Posted August 12, 2013

Fixing The QBs: Can Matthew Stafford overcome a lack of mechanics?

Detroit Lions, Fixing The QBs, NFC North
(Greg Nelson/SI)

Matthew Stafford attempted an NFL-record 727 passes last season but logged only 20 touchdowns. (Greg Nelson/SI)

Four quarterbacks have thrown for more than 4,950 yards in a single season in NFL history: Dan Marino, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford. Brees and Stafford are the only ones to do so in more than one season, and both did so in 2011 and 2012. (Brees also did so in 2008.)

Passing yards in a season are hardly the best barometer of quarterback success, but there’s one thing we can say for sure: Stafford is the only guy on that list to be considered a relative disappointment while he was doing it. In 2012, for example, he threw for 4,967 yards on an NFL-record 727 attempts on a team with one of the worst pass defenses in the league and a barely existent run game. The Lions were in shotgun an astonishing 71 percent of all plays, and they’ve led the league in shotgun percentage in each of the last three seasons.

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan commands a high-volume passing offense in which Stafford is directed to get the ball to Calvin Johnson as often as possible, which makes sense, as Johnson is the NFL’s best receiver. But when Johnson doesn’t get the ball, bad things tend to happen — Megatron led the league in Football Outsiders’ season-cumulative efficiency ratings, but Titus Young was second on that list among Lions receivers, ranking 55th, and he’s no longer with the team for a variety of bizarre off-field reasons. Tony Scheffler ranked 43rd in those same metrics for his position. Brandon Pettigrew was Stafford’s most-targeted tight end with 101 throws, and he ranked dead last in FO’s metrics. Stafford threw for just 20 touchdowns on his 727 attempts, leaving him with a 2.8 percent touchdown rate — to put that in perspective, Aaron Rodgers led the league last year with a 7.1 percent rate.

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Two things are clear when it comes to Matthew Stafford as he gets ready for his fifth regular season — he’s thrown as many passes through his first four seasons as anyone ever has, and he’s done it in some pretty unconventional ways. Stafford seems unconcerned about the mechanical issues that seem to bedevil him, according to many experts.

“I focus on fundamentals and mechanics every time I step on the field,” Stafford recently told ESPN’s Kevin Seifert. “When everything is right in front of you, you want to be as good as you possibly can. It gives you the best chance of being accurate and making plays. But we play in a league where it’s not always perfect. We’ve got to make plays. I understand that. People are going to say what they want to say. I’m trying to win games for this team and it’s definitely something I’m always working on.”

Stafford also has a reasonable explanation for some of the throws he makes — the sidearm wobblers, the ducks that fly after he’s thrown them off his back foot and the sometimes inexplicable reads. Things break down, and you have to improvise.

“I’m obviously not a robot back there,” Stafford continued. “I see things, they happen a certain way in my head and it dictates a certain response in my body. I’m not thinking before the snap that I’m going to throw this one sidearm or I’m going to throw that one sidearm. It’s just a feel for the game. There are definitely times when everything was right in front of me and maybe I didn’t do the best, and there are times when I did it the other way and it was good. It just happens that way.”

What Others Think

Others aren’t convinced. Even when the NFL’s best encounter adverse situations, the experts say, those quarterbacks have a reliable base of mechanics that allow them to be consistent under duress. ESPN’s Ron Jaworski recently ranked Stafford 16th overall among starters in his “Jaws QB Countdown,” and spoke to Stafford’s special arm talent and his frustrating inconsistency.

“I’ve always loved Stafford’s willingness to pull the trigger. He’s aggressive, with an attacking mentality. It reminds me of when I played with Dan Marino. Marino said if you see the back of a defender’s jersey, you turn it loose. Stafford has that mindset. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when you’re throwing to Calvin Johnson; a lot of trust there, a lot of confidence that he will make contested catches. I felt the same way when I threw to six-foot-eight-inch Harold Carmichael.

“What stood out studying Stafford was he was not as efficient under center as he was in the shotgun. He seemed to struggle to read coverage as effectively. Too many forced throws. Overall, he just threw too many passes with poor balance and bad footwork, with a tendency to fall away from the throws.

