Why Matthew Stafford's 5,000-Yard Passing Season Wasn't a Fluke

Zach KruseSenior Analyst IOctober 20, 2012

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 14: Quarterback Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions looks to make a pass against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first half in a game at Lincoln Financial Field on October 14, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Lions defeated the Eagles 26-23 in overtime. (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford may not be putting up the kind of overall numbers in 2012 that he did last season, but at least he has showed his 5,000-yard season a year ago was no fluke. 

Through five games in 2012, Stafford has thrown for 1,493 yards, and his 16-game pace is good for 4,778 yards. Stafford needs to average 318.8 yards over the final 11 games to once again hit the 5,000-yard mark. 

His current per-game average of 298.6 is good for fourth-best in the NFL

A year ago, Stafford became just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards in a single season. His 5,038 yards were the fifth most ever, trailing only Drew Brees in 2008 (5,069), Dan Marino in 1984 (5,084), Tom Brady in 2011 (5,235) and Brees in 2011 (5,476). 

His 314.9 passing yards a game also set a franchise record.

However, Stafford has come under fire to start the 2012 season, mainly because his Lions are just 2-3 and Stafford's other passing numbers are below the pace he set last season. 

Stafford is completing 62.4 percent of his passes in 2012, down from 63.5 last season. His touchdown-to-interception ratio has went from 41-16 in 2011 to just 4-5 this season, and Stafford is gaining fewer yards per completion (7.6 in 2011, 6.8 in 2012). 

As a result, the Lions offensive output has suffered. After averaging the fourth-most points per game in the NFL last season with 29.6, Detroit has dropped to 25.2 a game—good for 14th in the NFL in 2012.

At least one NFL film junkie feels that Stafford's mechanics are to blame for the drop-off in production. 

Speaking with Adam Caplan on his weekly "Fantasy Guru" podcast, NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell called Stafford's mechanics this season "atrocious." It was a stinging criticism from one of the more highly respected film analysts in the business. 

However, Stafford has always been a quarterback who uses different arm slots and angles in order to fit passes into tight windows or create passing lanes. 

Stafford's offensive coordinator said as much this week. 

Scott Linehan, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, stated:

He’s always had different throwing angles. Sometimes it’s to get under some tall reach of a guy and throw sidearm, sometimes it’s just because of slowing down the delivery like a pitcher does on an off-speed pitch or something. There’s reasons for it and you would never coach that out of him. He’s been effective with that and done a great job.

Also, keep in mind that Stafford overcame some mechanics issues and a finger injury during the middle of last season to explode over the final five games of the season. 

After tossing nine interceptions during Weeks 10-13, Stafford responded by throwing for 1,919 yards over the final five games. Stafford's 383.8 passing yards a game during that stretch was the best five-game mark for any Lions quarterback in franchise history. He also threw 15 interceptions against just three interceptions during that span. 

The schedule also looks favorable for Stafford to approach 5,000 yards. 

Over the final 11 games, Detroit plays Chicago twice, Seattle, Minnesota, Houston and Arizona. Each game represents a difficult task for the Lions to run the football, meaning Stafford will be called upon frequently to win with the passing game. 

Stafford may not replicate his touchdown numbers from 2011 this season, and the Lions may not win 10 games with him under center. But despite some of Stafford's early struggles, his ability to be productive yardage-wise remains elite in the NFL. Stafford should come close to adding another season to the history of 5,000-yard passers in 2012.