Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has had some ups and downs throughout his relatively young career. His bipolar nature often rears its ugly head, even multiple times within the same game. It certainly did in the Monday night loss to Baltimore.
Stafford began the game by reminding everyone why he was the first player taken in the 2009 NFL draft. A beautifully crisp screen pass to Joique Bell here, a hard-nosed scramble after surveying the field there.
He showed his patience and savvy on a short pass to Nate Burleson right after the aforementioned scramble. The play was designed to get Calvin Johnson free on a deep square-in on the right, but the Ravens had it covered.
Temptation remains to try and rifle the ball into a very small window, but Stafford thinks better of it.
As he buys a little time behind exceptional pass protection, he goes through his progressions. Johnson is breaking open across the deep middle but it’s still a risky throw. Brandon Pettigrew is the secondary option but he is well-covered.
Nate Burleson is the tertiary target, and he is wide open. Stafford realizes he can’t zip the ball there without moving a little so he smartly rolls toward No. 13. While he does bring the defense with him, he creates an easier throwing lane and is able to set himself properly and deliver a strike with textbook mechanics.
Burleson flashes some creativity after the catch and scoots for 17 yards. On the very next play, Reggie Bush takes off around the left side for a 14-yard touchdown.
Stafford’s patience and ability to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers resulted in the first opening-drive touchdown against the Ravens defense all season, per the ESPN broadcast on NFL Game Rewind (subscription required).
The next drive started with some promise, but the wheels quickly fell off. On 2nd-and-10, Stafford was washed under for a sack. It’s the very next play, however, which causes Stafford to make a decided turn for the worse.
On 3rd-and-15, Stafford buys time for himself and delivers a perfect strike to Calvin Johnson just as Megatron breaks open back to the deep left. Johnson leveraged himself off the coverage and sprung free.
Yet the All-Pro wide receiver could not corral the easy catch. He dejectedly clapped his hands in frustration as he walked off and the punt team poured onto the field. It's the first highlight (lowlight?) on the video below.
Stafford let his disappointment with the drop bleed into the next drive. On the Lions’ very next passing play, Stafford hints at what will be his story for the rest of the night.
The Lions set up a play with two wideouts and two in-line tight ends. Johnson is flanking to the right, and the Ravens are well aware of him.
Stafford gives a token play-action fake to Joique Bell before quickly rolling to his right, a designed movement. He is completely locked into getting the ball to Johnson up the right sideline.
What Stafford misses is wideout Kris Durham crossing the middle of the field completely uncovered. There isn’t a Ravens defender within a 10-yard radius of Durham, and all Stafford has to do is glance out of the corner of his eye to see his former Georgia teammate. A big gain would surely ensue.
Instead, Stafford forces the ball to Johnson, who is fairly well-covered. The throw is a little hot and outside, and Johnson cannot get any part of his body down before crashing out-of-bounds.
It wasn’t an awful throw, but Stafford has made similar throws with better touch and placement.
The bleeding continues from Stafford. He appears to have let his frustration seep into his psyche.
The rest of his night is a grab bag of off-balance throws, rushed reads and sloppy mechanics.
Take the aesthetically disgusting mechanics on this play.
The Lions run a pair of shallow crosses over the middle, with Johnson headed to Stafford's left and Pettigrew pulling across to the right.
Once again, Stafford makes up his mind on his target before properly surveying the field. This is totally on Stafford; the pass protection up front is strong, and the obvious decision is in his plain sight.
Instead of hitting Pettigrew as he breaks away from his trailing defender, Stafford is locked in on Johnson. All the quarterback had to do was lead Pettigrew up the field and loft the ball over the shallow linebacker and a nice gain was there for the taking.
A late bit of pressure gets to him just as he commences the throwing motion, but Stafford was already using his lazy, low platform. His arm angle is somewhere between three-quarters and sidearm, not over-the-top, for no viable reason.
As he releases the ball, his feet are crossed awkwardly. Stafford throws the ball across his body and away from his lower-body momentum, from a poor arm angle to boot.
It's no surprise this throw bounced in the turf a few feet short of Johnson, who was well-covered and had nowhere to run had he been able to make a reception.
This is a rushed decision, a poor read, lousy mechanics and bad accuracy all rolled into one of the worst throws Monday Night Football viewers will ever see.
It wasn't just his throws which were ugly, however. Stafford's decisions were often hasty and myopic, as demonstrated on another play.
From the second he gets the snap from Dominic Raiola, Stafford stares directly at Nate Burleson on his simple hook route. There are four other receivers on routes, but Stafford doesn't care; he is throwing this ball to Burleson, period.
Of course the Ravens defense keys on Stafford's stare, and tackle Haloti Ngata reaches up and paws the ball to the turf.
Had Stafford taken a little time, he could have progressed to Reggie Bush (circled) flaring out into the right flat completely uncovered.
The defender responsible for Bush (highlighted in yellow) is more than 10 yards away. Think Reggie could make something happen there?
It wasn't all terrible. Stafford did connect with Joseph Fauria on a 14-yard touchdown that required a perfect throw. Earlier on that scoring drive he made an excellent read and showed patience before delivering a strike to Johnson over the deep middle.
But there were too many inaccurate throws, poor decisions and panicked rushing from mild pressure. It's as if Stafford felt he had to try harder to compensate for an off night from his star receiver.
Unfortunately, Stafford's pressing to try and help Johnson only served to scuttle the entire offense. The Detroit defense did its job, holding the Ravens to 18 points and keeping them out of the end zone. That kind of effort should win games at home.
Luckily for the Lions, Stafford has shown he can bounce back from a bad outing. He must rebound against the Giants, or else Detroit's flickering playoff hopes will extinguish.