Breaking Down Matthew Stafford's Form at NFL's Midseason Mark
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is underperforming through six games, and there is enough evidence to be able to break down his form coming into the middle part of the 2012 regular season. Stafford is clearly not the same quarterback from last year, and it leads to questions about what he is or isn’t doing this season.
Stafford threw for over 5,000 yards in 2011 to go along with 41 touchdowns. However, that is the past, and the Lions don’t look explosive on any level like they were last year. Was last year an anomaly? Was last year a black swan because the players were locked out and defenses could not keep up with the offenses?
The only thing that can answer those questions is time. However, we can look at Stafford’s problems so far in the 2012 season. Let’s look at the biggest problems in Stafford’s game entering the midway point of the season.
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Stafford is starting games painfully slowly, and the Lions are paying for it with losses. Stafford is letting his team get down early in football games because he has not been accurate to start when the Lions get the ball. Through six games in 2012, the Lions have not had a lead at the half of any game they have played this year.
In Week 1, the Lions trailed the Rams 13-10 at the half. In Week 2, they trailed the 49ers 14-6 at halftime. They trailed the Tennessee Titans 20-9 through two quarters in Week 3. In Week 4, they trailed the Vikings 13-6 at halftime. In Week 6 after the bye, they trailed the Eagles 7-6. In Week 7, the Lions trailed the Bears 10-0 after two quarters.
The Lions have been behind every week, and we can point to Stafford’s accuracy in each quarter as a factor in it.
Thanks to to espn.com, we can look at the quarterly numbers for Stafford.
Stafford’s first-quarter numbers are horrendous. He is 27-of-53 for 229 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. He in completing 50.9 percent of his throws and has a 46.8 rating in the first quarter.
He is 37-of-55 for 343 yards with zero touchdowns and three interceptions. He is completing 67.3 percent of his throws and has a 61.4 rating in the second quarter.
In the third quarter, Stafford is 27-of-44 for 279 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He is completing 61.4 percent of his passes and has a passer rating of 79.6.
In the fourth quarter, Stafford puts up similar numbers to his 2011 season. He is 71-of-110 for 870 yards. He is completing 64.5 percent of his throws to go with five touchdowns and an interception to go with a 100.2 passer rating in the fourth quarter.
Last year, Stafford completed 63.5 percent of his throws and had a passer rating of 97.2 for the entire year. Last year, Stafford lowest quarterly passer rating was 91.0 in first quarters, followed by 92.1 in fourth quarters.
It is clear that the Lions need Stafford to start games quicker. Stafford needs to be more accurate delivering the football early in games if the Lions are to get the stink off of their offense.
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A quarterback’s footwork is one of the most fundamental aspects in making sound, accurate throws. Quarterback accuracy is directly tied to footwork, and right now Stafford’s footwork is not particularly good.
A quarterback is at his best from an accuracy standpoint when he is able to plant his front foot and drive through his throw. He will not have great accuracy when he is chopping his feet to avoid pressure, or lazily throwing the ball sidearm while fading away from the line of scrimmage.
At this point in the season, it looks like Stafford has developed a lazy habit of throwing the ball from a lower arm angle than is normal for him, and off of his back foot. This isn’t always because of pressure because he throws the ball sidearm sometimes even when the pocket is clean.
Sometimes defenses can create enough pressure that a quarterback can’t plant his front foot, causing the quarterback to throw the ball erratically. This happens sometimes, but Stafford can’t blame pressure for the majority of his inaccurate throws.
Stafford has gotten away with average footwork at times because of his incredible arm strength, but this year his footwork has really gotten sloppy. He is not setting himself to make a throw, and it is easy to diagnose. However, it looks habitual, and it might take a lot of work to get him back to correctly throwing the ball.
From a scouting perspective, Stafford can make all the throws, has an extremely fast release and a rocket for an arm. He holds the ball in the right spot pre-throw and has no wasted motion when he throws the ball. For the most part, Stafford has always had terrific balance in the pocket. Balance comes from a nice wide base and good knee bend.
Stafford’s issue is that his footwork is poor, and poor footwork leads to inaccuracy. There are times when his base isn’t wide enough, and he doesn’t have balance underneath him when he makes a throw. He settles for throwing the ball with only arm motion with nothing underneath him, and in the NFL that’s simply not good enough.
Stafford thinks he can make every throw he attempts because he has in the past. However, he has only been able to in the past because of exceptional footwork and a strong athletic base to support the throw. The key to getting Stafford back on track will be dictated by how quickly the Lions can get his footwork corrected.
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The Lions are dying on third down in 2012. They are not converting first downs and moving the chains to keep drives alive, and they are not helping their defense by putting them back on the field with too many unconverted third downs.
