There will never be a consensus on Matthew Stafford.
The Detroit Lions signal-caller has been assigned every label one can pin on a highly drafted quarterback, from bust to prodigy to something in the middle:
Stafford is like that incredibly hot girl you're dating. Can't let her go bc you're not sure you can do better, but can't trust her either.— NFL Philosophy (@NFLosophy) December 4, 2015
The above Tweet is probably the most measured take we saw during the first half of this 2015 season. Those analysts from outside of the normal Lions circle generally saw Stafford in the same light. It wasn't flattering.
Matthew Stafford's 3 favorite plays 1. Heave it to Megatron and pray 2. Throw INT aiming for Megatron 3. Fumble before throwing to Megatron— NOT SportsCenter (@NOTSportsCenter) December 4, 2015
Most of the fans' tweets and message board posts centered on whether the Lions should trade Stafford for a first-round pick and whatever young gunslinger with a partying problem they could dig up. Those cries have seemed to simmer down over the past month or so.
From @MikeOHaraNFL: Stafford’s passer rating last 6 games (104.0). Only time had higher rating in 6-game span was 2011, Weeks 11-16 (106.59)— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) December 1, 2015
The transformation of the conversation around Stafford has been equal parts fascinating and laughable. Some folks don't believe he's good enough to win. Some find him to be OK but not worth the going rate for a franchise quarterback.
Well, besides the raw numbers we've seen from Stafford now that new offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter is playing to his talents, let's see what else qualifies Stafford for another extension in a couple years.
In Charge at the Line
Cooter perhaps made no bigger adjustment than giving the authority over the line of scrimmage to his quarterback.
Before every play, Stafford is setting up his protection and reading the defense while calling audibles. He's much more vocal now than he was at the beginning of the season under Joe Lombardi. That tweak has led to better protections and a more comfortable quarterback because he knows how the pocket will move before the snap.
That confidence has led to better decisions. One particular example has been Stafford's new-found love of the scramble, which has resulted in some huge plays.
Huge 3rd down. Sack would be critical here. #Packers Shields INCHES away from a point-halting sack. Stafford w/a first down scramble.— Jay Sorgi (@jsorgi) December 4, 2015
This is complete conjecture, but it's likely that the increased responsibility and trust has invigorated Stafford, as it would anybody else in a similar position.
Throwing Darts Downfield
Both the increased protection and ramped-up aggression have created an offense that puts pressure on a defense. And that has resulted in what Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus called "[T]he 'good' Matthew Stafford" in a recent article:
He’s been under pressure a little less than 38.3 percent of pass plays to 35.1 percent, which has helped. In turn, Stafford’s also found much more success throwing deep. Over his first five games, the 27-year-old only completed 3-of-12 passes for 99 yards. Since then, he’s completed 10-of-27 for 351 yards and three touchdowns.
But those deep passes haven't been the only difference. Whether it's just a better understanding of the offense or some other improvement, Stafford has been throwing to the right places.
His placement didn't go unnoticed by ESPN's Ed Werder on Stafford's third-down conversion to T.J. Jones on Detroit's last drive against the Green Bay Packers:
Excellent ball placement by Matthew Stafford on throw that might decide outcome of game— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) December 4, 2015
Accuracy has never been Stafford's calling card, but he's currently putting up the highest completion percentage of his career: 64.9 percent.
Lastly, there's a different temperament to Stafford.
Gone is the quarterback who would shake his head when a play didn't work out and trot back to the bench. He's been replaced by a fire-breather who is requiring his teammates to pull their own weight.
Stafford pretty mad after that last sack. Looked like he was yelling at Tate. #GBvsDET— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) December 4, 2015
Franchise quarterbacks combine talent and toughness with an inability to accept less from their peers. When utilized correctly, Matthew Stafford undeniably falls into that category.