Matthew Stafford: Gaudy Numbers Don't Make Lions QB Elite

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistDecember 23, 2012

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 16:  Quarterback Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions throws a pass against the Arizona Cardinals during the NFL game at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Cardinals defeated the Lions 38-10.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Is it wrong to write this on a night like tonight? Maybe, but I'm doing it anyway.

Matthew Stafford passed for 443 yards Saturday night, bumping his season total to 4,697. That puts him well on track to exceed 5,000 passing yards for the second consecutive season.

Two hundred twenty-five of Saturday's yards, and 1,892 of the season's yards, went to Calvin Johnson, who on Saturday night broke Jerry Rice's record for receiving yards in a single season.

And while Megatron is more than deserving of that honor on his own merit, it's sufficient to say that he never could have achieved it without Matthew Stafford throwing the football. Even with Johnson's prodigious talent, no records are being broken with Shawn Hill under center.

So, in effect, Matthew Stafford facilitated the breaking—no, the shattering—of a well-established NFL passing record on Saturday night. Naturally, he has to be considered an elite quarterback...right? RIGHT!

Maybe the answer isn't so cut and dry. I mean, passing yards are fun to look at, sure, but they can also be a little misleading. Especially in a Lions system that's historically trigger-happy. Don't believe me? Check out this tweet from Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz, which came during Saturday's Lions-Falcons game:



I didn't realize that Stafford was on pace to break Bledsoe's pass attempts record.

— Aaron Schatz (@FO_ASchatz) December 23, 2012


Forget the fact that Stafford is on pace to throw the most passes in NFL history; he throws the ball at such a high volume that even the guy who's famous for keeping track of numbers couldn't keep up with it. That's absolutely insane!

Speaking of Schatz, his website, Football Outsiders, keeps meticulous track of QBR, an advanced metric that measures a quarterback's performance. In spite of his gaudy passing numbers, Stafford entered Week 16 as the 15th-ranked passer in the league. That places him behind the incessantly maligned Tony Romo and the recently benched Alex Smith.

More than anything, though, Matthew Stafford doesn't pass the eye test requisite for being considered an elite quarterback. Too often he follows a good play with one that baffles and bemuses.

When Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady play a primetime game, football pundits take to social media and laud their every move. On Saturday night, after throwing an interception, Matthew Stafford got this:


Stafford with the fadeaway jump pick. Fugly footwork again.

— SC_DougFarrar (@SC_DougFarrar) December 23, 2012


That was courtesy of Shutdown Corner editor Doug Farrar, who earlier in the game tweeted, "Not sure which QB regression is uglier right now—Keith Price's or Matthew Stafford's."

Only Matthew Stafford can throw for 443 yards in a game and still inspire caustic japes about how much he's regressed.

I hate to use a platitude this generic, but a quarterback's value is best measured by wins and losses. It's the only metric that, in the long run, really matters. Stafford's yardage totals are impressive, mind-numbingly so, but when they supplement a 17-27 career record, they lose a lot of their clout.

Before you rip me apart in the comments, please read the following sentence: I don't hate Matthew Stafford. I know that's a tough sell after everything I just wrote, but it's true. I think he's got a great arm and an even greater capacity for improvement. Plus, he provided us with this video—far and away one of the coolest sports moments in the last decade.

I just think the term "elite" is reserved for quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Guys whose resumes include more wins and less boneheaded plays.

Matthew Stafford can get there one day. Especially with Calvin Johnson by his side. But don't let numbers or fandom color your opinion; he's certainly not there yet.