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Technically Speaking

Week 3 was a big week for the Lions obviously, but an even bigger week for Matthew Stafford. In his first start against the Saints, he was abysmal. He made some progress in his second start, but poor accuracy and bad decisions were far too common. Week 3 was a huge week for Stafford’s development, because there were high expectations of the team and Stafford.

Despite being listed as underdogs, the Lions were everybody’s favorite upset pick last week. Stafford showed minimal progress in the first two weeks and it appeared he was closer to holding the team back than helping them move forward. Stafford needed to do something to not only prove himself to the fans, but to his teammates.

Stafford still struggled mightily with accuracy and he left a lot of yardage and points on the field, but he made plays in crucial situations and showed some of the poise and maturity we keep hearing about.

Pocket Presence:
Stafford improved in this area for the second straight week, but there is still a lot of room for growth. On the first drive the Lions were facing 3rd and 5 and lined up in the shotgun with trips right (three receivers on the right side of the field.) Stafford had room to step up in the pocket and buy more time for the receivers to get open, but he threw a checkdown three yards short of the first instead. On his next attempt on the second drive he was very patient while standing in his own endzone. His patience paid off as he kept the drive alive with a checkdown pass to Kevin Smith.

Later in that drive, he stayed in the pocket despite feeling some pressure and he hung in there to make a throw. The pass was incomplete to Bryant Johnson, but his patience in the pocket allowed him to get a throw off rather than getting sacked if he tried to scramble.

The best example of Stafford’s increased awareness in the pocket came later that drive when the Lions faced 3rd and 13. Stafford lined up in the shotgun and felt pressure from his blindside. He ducked under the a swiping arm, that almost certainly would have caused a fumble, and stepped up in the pocket. He saw the defense was in man-to-man and there was nothing but open field in front of him. He picked up 21 yards on the ground for a huge first down. On the next play he lofted a beautiful touchdown to Bryant Johnson and the Lions rode the momentum of a 99 yard drive to their first win.

Footwork: Stafford’s footwork is improving ever so slightly, but he still throws off his back foot and off balance far too often. There were several plays where he had an open receiver on a deep crossing route, but the pass was off. Instead of taking a step towards the receiver when he is throwing he steps forward but favors one side or the other. That causes him to open his hips up which leads to throws in front of the receiver or behind him. A good example of this was on 2nd and 5 from the Skins’ 14 yard line. Stafford runs a play action fake and gets the safety to bite on it. He has CJ running down the left side into the endzone, and the safety can’t get there in time to make a play. Stafford opens his hips, the pass sails high and to the left, and CJ can’t get to it.

Stafford will struggle with his footwork more than most quarterbacks because of his arm strength; he has a strong enough arm to make most throws despite having poor footwork. Brett Favre had the same problem but Mike Holmgren was able to rein him in and get him to improve his footwork. His interceptions went down, accuracy increased and he won a few MVPs.

Reads/Manipulating Defense: Stafford greatly improved in this area and the biggest indicator was the fact that he didn’t throw any interceptions. On the first play of the second drive when the Lions were backed up on their 5, they ran a play action fake and Stafford looked to Calvin. You could tell he really wanted to go to CJ, but at the last second, he decided not to force the throw. He went to his second read, Kevin Smith, who was wide open because the linebacker was ready to jump the throw to CJ. He took himself right out of the play and Stafford had the presence of mind to realize he looked at CJ long enough to allow the defense to make a play. He dumped it off to Smith and picked up a first down.

Overall Technique: Stafford’s technique improved, but he still needs to be more consistent with it. He’ll make a few really good throws and then throw a wounded duck or two. He is getting more consistent with each game, but there will be setbacks. He bounced back from a rough opening game with a decent outing against the Vikings. He struggled with his accuracy and had some turnovers, but then came out and put together his first solid performance of the season. When he has proper technique, you will see some of the prettiest throws you’ve ever witnessed. His intangibles really stood out this week, and we got to see him step up and lead this team. As the game progressed you could see the team believed in him and no amount of footwork or pocket presence can replace that. Stafford played well enough to help the team win, but he left points and plays on the field. He showed he can make plays to keep them in games; the next step is making plays to take over games. He cannot get comfortable with good results, he needs to strive for perfection. Jeff George had talent, confidence and one of the best arms the NFL ever saw, but he didn’t have the intangibles or the work ethic to develop that talent. Brett Favre won three MVPs and then went on to have some of the worst seasons of his career. Mike McCarthy became the coach and made Favre get back to basics and he led them to the NFC Championship game. Stafford has more physical talent than Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but so did Jeff George and Ryan Leaf. Vince Young won rookie of the year and thought he made it to the top; he’s riding the pine now. Stafford is showing improvement and I really am impressed with his progress, now let’s see how he handles his first taste of success in the NFL.

Game Plan for This Week: I really liked the game plan the Lions went with last week. Heavy doses of the run game with play action mixed in and the occasional shot down the field. I’d like to see them stick with that plan this week. The biggest advantage the Lions have on offense is size. The Bears run the Tampa 2 and we became all too familiar with the weaknesses in that defense over the last few years. The Lions’ offensive line is bigger than the Bears’ and more importantly the Lions’ receivers are much bigger than the Bears’ defensive backs. The Bears will let the Lions complete short passes to limit the big plays, but that only works if they can tackle CJ and Bryant Johnson. I’d stick with short safe passes that allow Stafford to get in a rhythm and let the Bears’ defensive backs try to tackle the Johnsons after the catch. The Tampa 2 can be exploited with the tight end too, so I’d look for Pettigrew when the Bears focus too heavily on CJ and BJ.

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