Detroit Lions: 10 Things That Will Happen If Matthew Stafford Stays Healthy
The Lions had a pressing need for defense in 2009, but Martin Mayhew's philosophy is to draft the best player available.
Although some fans wanted LB Aaron Curry with the first overall pick, the Lions started rebuilding from the worst season in NFL history by drafting their future franchise QB.
The Lions then signed Matthew Stafford to a six-year, $78 million deal with $41.7 million guaranteed.
That was the most guaranteed money offered to any NFL player at the time.
He has shown the talent and leadership to validate being the No. 1 overall pick. But he's yet to stay healthy for a long enough time to earn the money Detroit pays him.
Stafford has played 13 games in two seasons.
If the young QB stays healthy for a full season, here are 10 things that will happen for the Lions.
1. Fans Will Rejoice
This one is pretty self-explanatory.
Stafford's talent goes unquestioned, but his injuries have many fans worried that another high draft pick won't work out.
The injuries are not Stafford's fault. They are usually the result of sub-par protection or simply bad luck.
Stafford fully recovered from any previous injuries he suffered during his rookie season. He was not at risk of re-injuring his knee or left shoulder after surgically repairing them.
The injured right shoulder in 2010 was not surgically repaired. That is why it got re-injured.
The injured shoulder was finally surgically repaired after Detroit's season ended in January.
History shows Stafford fully recovers from surgically repaired injuries. His throwing shoulder should be fine in 2011.
Stafford started throwing on Thursday, which is always a good sign for Detroit.
If he stays healthy for a full season, the offensive line is doing a good job and fans are happy.
2. Running Lanes Will Open for Best and Company
Not sure if Jahvid Best will be anything more than a change-of-pace back, but there is no denying his talent.
Matthew Stafford leads a potent aerial attack for the Lions when he is healthy.
Best would be the beneficiary of that, as running lanes should open for the speedster and other tailbacks featured in 2011.
The Lions do not have a consistent power running game. Until they do, they must throw first to set up the run.
If you're Detroit, who better to throw the ball around than Matthew Stafford?
3. The Pass Defense Will Further Improve
How can Matthew Stafford's passing lead to an improved pass defense?
Even with backup QBs, the Lions were able to put points on the board against tough competition. As mentioned in the previous slide, it's not like the Lions were relying on a power running game to do that.
Stafford is without a doubt the Lions' best QB. Therefore, the Lions offense should score more consistently with him.
If the offense gives the Lions an early lead, the front four on defense can get into pass rush mode more often. Opposing QBs feeling the pressure are more prone to mistakes.
The relentless pass rush also takes pressure off of a secondary that needs help.
When a team is down by two or more possessions, they are more likely to throw the ball. This is especially true in the second half. That means the defense knows what's coming and will be better prepared to defend it.
If Stafford is out there leading the offense down the field, the defense is resting. That always helps.
The Lions won't always lead by at least two possessions in the second half. They still have to stop the run. However, Stafford doing his part on offense will make life easier for the defense.
4. The Bandwagon Will Start to Grow
Detroit's four-game win streak received some national attention at the end of the season.
Even before that, the Lions hung tough in almost every game. The only games they did not have a chance to win were during Thanksgiving week against the Cowboys and Patriots.
In those games, they looked good in the first half but faltered in the second half.
Not many people expect the Lions to do any better next season than they did in 2010.
In a division that just witnessed two of its teams play in the NFC Championship, it makes sense to think that way.
However, the Lions almost beat the Bears twice in controversial games and split games with the eventual Super Bowl Champion Packers. The Lions knocked Aaron Rodgers out of the game Detroit won at Ford Field with a concussion.
Detroit is making the NFC North one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. With each win the Lions pile up in 2011, they will be taken more seriously across the league.
They were on the brink of regular season success last year and should enter 2011 with a healthy Matthew Stafford and an improved roster.
The consensus in Detroit is that the Lions are a healthy Stafford away from making the playoffs.
Any success in 2011 will surprise the rest of the NFL, but not Detroit.
Start rolling the bandwagon.
5. Calvin Johnson Will Become NFL's Top Receiver
The Lions are so happy the Raiders decided to take JaMarcus Russell.
Calvin Johnson only played one full season with a starting QB. That was his rookie season with Jon Kitna.
