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Technically Speaking

I was extremely interested in seeing how Stafford would bounce back from the debacle in New Orleans last week. He followed up a poor performance in Cleveland with a solid outing against the Colts in the preseason, would he bounce back like that now that the games count?

Stafford had a much more manageable situation to work with this week. The Lions were able to execute their game plan and take a lot of pressure off Stafford by running the ball effectively. Coach Linehan kept the play calls simple and used high percentage throws and runs to build momentum and boost Stafford’s confidence.

Stafford appeared to improve on his Week 1 performance, but considering the position his teammates put him in, he underperformed again.

Pocket Presence: Stafford was much improved in this area, after really struggling last week. Part of the improvement was a result of more frequent three step drops. The offensive line really has to mess up for a quarterback to feel pressure on a three step drop. The second sack on the opening series of the second half was a great example of poor pocket presence. The Vikings rushed four lineman and got very little push up the middle. The offensive line formed a strong pocket for Stafford to step up in. There was no pressure for three seconds, but at 3.7 the left end got by Cherilus. Stafford’s internal clock should tell him that he can’t sit back in a well-formed pocket for three seconds, especially with the talent the Vikings have on the defensive line. Stafford should have stepped up in the pocket, instead he stayed where he was and Cherilus rode his defender right into Stafford. If Stafford steps up a half second sooner, that defender would have run right by him.

I noticed another interesting development with Stafford’s pocket presence. It gets a lot worse when he is outside the pocket. Take his first interception for example. The play was a designed roll out to give him lots of time to throw and the option to run if a pass wasn’t there. Stafford rolls right and despite having all the time in the world, rushes an off balance throw across his body into heavy coverage. He didn’t have a defensive player within seven to eight yards of him, why panic? This is actually very common on his roll outs, which is counter intuitive because the roll outs are designed to create a moving pocket that buys the quarterback significantly more time than a standard drop back.

Stafford will continue to get sacked, force throws, throw of his back foot and throw off balance if he doesn’t develop better pocket presence. Pocket presence is comprised of instinct, patience and trust in his line. He needs to spend more time watching film on Tom Brady, who has the best pocket presence of any quarterback since Dan Marino.

Footwork: Coach Linehan called a lot of short passes in the early portion of the game to try to calm Stafford down. He called a quick out to Pettigrew, a quick slant to Calvin and a screen to Pettigrew on the first drive. The quick passes came off of three step drops, which happen so quickly the quarterback doesn’t have time to get happy feet. Let me use his first pass for example. Stafford makes his pre-snap read and sees that the cornerback is going to follow the receiver across from him. Sees that the safety is playing back far enough that he won’t be a factor in the route. The strong side linebacker is lined up behind the defensive end so he won’t be able to cut off the route. Before the ball is snapped, Stafford has made up his mind on where to throw the ball. He takes the snap and takes three steps back into the pocket. He confirms that his pre-snap read was correct while dropping back and throws the ball as soon as he hits that 3rd step. He didn’t have to go through a progression, it wasn’t an option route, it was just a very simple quick hitting pass that happened so fast he couldn’t get happy feet. Same with the slant to CJ and the screen to Pettigrew. He had three successful plays that built confidence and didn’t give him time to think or overanalyze. His footwork was excellent on these three plays.

Unfortunately, those types of plays were the only ones he consistently maintained solid footwork. On his fourth pass on 3rd and 5 he was in the shotgun. He takes a three step drop and does a stutter-step before throwing to Calvin. The stutter-step prevented him from striding into the throw and he missed a sure touchdown because he under threw the ball. Poor footwork was the cause and they had to settle for a field goal. How much of a difference would it have made to put 7 on the Vikings after a turnover instead of 3?

As the game progressed Stafford’s footwork got worse. On his first interception he had time, but never squared up to the receiver or stepped into his throw. Even if he did, that ball would have been picked but that was just because it was a terrible decision.

Stafford had a lot of success with the three step drop quick hitting passes. He didn’t throw an interception one a three step drop play, had a much higher completion percentage and threw his only touchdown on a three step drop. The Lions need to incorporate more three step drops until he cuts down on the sloppy footwork.

