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Technically Speaking

This week’s evaluation of Matthew Stafford’s play was very difficult due to several circumstances. He was rusty from three weeks off, he still showed effects of his knee injury and the receivers’ performance was abysmal. During the Monday night game, the analysts were talking about how much extra time Drew Brees and his receivers spend after practice working on route running, practicing critical situations and making difficult catches.

The Saints receivers have dropped the fewest passes in the league and make circus catches look routine. I have yet to hear of Stafford taking these measures with the Lions’ receivers, but I think once his knee is 100% he should. If Stafford can get these guys to show up and put the extra effort in it would send a huge message to the team that he is willing to do whatever it takes to lead them (not to mention cut down of the drops.) He is already doing many things in that department, but he needs to take it to the next level. If he wants to be great, he needs to do what the great ones do. Hopefully, his close friend Peyton Manning is telling him the same thing.

Pocket Presence:
Stafford was only sacked twice last week and neither sack really fell on him. He displayed much better pocket presence and made better decisions in the pocket, especially on his touchdown run. He faced an outside rush from Leonard Little and Gosder Cherilus rode him to the outside of the pocket. In a nearly identical situation against the Vikings earlier this year, Stafford retreated in the pocket and then tried to roll out. He was hit as he threw and the pass fell incomplete, but it was a very dangerous throw. This time, he stepped up into the void and saw room to run. This was a very mature play for him, he didn’t try to force a throw, he wasn’t indecisive, he had great pocket awareness and used his feet to make a play.

This was very hard to evaluate this week because of the lingering effects of Stafford’s knee injury. He was throwing almost exclusively with his arm and not pushing off of his back leg (the injured one.) Stafford doesn’t consistently stride into his throws when healthy and it contributes to his inaccuracy. Last week, he was terribly inconsistent with his accuracy and I believe it had to do with his injury.

A great example was the long pass to Bryant Johnson on 3rd down. If you watch Stafford’s posture when he throws the ball you’ll see his back foot is directly under his back shoulder and he is straight-legged. That throw was made with just his arm rather than getting his body into the throw. Ideally, his back foot would be behind his back shoulder and he knee would bend as he pushed off his back foot. See the pictures below for a good example.

As I’ve said many times, Stafford’s footwork needs a lot of work, but last week I think he was still showing ill affects from his injury. I’m not sure if it was still bothering him, or if he was just used to throwing while favoring his knee. Either way, the end result was a lot of incomplete passes.

Reads/Manipulating Defense: Stafford must have spent a lot of time in the film room when he wasn’t getting treatment on his knee. He made sound reads and did a great job looking off his intended target. He rarely made a throw into coverage and he routinely froze the defense long enough to create openings. Unfortunately, the throws that followed were usually off target or dropped.

Overall Technique: As I stated earlier, it was very difficult to evaluate Stafford’s performance against the Rams. There were a lot of variables that factored into his performance, injuries, rust, and dropped passes. I’m curious to see how he performs against the Seahawks after a full week of practice and with one game under his belt. I hope that his knee is sound and he has confidence in it. It is very difficult to regain trust in an area after it has been injured, especially when it’s something crucial like a knee. Stafford’s biggest area of concern is and will be his footwork, I don’t think we’ll see significant improvement until next season when he’s had a full offseason to work on it.

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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