Since then, the starter closest to playing a full season was Matthew Stafford. That was in his rookie year when he played 10 games.
Megatron's best statistical season was in 2008. Kitna started four games that year. With Dan Orlovsky and a washed up Daunte Culpepper at QB, Johnson had 1,331 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. He was snubbed of a Pro Bowl.
Shaun Hill started most of the games for the Lions in 2010. Stafford only started three games. Johnson finished with 1,120 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Johnson made his first Pro Bowl.
In addition to the carousel of QBs as a result of injury, Johnson himself has played through pain but continues to put up big numbers. This is even with teams game planning against him and trying to keep the ball away from him.
Stafford is the most talented quarterback Johnson has ever played with. A healthy Stafford can easily connect with Megatron for something in the neighborhood of 1,500 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns.
6. Stafford Will Finally Live Up to the Hype
Stafford's talent should go unquestioned. He just needs to put it on display for a full season.
He spreads the ball around to multiple receivers. His decision making is good.
The Lions offense looks really good with him in there.
Even though Stafford hasn't played much, it looks like he spends his extra time studying film and absorbing the playbook. It shows when he's on the field.
The guy simply knows what he's doing out there.
The offense in Detroit is similar to that of the Colts and Packers—put the ball in the hands of the QB.
Stafford's third year in the NFL should be his best. He will have lots of opportunities to throw the ball if he stays healthy.
With the weapons he has around him, Stafford should have a borderline Pro Bowl season.
7. Brandon Pettigrew Will Become a Pro Bowler
Brandon Pettigrew caught 71 passes for 722 yards and four touchdowns in 2010.
That's not bad for a lot of receivers, let alone a tight end.
That number might increase in 2011 if Stafford remains healthy, especially since the Lions don't have a dependable slot receiver.
So of all pictures, why choose this one?
People tend to either forget or ignore the blocking aspect of the position. Pettigrew is just as good a blocker as he is a receiver.
He displays good strength and technique. He looks like an offensive tackle at times the way he blocks defensive ends and linebackers.
When Detroit keeps him on the line, Pettigrew's blocking on the edge will be key to keeping Matthew Stafford healthy.
He won't need his blocking skills in the Pro Bowl since blitzing is not allowed, but Pettigrew will definitely be heading to Hawaii in the near future.
8. Chris Berman Will Stop Saying "LIONS!?"
For those that don't understand this reference, it's unfortunate because there are no videos of this online.
Due to the team's bad play for the last decade, broadcasters and sports analysts across the country talk about the Lions in a patronizing tone.
Rarely does any other NFL team get this kind of treatment.
The most famous one is Chris Berman's "LIONS!?"
Whenever he's summarizing a Lions game on NFL Live and they are winning, he says the word Lions in an emphatic, but surprising tone. Surprised that the Lions are doing something right.
It's actually pretty funny the way he says it, but the reason for it being funny isn't good for the Detroit organization and fanbase.
This patronizing tone diminished a little last season, as the Lions experienced some success and sported their most talented roster in a while.
But the sports world is ready to say "same old Lions" at the slightest sign of failure.
A healthy Stafford should result in not-so-surprising success for Detroit.
9. Detroit Will Finish with a Winning Record
Matthew Stafford only played one full game in 2010. The Lions beat the Redskins.
Detroit won five games with backup QBs. They were also really close to winning a handful of their 10 losses.
While the backups did a great job filling in, it was obvious at times why they are backups. Detroit's offense was flat sometimes and had trouble converting on third downs most of the season.
With Stafford playing all 16 games, that should not be as much of a problem.
The offense should realize its potential as long as the protection holds up.
Detroit could've won eight games last season.
The schedule is a little lighter in 2011.
A Stafford-led Lions team can finish with a 9-7 record and claim a wild-card spot.
However, if the Lions are 8-8 or worse in 2011 and miss the playoffs, fans will still be happy as long as Matthew Stafford remained healthy.
10. Skeptics Will Be Silenced
Stafford won't be called a glass QB or a china-doll anymore.
The team knows Stafford is their guy, but he will also be the guy in everyone else's mind.
Stafford will prove that injuries won't cause him to be a bust, for anyone that thinks he is one.
Above all, Lions fans will be relieved they have a franchise QB that can stay healthy.