“There is absolutely no question that Stafford is a very special arm talent. There are not many that throw it like he does. He has a chance to be a top-10 quarterback. The Lions may disagree, but he needs more consistent mechanics to play at a higher level week in and week out.”

While Stafford’s mechanical inconsistency will eventually hold him back from being a top-3 quarterback until and unless he fixes it, I’m far more concerned with some of his reads, and his seeming belief that he can fire the ball past what he sees on a regular basis. Coverages are too complex in today’s NFL to get away with that stuff, and when it comes right down to the main issue with Stafford, I think it’s more in his head than his arm or feet.

Reading In The Red Zone

When you throw 20 touchdowns in 727 attempts, you’re going to come under fire for your red-zone performance. Indeed, Stafford threw 93 passes in the red zone last season, tied for fourth-highest in the league with Peyton Manning, behind Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady. Stafford threw 15 touchdown passes from the opponents’ 20-yard line and in. On the same number of passes, Manning threw 27.

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From the start of the 2012 season, things did not go well for Stafford, as he threw three picks (and almost a fourth) in the first half of the season opener against the St. Louis Rams. Detroit won the game.

“Matt wasn’t playing poorly, he just made a couple bad throws,” head coach Jim Schwartz said after the game. “A couple … they weren’t really bad decisions, he knew what he was doing, it was just … trying to squeeze the ball into a little too tight of an area. They were playing a sort of bend-but-don’t-break style of trying not to give up big plays, trying to make us burn a lot of clock trying to shorten the game. We fell into that.”

Schwartz also said that Stafford played very well late in the game, and that’s true — but let’s get forensic on those three picks, and what they tell us about Stafford and the Lions’ passing game overall.

39 comments
thesilverdomeblues4
thesilverdomeblues4

Gotta say it, there are inaccuracies here. One of the worst passing defenses in the league? Where were the Lions ranked?
I'll tell ya.
The Lions finished 14th overall for passing defense, yards allowed. While they finished 27th in points allowed, look at the yards allowed and tell me why. Bad field position and turn-overs.
Passing defense:

In week 16 they were ranked 14th
Week 15 - 11th
Week 14 - 13th
Week 13 - 18th
Week 12 - 12th
Week 11 - 8th
Week 10 - 9th
Week 9 - 8th
Week 8 - 9th
Week 7 - 6th
Week 6 - 16th
Week 5 - 10th
Week 4 - 9th
Week 3 - 20th
Week 2 - 6th
Week 1 - 4th



Yeah, feel free to check that out. Passing yards allowed week by week season rankings.

mjhellund
mjhellund

Jaws wasn't even moderateley good. In fact, he was a crap QB. He would have killed for Stafford's arm. When Stakk gets on a decent team, we shall see.  I'm reminded of what Francis Tarkenton said about trying to throw the football flat on your back.


mjhellund
mjhellund

Nitwit. Stafford has been throwining behind an imaginary O Line for a long time. And Ron Jaworski wasn't even dervicable. He wishes he had Matt Stafford's arm. Morons at ESPN decided Johnny Manziel was the Heissman winner when both Mccarron and Murray were better QBs.

gary41
gary41

This criticism is accurate, but where were these facts at the time of his contract extension and earlier??  This off season, all the Lions could think about was how do we secure a long term deal.  Whether Stafford rates 22nd based on QB efficiency or Jaws rating of 18, both are inadequate.  If you have a defect, then correct it.  Same applies for Rivers over the years when people were talking about him being the next great one & Cutler to a lesser extent, neither of which were extended.  In the off season, Brady works on mechanics, with a vengeance & the same applies for Peyton, who believe this has something to do with accuracy.  It all goes back to the old story of how drafting a strong arm over rules everything.               

qlang80
qlang80

Am i taking crazy pills? How has Ron Jaworski all of the sudden become the expert on NFL quarterbacking? Bizarre. This guy is no more qualified to discuss foreign policy than he is the position of QB in NFL. Stick to what you know best, donuts.

Crawl back under the rock from which you came.

tsuliman
tsuliman

I don't disagree with the general point that he's still learning and improving.  But, you seem to gloss over the point that he has had no running game his entire pro career, and a poor offensive line that committed an absurd number of penalties.  He was consistently in long yardage downs and was forced to make plays against defenses that knew he had to pass.

