Detroit Lions: Why Kurt Warner's Criticism of Matthew Stafford Is Correct

Chris MaddenAnalyst IIOctober 27, 2011

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 23:  Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions looks on while leaving the field after a 16-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field on October 23, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It has been a tough week for Matthew Stafford.  He injured his foot against the Atlanta Falcons and had to answer questions about his shoulder and why he is throwing side arm.  The Denver Broncos are looming and Stafford is coming off his worst game all year.

What does Stafford have to do to get a little respect around here?  How about completing a short pass underneath for a change.

At least that would be Kurt Warner's suggestion.

In a recent interview on the NFL network, Warner was asked about the Lions' offensive woes.  The Super Bowl-winning quarterback and future Hall of Famer did a splendid job of analyzing Detroit's decline these last two weeks.

To summarize: Warner pointed out that the Detroit offense was built on the big play. Primarily, Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson.  This worked like gang busters for the first few weeks of the season.  Sprinkle in some luck and good bounces and you have a five game win streak.

Warner went on to say that teams are beginning to figure out the Lions.  They are forcing Matthew Stafford to be more consistent and forcing him to complete the short underneath pass.  Stafford's inability to sustain long drives has been an issue also.  He is inconsistent with a variety of passes that are needed during these types of drives. 

Warner also correctly pointed out that the success of the big play relies on small ball—the underneath pass.  If Stafford is able to be more consistent, teams will have to attack to take away the short pass, which will leave them vulnerable to the deep ball.

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 10:  Former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner walks on the field prior to the NFL game against the New Orleans Saints at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 10, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Peters
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

While some Lion fans may be protective of Stafford and attack Warner for his criticism, I will not.

Warner is 100 percent correct. 

During the last two losses the Lions offense looked flabbergasted.  They looked confused, unsure of why things aren't working the way they were earlier in the season.  But it shouldn't take Kurt Warner to tell them why.  Stafford is not playing as well.

Some blame the offensive line, saying they are the reason Stafford is not completing passes at a high percentage. They say he doesn't have enough time; he is getting hit too much. 

Sorry, but I don't buy it.  This is the NFL.  Quarterbacks need to be able to play—and play well—under pressure.  Jay Cutler didn't look too bad on Monday Night with Ndomukong Suh hanging all over him, did he?

They also need to be able to complete the underneath pass with consistency.  It is fundamental and it is essential to the Lion offense.

It is a well known philosophy in the NFL that the run sets up the pass.  For the Lions, the short underneath passes function just like runs.  The Lions lack the kind of running back that can establish a solid run game, even when Jahvid Best is healthy.  So instead they use short passes, interspersed with runs, to keep defenses honest.

With Best this strategy works.  He is dynamic and has the ability to turn those short passes into big gains.  Not to mention that is who Stafford is most comfortable with. 

But combine the loss of Best with a decline in Stafford's performance and you have a recipe for disaster.  Everything starts to fall like dominoes.

The outlook is not too bright either.  Everyone agrees that Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams are not as talented as Best.  They are also not suited to the short passing game like Best is. 

But if Stafford can improve his accuracy and consistency in those situations, that will be a big step forward.