Detroit Lions: 5 Reasons Matthew Stafford Will Have a Pro-Bowl Caliber Year

Jay Wierenga@@JayWierengaCorrespondent IAugust 15, 2011

DETROIT - AUGUST 12:  Quarterback Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions throws for a first quarter touchdown during the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Ford Field on August 12, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

Okay, Lions fans, it is time to officially get excited about football season.

After years of mediocrity, mixed in with half a century of bad quarterback play, the Lions are finally poised to break two trends in one fell swoop.

This year, the Lions will have a fun and exciting football team, and they will have a quarterback that is mentioned in the same sentence as the upper echelon of starters.

So, it is too early to christen Matthew Stafford as the next Peyton Manning. Manning is a once-in-a-lifetime signal caller, likely to go down as one of the top five of all-time.

But Stafford is going to at least enter the conversation, and here is why.


Depth, Baby, Depth

The Lions have had many years in which their success was tied to one or maybe two offensive weapons. If Barry Sanders was taken out of the game, the team was sunk. If Herman Moore got hurt, there was no hope. If Kevin Jones doesn't take off, the team could be in trouble.

But this year, the team is not dependent upon only one or two players. They have an incredibly deep offense stacked with talent throughout the depth chart.

If Brandon Pettigrew is ailing, Tony Scheffler is more than capable of filling his shoes. If Jahvid Best is ineffective, Maurice Morris and Jerome Harrison will fill in admirably. Heck, even if Calvin Johnson gets triple teamed, you will have Nate Burleson, Titus Young and others willing to step up.

This team has given their young signal caller a whole offensive roster of weapons to choose from, all of which are capable of making his life easier.

Sure, the offensive line is still a concern, but the added weapons take a lot of the pressure off of them.


It Starts with Coaching

You cannot dismiss the importance of great coaching. And while Jim Schwartz has the attitude and acumen to be successful, the most notable coach for Stafford's development is Scott Linehan.

Linehan, who has been a successful offensive mind in the NFL for years, is entering his third year as offensive coordinator for Detroit.

That means he is the only offensive coordinator Stafford has ever had. Unlike those that preceded Stafford, he has not had multiple different approaches thrown at him or multiple different playbooks to digest.

He has been able to focus on only one playbook with only one set of verbiage and language. So he has been able to grow up with the same philosophy throughout his entire three-year career.

Add to that the fact that he has had a lot of time to learn on the sidelines without added pressure to perform, and I would say that it is a safe bet that he is the most well-versed player on the roster as to the ins and outs of the scheme.

And in case you were wondering about Linehan's credentials, he was the offensive coordinator for Randy Moss' Vikings teams, helping Daunte Culpepper put up crooked numbers.


Attitude Is Everything

This is one of those intangibles that doesn't show up on paper. Stafford is built to succeed.

He has a sense of self and swagger that is far from cockiness but rather screams of self-assuredness. He carries himself like the leader he is and his teammates love him.

It is unfair to compare Stafford to Joey Harrington (especially since, on a personal level, I really like Joey), but you can see a difference in how each has approached diversity.

Harrington never had injuries, but he had a ton of frustration in Detroit. Multiple offensive coordinators, coaches and players had him ruffled. He hid it, albeit not very well, with an unflinching optimism that made you feel that he was trying to convince himself.

Stafford doesn't have that. He doesn't have the polish of a politician telling you that the sky is blue when it really is gray. Stafford is a football player; all he wants to do is win football games.

He has never been injury prone, and he doesn't intend to be labeled as such. He is the unquestioned leader of this offense, and he is eager to get on the field and prove his detractors wrong.


Have Calvin, Will Travel

Getting back to the earlier point about depth on the schedule, Stafford also has a piece that not many Detroit quarterbacks have had: He's, without a doubt, one of the top five receivers in the game.

True, Herman Moore was excellent. He was one of the first big receivers in the '90s. But he was a possession guy.

Calvin Johnson is a game changer. Johnson has sprinter speed to go with a higher vertical leap, a stronger body and better hands.

Johnson is bigger than Moore, has better hands than Roy Williams in his prime and is quicker than Charles Rogers before the weed.

He is the total package.

And last year, as much as Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton tried, he was not fully used to the best of his ability.

Stafford has an arm that makes Hill's look like linguine. Stanton has a decent arm, but his too looks weak compared to Stafford's.

Stafford has the ability to make all the throws and will find Johnson in mid-step on throws that Hill wouldn't even try.

Stafford's return means an opened up playbook. Hill's Lions were a lot more conservative due to his lack of arm strength. Stafford's arm opens up the playbook, and allows new wrinkles that we fans have never seen. I mean, how can you call a go-route for Johnson when Hill can only throw the ball about 40 yards in the air?

Stafford can throw the ball 70 yards downfield.


Don't Forget About the Defense

The last reason Stafford is poised for offensive dominance has to do with the other side of the ball.

Take a look at this weekend's preseason game. Stafford's offense had just driven the ball with ease down the field, culminating in a beautiful pass to Johnson for a touchdown.

Immediately, the Lions special teams forced a fumble, putting the offense back on the field to throw another touchdown.

Sure, this was the special teams and not necessarily the defense. And sure, this is not going to happen very often.

But what will happen is the defense will dominate the offensive line and force turnovers. They also will force bad field position and short drives.

If you are consistently giving the Lions offense the ball in good field position, this further takes pressure off of Stafford.

It also gives the offensive coordinator opportunities to play with house money, allowing them to take shots that they might otherwise not if their defense were not as dominant. Do you think that an early lead will go wasted? Not likely. Look for some first-down shots at the end zone, like what we saw on Friday.

And if the defensive backs have it in the back of their mind that Stafford may take a 50-yard shot downfield on first down, don't you think it will free up some of the underneath routes, the bread and butter of a high completion percentage?


Bottom Line

I think that, so far, most prognosticators are selling Stafford short. In the brief glimpse we got of Stafford last year, he looked like a new quarterback. He was calm, collected and brimming with confidence.

Then he gets another freak accident and he is being thought of as a third-tier signal caller?

Personally, I think this year Stafford will stay healthy and break out to the tune of 25-30 touchdowns and close to 4,000 yards with only about 10-15 picks.

He will have a completion percentage around 60 percent, and a QB rating of 90-100.

I'm telling you first, Stafford will be in the hunt for an All-Pro berth, even if he might not quite reach that due to his competition (Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees).


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