Reads/Manipulating Defense: Stafford continued to struggle with staring down receivers. On his first interception, he locked on to Calvin for so long that the weak side linebacker was able to run all the way across the field to make a play. On the second interception, he did the same thing. It’s difficult to tell on every play because of the camera angles, but from what I can see he is usually correct in pre-snap reads, he just makes bad decisions after the read. Again, he was doing a great job manipulating the defense in the preseason but he’s struggling now. Last week I thought that it might be nerves, but I’m starting to think it’s more a product of him trying to force the ball to Calvin. I rarely see him stare down any receivers besides CJ. Either he doesn’t trust the others as much as he trusts Calvin, or he’s trying to make big plays and knows Calvin is the best option to do that. Either way he needs to stop locking onto CJ because it’s creating big plays going the other way.

Overall Technique: Stafford completed 60% of his passes compared to 43.2% against the Saints. The improvement came from Linehan calling more high percentage plays like slants and screens. As I said earlier, when you have a quarterback with inconsistent footwork the best thing to do is call plays that have very structured footwork and timing. Stafford’s accuracy is much better on the short three step drops, however Linehan’s offense is made to stretch the field. If he doesn’t start improving his footwork e will continue to struggle with his accuracy on intermediate and deep passes. That severely limits the play calling and allows the defense to move eight men in the box because they don’t have to worry about him consistently beating them deep. In fact, they may encourage him to throw deep because that’s when he’s been throwing his interceptions. Stafford has missed Bryant Johnson on easy touchdowns twice in two weeks and one-hopped a would be touchdown to Calvin. That’s 21 points off the board because of inaccuracy, and none of his five interceptions were great plays by the defense, they were bad throws by Stafford. Improving his footwork is critical if the Lions offense is going to have any success.

How Can He Improve This Week:
Stafford cannot lock onto receivers, the Redskins’ cornerbacks are very fast and will be able to make plays if he lets them read his eyes. Their linebackers are savvy veterans and they will have no trouble taking advantage of that too.

Stafford needs to do a better job of analyzing risk vs. reward before he makes a throw. I understand that he wants to make plays, but he has to understand that the risk of throwing across his body into the middle of the field is far greater than the 10 yard gain he might get. Stafford needs to understand that big plays don’t happen when you try to force them, big plays happen when you take what the defense gives you. The defense will adjust and when they do, new opportunities come up. Patience pays off. Drew Bress threw for six touchdowns against the Lions, he forced one throw all day and it was picked off. His six touchdowns came by being smart with the ball and taking what the defense gave him.

If I were calling the shots, I would devise a similar game plan as the one I suggested last week. Use screens and short passes to tire out Haynesworth and get him off the field. The Redskins’ defensive backs are not very sound tacklers, so getting Kevin Smith or Aaron Brown in the open field could lead to some big plays. DeAngelo Hall had difficulty tackling Mario Manningham, getting the ball to CJ on some hitches and slants could be devastating and expose the Lions to very little risk of turning the ball over. This will help set up the run and hopefully prevent Stafford from making mistakes. The Redskins are starting Brian Orakpo at linebacker, and he is a converted defensive end and not very good in coverage. I’d attack him with Pettigrew to force the safeties to shade up and help cover the middle. The big payoff will be there if the Lions can make the Skins respect the running game. Their secondary is very aggressive and susceptible to play action passes. LeRon Landry is not strong in coverage and Chris Horton has a nose for the football, but doesn’t have great ball skills.

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One Response to “Technically Speaking”

  1. Kimberly Mauck says:

    I’m so freakin proud of the Detroit Lions today! They have suffered so many loses, while for the most part putting points on the board. ABSOLUTE GREAT JOB TODAY, and Stafford is a keeper!! I am a DIE HARD Dallas fan, however, I have been rooting for the Lions to win one. To beat the Redskins as your first win since 2007? Priceless to me! GREAT JOB DETRIOT!!!! PARTY! YOU DESERVE IT!

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