Ciscos
Ciscos

Jaws touched, indirectly mind you, on a point of emphasis that tosses some old conventions out of the window.  A lot of younger QBs, Stafford included, are coming from college offenses that run the spread in it's truest form, or variations of it, combined with the pistol. A lot of what we're seeing are "pitch and catch" offenses.  QBs are set to throw to predesignated spots.  In some cases they're not even learning to read defenses, much less formations and coverages beyond "... I got one or a two high..." 

Stafford is both victim and not in this case.  Poor mechanics? Most definitely.  Just like Rivers, etc. But the question becomes, even with the poor mechanics, does he complete his passes? Yup.  Can he hit the WR on the seam route? Check. Dig? Check. Whip? Check.  Does he throw with velocity? Double check.

In this new era of QB'ness, throwing mechanics are probably less important outside of being able to get the ball out quickly, accurately, and with enough velocity that it doesn't take a week to get there.  I'm more inclined to focus on footwork from under center and in the pocket more than a QBs throwing mechanics.  Truth be told, by time they get to the NFL, it's practically impossible to change a QB's mechanics (see Tebow).  They've spent the better part of their lives throwing that way so you end up tweaking it only to make it better.

(I will give Tebow his props.  Steve Clarkson has done a wonderful job on Tebow's mechanics and the improvement shows)

flamiemcflamerpants
flamiemcflamerpants

I quit reading when Farrar quoted Ron Jaworski.  This dude is basically stealing a piece from someone who's already done the work. 

These are the same people that said Cam Newton sucked because he had a sophomore slump.  These are the same people that never complain about Phillip Rivers' mechanics. These are the type of people that use the tragedy of a young black kids death as a political platform. These are the people who want to control your thoughts, dreams and desires. 

decredico
decredico

numbers do NOT lie ... they just are not capable of telling the whole story 

atthebarbershop
atthebarbershop

I don't believe sports writers are just now mentioning this. I've been watching Stafford for years and all I've hears is how great he his. Not once as anyone said anything about his poor mechanics. Now, if they'd written a piece about him being over-rated, that makes more sense. This is what they do to you in corporate america when they want to get rid of you. They tell you the TPS reports you've been filing aren't correctly filled out. With Stafford, they're talking about his mechanics.GTFOH

Postulation
Postulation

Must be a lot of Lions fans posting on here. You are in denial.  The author is spot on.  His mechanics are terrible and holding him back.  I remember first seeing Stafford as a freshman at the U of Georgia.  I literally sat up after seeing his first pass that evening.  What a arm.  

IMPO, he is a symptom of the organizational issues in Detroit.  No one has enough power to tell him like it is and get him to change.  Weak leadership.

FredFlintsone
FredFlintsone

When you put up numbers he's put put up in both college and NFL you get big contracts; if his numbers were terrible the headline would also blame mechanics.Sports media is not in the sports business its in the ratings business

j7apple
j7apple

Stafford will be hurt early in the season as custom, and that will end this discussion

leehwgoc
leehwgoc

People forget that Stafford has still played in less NFL games than other young QBs like Bradford and Freeman.

Hopefully his mental mistakes will be rectified with more experience, and that optimism is pretty reasonable; his work ethic isn't a problem, and he has no character issues.

DuaneFreese
DuaneFreese

He has a whole article about Stafford's mechanics, but then uses three examples of passes in which no connection was made to Stafford's mechanics. Bizarre. And as Kevin Seifert pointed out, Stafford's mechanics in practice are excellent. The primary issue last year was that the Lions played from behind too often, starting too many drives deep in their own territory (117 of 197 at 20 and in). The average start of a drive was 25.7. The touchdowns on red zone pass  attempts is a total red herring.  The issue is scoring in the red zone when given the opportunity. The Lions were 8th in the league on TD scoring percentage in the red zone at 60% (versus the Broncos 60.87% with Manning's 27 TD passes in the red zone). The Lions had more touchdown runs from inside the five than the Broncos did. The big problem was that the Lions didn't get to the red zone as often as the Broncos, 3.4 times a game versus 4.1 times a game. This again was in large part a field position problem as the Broncos started their 188 drives with an average starting field position of the 29.7 yard line. That's about a 760 yard difference in average starting field position which would translate into about a half trip a game to the red zone. So, yeah, improve your mechanics. But getting better field position to begin with would perform more wonders.

psychozoner
psychozoner

The same comments were being made about Brett Favre about 18 years ago.

