Mechanically, Stafford defined his season on his very first drive, if not his first throw. On his first dropback, Stafford rolled right before sidearming a bullet to Calvin Johnson
for a four-yard gain. 11 plays later on a first down from the Rams’ three-yard line, Stafford failed to set his feet on a quick slant, tossing a bullet interception to Janoris Jenkins
. His first of 17 picks on the year had been intended for Tony Scheffler
Stafford’s season went on to be embodied by those three Ss: Sidearm, Sloppy and Scheffler.
Stafford’s arm talent is considerable. It’s elite. There’s not a single throw he can’t make. If only he wouldn’t insist on trying to make them with all manner of arm slots. At times, Stafford legitimately resembles Byung-Hyun Kim
. Stafford’s ability
to throw sidearm leads to the occasional breathtaking completion. A bullet through an impossibly tight window. His reliance
on it, however, gets him into trouble. As you may have guessed, underhanding a ball through three defenders isn’t a very high percentage throw.
Then there’s the matter of Stafford being able to make any throw. Again, that’s good. The problem is, he believes any
receiver can make any
catch. The NFL is not for the faint of heart. You have to be willing to make daring throws into tight spaces. But for Stafford, it’s a way of life. In 2011, it paid off in making him look like a poor man’s Kurt Warner
. In 2012, it made him the NFL’s answer to Landry Jones
. Stafford loves
throwing high and over the middle of the field. That’s great when he’s throwing to Calvin Johnson
. Not so great when he’s throwing to Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew
Stafford threw either behind or above his stiff-hipped tight ends an incalculable amount of times. He never missed by much, but Johnson was only his receiver capable of making the spectacular play after Young and Broyles went down. Far too many drives were killed because Stafford had too much faith in his arm, and by extension his unspectacular receiver corps. Jumpballs to Scheffler, Pettigrew and Durham regularly turned into picks.
Then there’s the matter of his horrid footwork. For every time Scheffler didn’t make a play on a catchable ball, there was a time Stafford dialed one up that not even Megatron could catch. Stafford’s overthrows were legion, and almost always a result of failing to set his feet or throwing off his back foot.
Stafford’s unique arm talent means he can sometimes get away with this. But in 2012, he seemed to think “sometimes” was “all the time.” Stafford wouldn’t be Stafford if he started trying to emulate Tom Brady
’s perfect motion, but he must be less cavalier, and more patient, with the ball in 2013.
On the bright side, Stafford never
misses low. He threw maybe a handful of balls at his receivers’ feet all year. His arm strength is evident on each and every throw. He’s also a better scrambler than he’s given credit for. Stafford is not Aaron Rodgers
, but when the pocket collapses, the play is not over.
He’s fearless. Disintegrating pockets don’t bother Stafford. He’s willing to get hit if hanging in one second longer means even a small gain. He never locks onto one receiver. There were times in 2012 when Stafford should have
only thrown but Calvin Johnson
, but that’s not his M.O. Just like he thinks he can make any play, he thinks he can make them to any receiver. As we just went over, it gets him into trouble with bad personnel, but it moves the chains with good personnel. Defenses can’t ignore a single receiver, even if it’s Stefan Logan
or Will Heller
. Stafford will
throw to them. What Could Still Go Right
When assessing the travails, disappointment and divine comedy of Stafford’s 2012, there’s a few things you need to remember. Chiefly, he just turned 25
. He’s made only three more career starts than Sam Bradford
. He’s made 12 fewer
than Josh Freeman
. When Stafford breached the 5,000-yard barrier in 2011, he did so in his 29th career game. When Drew Brees
first reached the 5,000-yard plateau in 2008, he was playing in his 107th
Stafford is only 19 months older than Andrew Luck
. His career is still in its infancy. A lot went wrong in 2012, but we’ve already seen so much go right. He has a building block in Calvin Johnson
that’s the envy of the NFL.
But as Stafford proved in painful and prolonged fashion last season, no one can do it alone, and any turnaround is going to start with an improved supporting cast. The Lions have done all they can to surround Stafford with weapons, but their best laid plans have gone awry. Forget the second-round pick they wasted on Young, or the jury still being out on Broyles. Ignore Scheffler’s painful limitations. The issues go beyond the receiver corps. Injuries have knocked Jahvid Best
out of the NFL, and made Mikel Leshoure
plodding and one-dimensional.
Former undrafted free agent Joique Bell
did his best impression of a playmaker out of the backfield last season, but is not someone who threatens defenses. He maxed out his potential by Week 14, and was phased out down the stretch. The Lions have
to get someone who can make plays at running back to take some of the pressure off their quarterback. Maybe it will be through the draft, or maybe it will be through agency. Quite possibly, both. Signing Reggie Bush
would be an excellent start
, but one back — especially one who’s been known to get nicked — isn’t going to cut it. The Lions need to find two legitimate playmakers to complement, or possibly supplant, Leshoure. Defenses can’t be sitting and waiting on Stafford dropping back like the inevitability it was in 2012.
Then, of course, the Lions must address receiver. Burleson will be back, and eventually, so will Broyles. But if Calvin Johnson
thought he drew a lot of double teams in 2012, wait until we get to 2013. Detroit simply can’t keep propping up the best receiver in the NFL with the likes of Tony Scheffler
and Brandon Pettigrew
early draft pick must be used on a receiver. Money must be spent. Perhaps an old friend — Greg Jennings
— will be willing to come over from Green Bay if the price is right. A possession receiver who still manages to threaten beyond the first level of the defense, Jennings would be a dream bookend for Megatron if he could stay healthy.
If Jennings proves too costly, even someone like Brandon Gibson
would be a major
improvement over what the Lions have now. Stafford has as much raw ability as any quarterback in the NFL, but we saw how far his raw ability alone could take him in 2012. It’s a given that Stafford can’t be as loose with the ball or as sloppy with his footwork in 2013. Our Best Guess For 2013
Stafford is by no means a lost cause. His good attributes far outweigh the bad. He just needs to do a better job of realizing his teammates’ limits as well as his own.
Maybe he’s not the next Kurt Warner
, but the next Dan Fouts or Warren Moon. A prolific volume passer who can never quite get his team over the hump. Either way, Stafford’s arm is an all-important part of the solution in long-suffering Detroit, not the problem.
There will be more growing pains. What Stafford did wrong in 2012 can’t be corrected overnight. But it’s absurd to believe the No. 1 pick of the 2009 draft has already peaked, or isn’t capable of piloting a perennially competitive team. He’s only nine months older than Russell Wilson
for pete’s sake. With a few more weapons and a lot more
diligence about his mechanics next season, Stafford will be back to where he was this time last year: a mid-20s quarterback who’s already proven he can throw for 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns.
If you’re ready to give up on that, the joke’s on you.