By: Eric Thomas
Oddsmakers in Las Vegas think that Matt Stafford is the sixth most likely person to win the NFL MVP next year. Yet all I’ve heard from otherwise reasonable Lions fans since the close of hostilities from the 2014 season around here is that Stafford is a sub-par quarterback. Seems like Vegas sees value in #9…why don’t you?
Let’s get this out of the way (even though many of you aren’t interested in this qualification): Stafford needs to get better, as all quarterbacks hopefully will. The previous coaching staff did not use his talents well. He needs to come up with another way to throw underneath, and he needs to control his obvious arm strength. He’s far better at long passes than he is short passes, and hopefully the current coaching staff is helping him with that. Here’s where I disagree with the cacophony of noise surrounding him: he has all the skills to be a great quarterback, and last year wasn’t nearly as bad as the final numbers seem.
I understand that this isn’t computing annual GDP. I understand that we’re just talking about football, and people who have opinions based on emotion will always win the day. The guy screaming in ALL CAPS will get listened to a lot more often than the person who asks for more data. Still, it’s important to gather as much information as possible before you make a decision on Stafford.
It seems to me that Stafford was felled by a bad system and epic injuries to an already thin receiving corps. Burleson’s injury hurt the Lions terribly. Chris Durham might be tall, but that doesn’t make him an NFL ready receiver. Scott Linehan’s play calling was atrocious in the second half of the season, and his allergy to using Reggie Bush cost the team dearly.
We need to challenge prevailing wisdom and think if we are going to evaluate Stafford correctly. I always beg people to eliminate “bottom line” thinking, which is a terrible way to evaluate performance. Why eliminate information? Why should someone trim away anything if they are going to make informed decisions?
Evaluating Stafford comes down to two questions, I think
1. Was he better in the first half of the season?
2. If so, what changed in the second half of the season?
As we continue to debate this, we should ask those two questions and use reason and analysis to come up with the answer. The first question should be obvious. Of course he was. He had three fourth quarter comebacks, against Washington, Cleveland and Dallas. He had 6 picks in the first eight games, as compared to 13 in the second half. His completion percentage was 64% in September and 56% in December.
The second question is trickier, and that’s where the analysis should go. Discuss.