According to espn.com, Stafford is 36-of-68 for 341 yards on third downs this year. Stafford has completed 52.9 percent of his third-down passes with two touchdowns and an interception. On third down, he has a passer rating of 70.8.
In 2011, Stafford was 90-of-174 for 1117 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions on third down. He threw for a 51.7 percent completion percentage and a rating of 76.7.
The numbers look similar with the exception of the touchdowns. He threw 10 third down touchdowns in 2011 and has only two through six games in 2012. All in all, the numbers look similar but watching the inability to convert on third down is glaring.
Let’s look a little deeper at the third-down numbers to get a better look at the real problem.
In 2012, Stafford is completing 13-of-21 passes for a completion percentage of 61.9 percent on third downs longer than nine yards. He has thrown two touchdowns and zero interceptions to go with a 123.7 quarterback rating on 3rd-and-9 or longer.
In 2011, he hit on 47.4 percent of these throws, going 37-of-76 for 471 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. His quarterback rating on 3rd-and-9 or longer in 2011 was 76.7. Stafford is better in 2012 than he was on 3rd-and-long on 2011.
This year, Stafford is completing 19-of-41 passes for a completion percentage of 46.3 percent on third downs where they need three to eight yards to complete a first down. He has thrown zero touchdowns and two interceptions to go with a 36.6 quarterback rating on third down where they need three to eight yards.
In 2011, he hit on 53.8 percent of these throws, going 42-of-78 for 476 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. His quarterback rating in this area in 2011 was 83.1.
Stafford is far worse in 2012 than he was in 2011 in this area, and the offense is stalling far too often because of Stafford’s struggles on third and short. This is the primary weakness in Stafford’s game right now.
The Lions need to get Stafford cleaned up and more accurate on shorter third-down throws as they need to keep drives going. This is the most critical area that Stafford needs to improve upon.
No Big Plays
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Another area of concern is that the Lions are not taking shots down the field like they did last year. They aren’t even attempting to make the deep throws. One of the great things about the offense last year was its quick-strike ability, and that quick-strike ability is missing in 2012.
The Lions' offense was billed as a potent, electric offense that would outscore most any team they played. What we are seeing is another team altogether as they aren’t able to sustain drives or score points at a rate that might win games.
The following statistics come from espn.com.
In 2012, Stafford has attempted 10 throws between 21 and 30 yards. He has completed two of them for 37 yards, throwing zero touchdowns and no interceptions. His quarterback rating in these throws is 54.2.
This year, Stafford has attempted two throws between 31 and 40 yards. He has completed none of them, but he has thrown one interception. His quarterback rating in these throws is 0.0.
In 2012, Stafford has attempted four throws over 41 yards. He has completed two of them for 108 yards, throwing zero touchdowns and no interceptions. His quarterback rating in these throws is 95.8.
In 2011, Stafford attempted 29 throws between 21 and 30 yards. He completed 11 of them for 366 yards, throwing four touchdowns and two interceptions. His quarterback rating in these throws was 96.6.
Last year, Stafford attempted 21 throws between 31 and 40 yards. He completed six of them for 243 yards, and he threw one touchdown and no interceptions. His quarterback rating in these throws was 91.2.
In 2011, Stafford attempted 13 throws over 41 yards. He completed five of them for 259 yards, throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions. His quarterback rating in these throws was 125.8.
In all, Stafford took 63 shots down the field last year, 34 of them being throws of more than 31 yards. This year has thrown the ball deep 16 times, but only six of them have been over 31 yards. It is fair to say that Stafford is not challenging the defense vertically in 2012 like he did in 2011.
Red Zone Efficiency
To complicate matters, when the Lions do get into the scoring area of the field, they falter and can’t finish drives in the end zone. They settle for field goals or turn the ball over and don’t take full advantage of their opportunities. In games that are decided by just a few points, these plays matter.
According to teamrankings.com, the Lions are No. 19 in the NFL in red zone touchdown scoring percentage. They have the personnel to be much better than this number represents, but Stafford’s lack of accuracy is hurting them in the red zone.
According to espn.com, Stafford is 21-of-57 on plays where the ball was snapped in the opponents red zone. He has completed 40.5 percent of his passes for 112 yards to go with five touchdowns and three touchdowns. His red zone quarterback rating is 54.3.
Looking at plays where the ball is snapped from inside the 10-yard line, Stafford is 6-of-20 for 31 yards. He has thrown three of his five touchdowns from this close to the goal line, as well as two interceptions. His quarterback rating from the 10-yard line and closer is 39.6.
If you are wondering why the Lions aren’t scoring touchdowns in the red zone, look no further than Stafford’s inability to simply execute and complete passes.