Breaking Down Matthew Stafford's Great Performance Against Oakland

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Breaking Down Matthew Stafford's Great Performance Against Oakland
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions stormed into the Black Hole in Oakland with a dominant performance by the first-team offense. Quarterback Matthew Stafford put on a majestic display that should strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenses, eviscerating the Raiders with the precision of a military airstrike.

His numbers on the night only begin to tell the full story.

Like a comedian at the end of a killer set, Stafford threw down the mic and exited after those two drives. He'd done everything he needed to prove his greatness. 

Here's a blow-by-blow, throw-by-throw breakdown of Stafford's special performance.

 

First throw

After Reggie Bush gashes the Raiders for eight yards on Detroit's first offensive snap, it's time to take to the air.

Wideout Golden Tate (No. 15) motions across the formation and sets up flanking toward the bottom of the picture. His motion tips off Stafford that he has solo man coverage, as corner Tarell Brown carries Tate across the field.

Now all Stafford has to do is read the safety on that side of the field. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew is running a skinny post right at Tyvon Branch, forcing the Raiders safety to pick his poison.  

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As soon as Branch (No. 33 in black) takes one step to the inside, Stafford knows he has Tate isolated. A quick pump fake freezes Brown, and Tate expertly executes the double move to streak into the open field. It's easier to see this from behind the defense:

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Stafford delivers a perfect strike in stride with just the right amount of touch; he doesn't baby the wide-open throw, but also doesn't get too excited and rifle it with too much zip. Tate hauls it in for the easy touchdown. 

 

Second throw

On the first play of Detroit's second drive, Stafford goes right back to Tate. This time it's a designed screen.

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Note how adeptly Stafford sells the play fake, which holds the inside pursuit for a quick beat. That gives the offensive linemen that much more time to get out in front. 

The Raiders react quickly to the throw and swarm for the tackle after a four-yard gain. It's a productive first-down play that showcases the multiple ways in which Stafford can use Tate, his prized free-agent acquisition. 

 

Third throw

After the Raiders bottle up Joique Bell nicely on first down, the Lions face 2nd-and-9 at the Oakland 45-yard line. 

Stafford falls back into the shotgun—more accurately, the pistol formation—with Bush and Bell split behind him. This is another designed screen, as No. 9 pivots as soon as he receives the ball and flares it out to Bush as he heads behind the right tackle. 

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The Raiders are ready for this one, notably cornerback Carlos Rogers. He swoops past a half-hearted blocking effort from Pettigrew and thumps Bush out of bounds for a one-yard gain. Tate didn't exactly lay the lumber as a blocker on this play, either. 

 

Fourth throw

It's now 3rd-and-8 after the screen pass. The Lions empty the backfield and put five receivers out, with Bush and tight end Eric Ebron in the slot. Stafford again retreats into a shotgun.

This leads to perhaps Stafford's best throw of the night.

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His first read is to Bush coming off the right slot, and as he looks there he draws up safety Charles Woodson (No. 24), who is guessing that the last two screens are leading to another here. The line quickly snuffs out the pass rush, and that gives time for Stafford to progress to his next read.

Ebron breaks across the field and behind where Woodson has vacated. Stafford has to get the ball up over the rapidly retreating Woodson, and he hits his rookie tight end in stride. Ebron battles himself to make the catch, preventing an even bigger gain. 

Still, it's a 23-yard gain and a big third-down conversion thanks to a great throw and defensive manipulation. 

 

Fifth throw

The very next play results in another short pass. This one is a quick sight read by Stafford, who sees that wideout Kris Durham has nobody within 10 yards of him aligned wide right. 

It's a quick pitch-and-catch, and it's not Stafford's best moment. His throw is a little low and in front of Durham, who lunges forward and ultimately hits the ground rolling as he secures the catch. He's quickly touched down for a two-yard gain on first down.

 

Sixth throw

With 2nd-and-8 just inside the red zone, the Lions deploy three wideouts. Stafford quickly notices something about the defense and rushes out to whisper a quick tip to Ebron, who lines up behind the line and inside Tate.

Once the play starts, it's easy to see the adjustment Stafford recognized. His quick thinking and correct redirection of Ebron pays off. 

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With Ebron running a quick out, it pulls cornerback Rogers outside. That clears a big swath of turf for Tate, who, like the other wideouts, is running a hook. Tate nicely sits in the hole and snares a Stafford fastball to set up first down at the 10. 

 

Seventh throw

After a LaAdrian Waddle holding penalty pushes the Lions back to the Oakland 20, the Lions attempt yet another screen. The Raiders are ready for this one.

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Stafford gets pressure in his face but still delivers a catchable ball to Bush. It clangs off his hands for what will wind up being Stafford's only incompletion. This was good defense by the Raiders. Even if Bush secures the catch, he's not going anywhere. 

 

Eighth throw

Now it's 2nd-and-goal from the 20, not exactly a favorable down and distance. The Lions again operate with an empty backfield and five receivers, including Ebron and Bush lined up in the tight slots. 

This play shows Stafford's ability to buy time with his feet.

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Antonio Smith (No. 94) beats left guard Rob Sims with a quick burst and bull move into the middle. Smith even lands a glancing paw to Stafford's helmet as the quarterback scurries out to his right, a rare uncalled penalty for this preseason. 

Stafford winds up with two choices as he rolls out. He has Ebron on a shallow drag route but also has Kevin Ogletree sitting in a hole in the coverage about seven yards deeper. 

The key here is that he sees both without moving his line of vision, which would allow the defense to better read his intention. He delivers a technically clean pass with authority to Ogletree, who has enough time to lunge forward toward the goal line. 

In seasons past, Stafford often altered his throwing platform or would overextend his front step and lose both accuracy and zip. There are no signs of those maddening habits here. 

 

Ninth throw

Ogletree's snag sets up the Lions deep in the red zone, 3rd-and-goal from the 4-yard line. This affords an opportunity for the Lions to break out the tall package, inserting 6'8" tight end Joe Fauria and spreading out the nearly 6'6" Durham on an island against rookie corner T.J. Carrie.

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Stafford animatedly gesticulates before the snap, almost looking like Peyton Manning and his pre-snap histrionics. Though he didn't yell "Omaha," it served its purpose. Carrie will get no help on Durham.

The rookie from Ohio has good size at 6'0" and a solid 204-pound listed weight. He even has good initial position as Stafford tosses up the fade to Durham. 

This is not optimal ball placement; Stafford's throw is at the right altitude to use his height advantage, but the ball is too far inside. It's almost directly over Carrie's head instead of farther outside to the receiver's back shoulder. 

Durham rescues his quarterback a bit with a tough contested catch. Carrie even earns a flag for illegal hands to the face, but No. 18 comes down with the touchdown. Stafford then trades his helmet for his trademark backward cap for the rest of the night after staking Detroit to a 13-0 lead. 

As with his other throws, Stafford demonstrates smooth and proper mechanics throughout his delivery. He's got great confidence in both his arm and the skill of his receivers, even on a night where All-Pro Calvin Johnson was a healthy scratch. 

This is the kind of game the Lions envisioned when they made Stafford the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft. Fans can only hope this technical proficiency and outstanding output carries over into the regular season. He's shown the potential for greatness is there. 

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