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2010 Season Breakdown: Quarterbacks

 

The 2010 season will hold a spot in the memories of Lions fans for Suh’s amazing rookie year, the four game win streak that may have been the turning point but most of all it could be viewed as the season that could have been.  The Lions closed out the season on that four game winning streak, lost seven of 10 games by eight points or less and did it with only eight quarters played by their franchise quarterback.

Stafford has only played 13 of 32 games in his career, which causes some to scoff when I refer to him as a franchise quarterback.  He played well in 2009 on a team devoid of talent and when he made mistakes they were rookie mistakes.  He got better each game and he has the intangibles and physical tools that earn him the respect of his teammates.  In 2010, the Lions won the only game he finished and they had the lead against two playoff teams when he left the game.  Bottom line, the Lions are a better team when he is on the field and there is plenty of evidence to back that up.  Defenses play the Lions differently when Stafford is in the game and that is the best proof of a player’s worth.  Did any team devise a gameplan to specifically defend Jon Kitna or Daunte Culpepper?  Stafford has the support of his teammates, his coaches, the front office and respect from opponents.  Run of the mill quarterbacks don’t get that.

Matthew Stafford: Stafford was rusty in Week 1 against the Bears and had trouble finding any rhythm until late in the second quarter.  A few minutes after that he was on the sideline wrapped in ice.  When he returned against the Redksins he was tense and it took a little while for him to get his timing down, but once he did there wasn’t a throw he couldn’t make.  The next week the vaunted Jets defense didn’t have any answers for him and he posted a 94.7 passer rating against a defense that held opponents to a 77.1 rating on the season.  Stafford made huge strides during the 2010 offseason in his understanding of the offense and in his mechanics.  He struggled with his completion percentage this season but he played eight quarters out of the first 32 and rarely practiced in that span.  For those concerned with his injuries, don’t be.  If his shoulder had any serious damage he would have had surgery shortly after the Jets game so he’d be recovered by the offseason programs.  Sam Bradford had an almost identical situation last year in college.  He hurt his shoulder in his first game, came back several weeks later and reinjured it.  His injuries were significantly worse than Stafford’s and he showed no ill effects this year on his way to an almost certain Offensive Rookie of the Year performance.  Stafford also saw the same doctor as Bradford so I’m going to trust that he will be just fine.  2011 Outlook:  Stafford will be the starter and the centerpiece of the offense.  He will have to stay healthy to silence the critics and to maximize the Lions’ success.  Stafford’s only glaring weakness is his internal clock.  He tends to hang onto the ball a little longer than he should because he doesn’t like to give up on a play. Despite the blown block by Backus against the Bears, the ball should have been out sooner.  Same with a few of the hits against the Jets that set him up for the knockout blow later in the game when he scrambled.

Shaun Hill:  Shaun Hill gives the Lions one of the best backups in the league.  Hill doesn’t have anywhere near as good an arm as Stafford so defenses can jump routes and play shallower because Hill isn’t going to uncork a 60 yard throw or burn a fastball past tight coverage.  Hill will throw some interceptions because of that, but he understands the offense and reads defenses well.  He gets the ball out quickly and is an accurate passer (except for when he has a broken finger.)  He is also tougher and more athletic than he appears.  Hill threw seven interceptions in his first three and a half games but only five in the remaining seven games, two of which he played with a broken index finger.  Hill is even more effective when he has a strong running game because play action opens up wider throwing lanes which helps quarterbacks that don’t have huge arms.  2011 Outlook: Hill is the ideal backup because he is a team player, capable backup and doesn’t need a lot of practice time to be ready to play.  Hopefully his only playing time next season occurs in August.

Drew Stanton:  Stanton has had quite the roller coaster career and in a lot of respects it mirrors Joey Harrington’s career.  When a team drafts a quarterback in the early rounds of the draft the front office and coaches need to unanimously want that player.  Stanton and Harrington did not have that luxury.  Stanton was a local hero and Harrington was a national icon.  Neither got the support or coaching they needed and when a new regime took over, Stanton looked to be on his way out just like Harrington.  However, Scott Linehan worked with Stanton and gave him the coaching that previous coaches didn’t.  Stanton always struggled with accuracy and resisting the urge to pull the ball down and run rather than continuing to scan the field.  Accuracy was still an issue this season, but instead of fighting the urge to run the coaching staff embraced it and designed plays around it.  Stanton showed real progress for the first time in his career and won two out of three of his starts and almost brought the Lions back against the Giants on the road.  Stanton still needs to improve his accuracy and get better at making presnap reads, but he has improved dramatically in the last year.  2011 Outlook: Stanton may have played his way into a backup job on a different team, but I think he will end up returning to the Lions.  He still needs a lot of work on reading defenses and knowing where to go with the ball by the time he finishes his drop back.  Teams want backups that can come in ready to play, not developmental guys so Stanton only has value to a team that runs a similar offense to the Lions.  Ultimately, he would be best served continuing to learn under Linehan for another year and in 2012 when Hill’s contract is up he will have his choice of the Lions’ backup job or moving on as a more finished product.

Zac Robinson:Didn’t play a down in the regular season and played sparingly in the preseason for the Seahawks.  The Lions’ coached him in the Senior Bowl and he was the best looking quarterback in the game and in practice.  Robinson is a bit like Stanton with his athleticism and struggles with accuracy too.  2011 Outlook: He is going to get a look in the offseason and will get first crack at the 3rd string job if Stanton leaves.

2011 Offseason: Don’t expect much if any turnover in the quarterback stable this offseason.  The Lions are in a very enviable position with a young franchise quarterback, a seasoned capable backup and a third stringer that has game experience and has won against playoff contenders and on the road.


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