By: Eric Thomas
Matt Stafford has had a bad year. It’s okay to say that. He took a step backward and developed some curiously bad habits. The sidearm is distressing. He needed to summon a win out of a thin air on Sunday against the Packers, and he didn’t. It’s okay to be upset about it. It’s okay to ask more out of him.
Lions fans watching Stafford develop has given me a lot of pride this season. We aren’t used to describing a quarterback’s struggles without also announcing his funeral. Usually a quarterback playing poorly is loudly denounced and Lions fans are used to calling for the backup. I haven’t seen Lions fans patient with poor play and I think it’s a good sign overall for Lions nation.
Stafford isn’t alone in his regression. The vaunted Lions offense has taken a gigantic step back. Megatron has been human this year, Titus Young has thrown his career away, Jahvid Best isn’t catching passes out of the backfield, Mikel Leshoure doesn’t have a second gear, and the tight end corps is dropping balls. Stafford would be at a disadvantage even if he hadn’t regressed.
The defense has been oddly competent for their lack of talent. Nick Fairley showed what a weapon he could be against the Packers, making it all the more frustrating when he under performs, Chris Houston is going to get a large contract next year that he deserves and even Jacob Lacey has made some plays as of late. This is encouraging. Added talent on defense could part of that “final piece” that the Lions so desperately need.
A quarterback can only throw the ball. The talent that we took for granted around Stafford has been depleted and that matters. Pettigrew was far more a weapon last year, and they made a living on swing passes.
The Titus Young situation is probably worse than the Lions make it sound. Teams very rarely act this way. The Lions are extremely tight lipped, and would do anything to avoid the appearance of a locker room in turmoil. They didn’t just bench Titus Young, they sent him home. This banishment indicates that he was not only a problem on the field against the Packers but he probably was locker room poison. Going into this season, fans often cited Young as an emerging bright spot on the team. When he played well a couple of weeks ago, the offense showed signs it hadn’t shown in a long time. The opposite, in theory, would also be true.
Does that bode well for Stafford’s leadership? Beats me. To quote the Captain from Cool Hand Luke, “Some men, you just can’t reach.” This might be the case with Titus Young.
Stafford has shown an excellent ability to learn from past mistakes. Remember how we worried that he lacked the toughness to survive in the NFL? I don’t hear fans talking about that anymore. However he did it, he seems to have fixed it. Remember how he needed more touch on underneath throws? He fixed it, but that fix needs some adjustment. Fans in Detroit have never been patient with a quarterback, and this development is refreshing.
In the off season, I wondered if Lions fans could handle a bad season. The team’s lack of activity in free agency and mistakes in the draft doomed them to a down season. I wondered if Lions fans would turn on the team. They haven’t, and that’s nice to see. We see that Stafford is struggling, but there are explanations for it, and we all think he has tremendous upside. He fights hard and is fiercely competitive. We all think he has the tools to turn it around. He will fix whatever problems are dogging him and hopefully the team will get him some weapons. Stafford has been so bereft of options that he has resorted to running the ball when Megatron is triple covered with help up top. It says a lot about how bad Titus Young has been when Stafford has that much room to run and Titus can’t get open underneath.
Again, Stafford has had a bad season, but so has the team. Blame management for taking a chance on so many guys with “character issues” in the 2011 Draft. Blame the front office and coaches for over-rating the talent they had. That isn’t Stafford’s fault and to place all the blame on his porch lets those guys off the hook.
Lions fans seem to see the big picture, and that’s a rarity for us. If this continues next year, its fire and brimstone.