Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had a jaw-dropping season in 2011, but 2012 has not been kind to the Lions' signal-caller. A side-by-side comparison of 2011 Stafford and 2012 Stafford is a frightening sight for Lions fans.
At the start of Week 7 in 2012 the Detroit Lions are 2-3. In that same time span in 2011 the Lions were one of the best teams in the NFL with a 5-2 record.
The main reason for the discrepancy? Matthew Stafford.
Stafford has looked erratic at best in 2012, typically saving his above average play for when the Lions are already losing a game. Detroit has suffered as a result. Stafford is not the sole reason the 2012 Lions are mediocre, but he's the main issue.
Let's compare the outstanding 2011 Stafford to the simply average 2012 Stafford.
In 2011 Stafford led the Lions to a 10-6 record and a postseason appearance, although the team was bounced early in the Wildcard round of the playoffs by the New Orleans Saints.
Stafford was an MVP candidate statistically as he completed 64 percent of his passes for 5,038 yards, 41 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and an outstanding 97.2 rating. It was the first time in his career that he participated a full 16-game season.
What made Stafford elite last season was his ability to stay healthy and consistently feed the ball to his No. 1 target, wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Megatron posted an insane 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns.
With a knack for reading defenses efficiently in the redzone, Stafford's numbers flourished and propelled the team along. He was also proficient at finding the open man whenever Johnson was covered.
The same cannot be said for Stafford this year.
This year Stafford appears to have regressed and has not been 100 percent healthy for each game. In five games he has been mediocre, throwing for 1,493 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions with a 79.2 rating.
Watching Stafford has been painful, as he simply stares down Johnson on each play instead of going through his progressions and getting other talented weapons like Nate Burleson, Titus Young and Brandon Pettigrew involved.
Admittedly, Johnson has had a down year and he and Stafford have suffered together. He only has 35 catches for 558 yards, which is impressive until his lone touchdown is revealed.
Through five games last season he had nine touchdowns, compared to only one so far in 2012. This is a direct result of Stafford's mediocre play combined with defenses focusing on shutting down Megatron no matter the cost.
Stafford has talented players around him, but so far has failed to effectively get them involved. Rather than finding a player like Young in single coverage, he routinely forces the ball to Johnson despite double-teams.
The 2012 season is still young for Stafford, but all signs are pointing to a down year, which will eventually lead to some wondering whether he is simply a one-hit wonder.
Stafford has shown flashes of his potential to be an elite quarterback, but his play so far in 2012 has been similar to that of a rookie. Locking onto targets and not properly dissecting defenses is something a rookie would do, not a quarterback that just threw for over 5,000 yards a season ago.
The Lions have the best receiver in all of football and adequate surrounding talent, but a quarterback who cannot distribute the ball effectively.
2012 Stafford has a lot to learn from 2011 Stafford. Until he can figure out where he is going wrong, Stafford will continue to lead the Lions into irrelevancy.