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Culpepper vs. Stafford

Instead of doing the weekly “Technically Speaking” column, I wanted to analyze the differences between Matthew Stafford and Daunte Culpepper. There is a good chance that Stafford will not play this week due to the injury he suffered against the Bears. There are several factors that will change the dynamic of this game if Culpepper starts, and Culpepper may actually give the Lions a better chance of winning than Stafford would.

Patience and Presence in the Pocket: Week in and week out I have chronicled Matthew Stafford’s struggles in this facet of his game. It’s not a knock on him, he’s just a young quarterback and no amount of practice will help him develop patience in the pocket and pocket presence.

Culpepper has significantly more experience and is more calm in the pocket. However, Culpepper can have too much patience in the pocket as he waits for things to develop, or he will use his feet to buy more time outside the pocket. Culpepper doesn’t have great pocket presence and when combined with excessive patience in the pocket it can lead to a lot of sacks.

Ultimately, the Lions will be better served in this game with Culpepper’s patience. The Steelers’ defense is predicated on forcing mistakes by bringing pressure. The Steelers bring exotic blitzes and disguise the coverage behind the blitz. The quarterback needs to be patient in the pocket and not rush his throws when he’s feeling pressure. He needs to hang in the pocket long enough to allow the defense to show it’s hand in coverage, then make the correct throw.

Size and Mobility: Stafford has good size standing 6’3” and weighing in at 232. Culpepper is two inches taller and about 30 lbs. heavier, he is much more difficult to take down than Stafford. Culpepper seems to have gained a good portion of his mobility back since he lost 30 lbs. in the offseason. Culpepper is a natural scrambler and is dangerous when he escapes the pocket and throws well on the run. Stafford isn’t as comfortable scrambling and he has struggled throwing on the run.

Culpepper’s mobility could help curb the Steelers’ pass rush and force them into blitzing less if he can rack up some yardage on the ground. Culpepper’s size makes it difficult for defensive backs and linebackers to tackle him on blitzes, so even if the Lions don’t pick up the blitz, he may be able to break away from the rush and keep plays alive. The Steelers zone-blitz package relies on blitzing defensive backs and dropping lineman into coverage so hopefully Pep can take advantage of those situations with his feet and force the Steelers to stick with more conventional blitzes.

Ball Security: Stafford is obviously in the early stages of his career, but counting preseason games, he has committed a turnover in seven out of eight games. Culpepper has always had a reputation as being turnover prone, but that applies more to fumbles than interceptions.

Daunte Culpepper takes fewer risks throwing the football, but he is more prone to fumbles. Culpepper frequently fumbles when he is trying to extend the play with his feet and gets strip sacked. Stafford’s turnovers have come when he is trying too hard to make big plays or commits to a receiver and lets the defense read his eyes.

The Steelers defense relies heavily on forcing turnovers with a wide array of blitzes. They swarm to the football and excel at holding the ball carrier up to allow teammates to force a fumble. The Lions will be a little less turnover prone with Culpepper on the field, so hopefully he can avoid turnovers and give the Lions a better chance at the upset.

Pre-Snap Reads and Decision Making: Culpepper has seen more than Stafford, but he’s never been known as a cerebral quarterback. Culpepper’s best seasons came under Scott Linehan because Linehan put Culpepper in situations that limited the defenses’ ability to disguise coverages. In Minnesota, Linehan had Randy Moss to attract double coverage and prevent teams from bringing eight men into the box. That made Culpepper’s pre-snap reads a lot easier because the defense couldn’t disguise the two deep coverage. Then Linehan had a strong stable of running backs and a big overpowering offensive line to take advantage of the seven man fronts. He did a great job of calling plays that kept Culpepper’s reads simple and allowed him to use his physical abilities to make plays.

Stafford is more decisive after making his reads, but tends to lock onto the receiver he decides on. This will improve with experience, but against a complex blitzing defense like the Steelers it is an incredibly exploitable weakness.

The Lions have a better chance with Culpepper against the Steelers because Culpepper is more conservative with his decisions. Culpepper will take the short, safe checkdown throws to live another day. Stafford is still prone to trying to make highlight reel plays when he has a safer option to go to. When facing the Steelers, it’s best to play it safe and get your big plays as they come to you, rather than trying to force the issue.

Arm Strength and Accuracy: Matthew Stafford has the edge in arm strength, but at this point his accuracy is inconsistent. Daunte Culpepper has a strong arm, not in the same league as Stafford’s, but he is a more accurate passer.

I don’t anticipate a lot of throws downfield against the Steelers due to the aggressive pass rush. The receivers will need time to get downfield and the quarterback will have to take deeper drops to buy time to throw. That puts a lot of stress on the offensive line to pick up the blitz.

Throwing downfield is both quarterbacks’ strength; neither is known as a “West Coast” style passer. The edge in accuracy does go to Culpepper, but it’s because he is more technically sound. Stafford has better natural accuracy, but his mechanics hinder his accuracy from time to time.

Overall: I believe Culpepper matches up better against the Steelers because he is a more complete quarterback at this stage in his career. He is less prone to the mistakes that Stafford is working through right now. It will be interesting to watch the “new and improved” Culpepper to see if he is significantly improved over last year. Stafford’s raw talent is evident in his play, but he is sorely lacking in experience. Culpepper has that experience and I am looking forward to seeing how much of an asset that will truly be.

This game will be a good measuring stick for Stafford’s development. We will see how the offense is run by a veteran that has spent time and had success in this system. If the offense performs significantly better, we know that Stafford still has a long way to go. If they play as well or worse than when Stafford was starting, we’ll know that Stafford is progressing well.


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One Response to “Culpepper vs. Stafford”

  1. slippers_nfl says:

    I don’t know much about NFL, but this helps me understand it better.

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