Last season, Matthew Stafford, among others, had a season for the record books with just over 5000 yards passing, 41 touchdowns to just 16 interceptions. While quarterbacks have certainly thrown for 40-plus touchdowns before, Stafford’s 5,000 yards put him in a rarefied group that features the likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Dan Marino.
Of course, two of the three players on that list accomplished that feat last season, which more or less diminished Stafford’s incredible achievement, but I guess it warrants the question: Can Matthew Stafford repeat his 2011 performance?
Any time records are broken, it is because of a perfect amalgamation of things. It’s never because of any one specific thing going right for the team. I have heard more times than I can count that Stafford was able to do what he did because of Calvin Johnson.
While I’m sure Calvin’s freakish abilities played a large role in it, I don’t think it is the only reason as to why Stafford surpassed 5K. To me, the bigger reasons lie with simply how the Lions offense is constructed. Anyone that follows the Detroit Lions knows that the Lions are a passing team, but what many people may not realize is that the Lions were a historical passing team last season.
While Stafford did throw for 5,000 yards, he did it by attempting the third-highest number of pass attempts in NFL history behind only Peyton Manning in 2010 and Drew Bledsoe in ’94. With Mikel Leshoure and Jahvid Best being banged up, you can expect Stafford to take on a similar workload come September.
Then there is the Lions' offensive scheme. While offensive coordinator Scott Linehan certainly blends in elements of the West Coast offense, the Lions are still primarily an Air Coryell-type big-play offense. It is built around the likes of Calvin Johnson and Titus Young who can take the top off of almost any defense in the NFL.
If teams decide to move their safeties deeper or drop linebackers, then guys like Brandon Pettigrew (third in receptions among tight ends the last two seasons), Tony Scheffler and even Nate Burleson or a back can take full advantage of the extra open space. The advantage of having both quality big guys and quality speed guys gives the Lions offense a unique versatility via a bunch of one-trick ponies that allows them to be successful against any type of defense out there.
If the Lions are playing a Tampa-2 defense that likes to drop their middle linebacker and leave a larger-than-usual hole in the middle of the field, the Lions have the pieces to take advantage of that. If the Lions go up against a blitzing defense like a 3-4 zone defense, which leaves the corners on an island, the Lions again have the pieces to attack it.
While passing all the time may make the Lions predictable in terms of pass versus run, it is the type of predictability that is useless in a sense because there isn’t a whole lot the opposing defense can do to stop it.
In a way, that is what we saw out of Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense last season.There were times—many times— when the offense was simply unstoppable. For us Lions fans, it may have looked at the time that our offense had finally matured to the level that we expected, but in reality 2011 could very well just be a teaser to what Stafford and company can really accomplish.
When you consider the fact that Matthew Stafford was only 23 years old and played his first real NFL season last year, the question, in reality, shouldn’t be will Matthew Stafford pass for 5,000 yards again, it should be how many more 5,000 yard seasons can he add to his belt?