainly supports the claim that Stafford is better than many people think. He isn’t a bust who didn’t work out in the NFL. He isn’t the worst quarterback in Lions history. He isn’t a bad quarterback by any measure. He has worked his ass off to come back from two injuries, and has faced adversity since his rookie year. We saw how he got his ass kicked last year, getting nailed time after time, yet he kept getting up and continued to fight. Stafford is possibly the best quarterback Detroit has ever had, and with a horrible franchise, many in our fan base have yet to accept him as a top quality quarterback. I believe that we have a quarterback that can lead us to the Super Bowl, yet until we get there, the blame from many will continue to fall on Stafford’s shoulders. If demand is high and many people want me to compare Stafford to other quarterbacks in the NFL, I will definitely write an article about that. For now, accept Stafford as our quarterback and be happy we have someone who can sling it deep and stay healthy, unlike so many other teams who would kill for a quarterback like Stafford.