Stafford recently began some light throwing as he recovers from his most recent injury, his second shoulder separation of the season, but if the Lions are smart they will shut him down for the season.
But, in spite of the spate of injuries Stafford has suffered the last two seasons, Stafford is not injury prone. Those injuries were sustained because offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has run an offense for the Lions that seems designed to get quarterbacks killed, especially young ones.
Going back to the end of last season, Stafford, the 2009 first overall draft pick, has sustained four separate serious injuries. This is after Stafford made it through high school and three years at Georgia in the SEC without missing a game.
So what has been the difference? Scott Linehan.
And the funny thing is that the media and team analysts have mostly lauded Linehan this season for the offense’s performance, which has racked up an impressive amount of yards and points. However, it is my opinion that Linehan bears the brunt of the responsibility for exposing a young, $40 million quarterback to the kind of the kind of hits that create injuries.
Don’t believe me? Ask Shaun Hill, the backup Lions’ quarterback who has also sustained multiple injuries this season. It has gotten so bad for Detroit that they are now down to their third string quarterback, Drew Stanton.
Four serious injuries to two separate quarterbacks in one season is not a result of injury prone players, but injury inducing play calling. That is Scott Linehan’s responsibility.
Linehan has run an offensive scheme that is counter-intuitive to the personnel of the Lions and the consequences have been a thrice-busted throwing shoulder for Stafford.
The simplest explanation for why I believe Stafford’s injuries to be Linehan’s fault is that Linehan calls far too many passing plays for a team that has problems in pass protection. Of the 13 games that Stafford has played in over the last two years, he has averaged over 36 throws a game.
The Detroit Lions' offensive line is just not that good, especially the tackles. Left tackle Jeff Backus is aging very quickly and he simply cannot keep Stafford’s blind side clean. Too many times, even on three step drops, Stafford has gotten completely rocked from the backside because Backus can’t handle elite speed or strength.
Right tackle Gosder Cherlius is worse. It’s like if he isn’t holding he isn’t blocking. He has shown some improvement this season, but he still has problems dealing with counter moves. On multiple occasions, Gosder has let his man beat him and flush Stafford into the waiting arms of another defender.
Forget five and seven step drop back pass plays, Cherlius and Backus have problems keeping a quarterback clean on a three step drop.
So, Stafford averages 36 throws per game behind a terrible offensive line and people wonder why Stafford gets hurt? And where is the running game? It is common knowledge that a young quarterback’s best friend is a good running game.
The reason why a young quarterback is so much better off with a plus running game is that it prevents third and long situations from becoming a constant problem. Young quarterback plus third and long situations are a bad combination. They force the quarterback to hold onto the ball longer, which puts them in a position to get hurt.
Linehan is known for his designs on passing plays, but he is not known for operating a dynamic running attack. Granted, his only real options at running back were a rookie, Jahvid Best, and a veteran coming off a serious injury, Kevin Smith, but still, the lack of commitment to pounding the rock or his lack of imagination for designing run plays has forced the Lions to throw the ball far too much.
And, it’s not just the amount of throws or the amount of third and longs Stafford has to see. It’s the kind of throws and the offense itself. Too many five and seven step drops and no effective running game, means defensive lineman can get into their pass rush stance and just attack.
When the quarterback has to take five to seven steps in his drop back and wait for complicated combination routes or double moves to naturally evolve behind a bad offensive line, he is basically just dropping back waiting to get hit. Even if the quarterback gets the ball out, odds are he is going to get hit.
That is the kind of offense Stafford plays in under Linehan. Even if he completes a pass, there is a good chance he will still get lit up.
Now some might argue that Linehan is merely gearing his game towards the talent of his team, which has an impressive group of pass catchers. But, when you have a bad offensive line, getting the ball to those play-makers on a consistent basis in my opinion becomes far too risky, especially with a young quarterback.
Reasons being young quarterbacks have some inherently bad tendencies, chief amongst them is holding onto the ball too long. Stafford is no different. Instead of throwing the ball away, he would rather stand strong in the pocket and wait for one of his receivers to get open. However, when you play behind a bad offensive line, that is a bad idea.
Compound Stafford’s tendency to hold the ball for too long with a bad offensive line, too many five and seven step drop passes called with no running game and it becomes far easier to understand why Stafford has been injured so much.
The solution in my opinion is three-fold. Better personnel along the offensive line and the running back position, reducing the amount of throws Stafford has to make per game and a reduction in pass plays that require long drop backs or long developing routes.
I believe that if that is done, Stafford’s injury woes will quickly be forgotten as a thing of the past. If not though this troubling trend can continue.
Stafford’s injuries are not because he is made of glass, but because even concrete breaks when smashed with a sledgehammer enough times.
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