DanaBunner
DanaBunner

$76.5M contract with $41.5M guaranteed.  Why should Stafford care about his mechanics?  The Lions didn't seem to put much of a priority on them.

RexShea
RexShea

Everyone has things that they could do better. I am sure that Matt would agree.

However, he is one of only two QBs EVER to throw for more than 5000 yards TWICE. Crappy mechanics or no, the guy is prolific. Concentrate your criticism on the defense, or the running game, or the front office, but do not even imply that the problem is a lack of production from the QB position. That (and Megatron) is the only thing that the Lions have that works to an NFL caliber.


Fix what is really dysfunctional and broken before you start tampering with something that already works at record breaking production levels.

MidwestGolfFan
MidwestGolfFan

Newfangled stats and Ron Jaworski.  That's when I tuned out.

Kevin75
Kevin75

@thesilverdomeblues4 yards allowed is a worthless measure for pass defense.

writer is using advanced stats when he says lions pass defense stinks. 

Ciscos
Ciscos

@qlang80  You're late to the complaint desk.  Jaws has cut his teeth at ESPN analyzing QBs for over a dozen years.  He's not horrible but he's not great either (Trent Dilfer is the worst).  But this is no different than Jon Gruden and his QB camp.  He's soooo knowledgable, but couldn't groom, train, coach up, develop, draft, or sign a decent QB after Brad Johnson left Tampa.  Stands to reason your question, "... how has he become an expert on NFL QBs..."

Having said all of that, I'll take Jaws over the other ones, faults and all.

Ciscos
Ciscos

@flamiemcflamerpantsI was on board with your post until "... These are the type of people that use the tragedy of a young black kids death as a political platform..."  I get your point tho, but even if they did, the site, the article, and the commentary should stick to the subject at hand.

Ryan16
Ryan16

@atthebarbershop did you b other to read the article at all? in it, he cites an older ron jawarski article that talks about the mechanics problems.

ChrisSteward
ChrisSteward

@Postulation I'm a Lions fan and while I do not think his mechanics are ideal, I think they are far from the problem. When Stafford has a clean pocket, his mechanics are perfect. But that doesnt happen often because  they were forced to pass and pass a lot. Weak running game, holding and false starts on the OL and a league leading number of drops will put you in bad situations. Let's not also forget their entire right side of the OL was replaced this off-season. That mean they weren't pulling their weight during it. Riaola had to put on weight because he finally realized he couldnt hold the point of attack anymore aided by the sub par play of the RG and you have a situation when he was constantly getting pressure up the middle. Not being able to step up in the pocket will lead to bad footwork. And as bad as his mechanics are allegedly, he only had 16 INTs in 727 attempts, and the author already pointed to at least two if not all three of the ones discussed where a case of decision making and not mechanics.

leehwgoc
leehwgoc

@j7apple And yet he's been injury free two straight seasons now.

drmuon
drmuon

@RexShea 4-12, with Megatron.  Enough said.  I'm a Georgia Bulldogs fan and it was frustrating watching Stafford.  They had a chance to make it to the National championship but he under performed during the big games.   Not all his fault but great QB's win no matter what.

DavidS1
DavidS1

@RexShea

It's easy to put up big numbers when you throw a lot. His average per attempt in 2012 was the lowest of the top 14 QBs (ranked by yardage). Only 4 QBs in the whole league threw more INTs. His completion % is under 60. QB rating under 80.

All this with the best receiver in pro football.

Hardly what I would call a prolific passer.....merely a guy who gets to throw a lot.

atthebarbershop
atthebarbershop

@Ryan16 @atthebarbershop 
OK one piece, by a guy I don't like anyway doesn't dent the volumes of talk and writing on Stafford that mentions NOTHING about his mechanis being a problem. How many years has Stafford been the NFL? So now there are TWO pieces slamming his mechanics? Wow. Want I really wanted to do was to point out the bigger problem, which is Georgia doesn't produce NFL QB's that are any good/start in the NFL. About the same can be said for the SEC. With all the history and the pub. Very few have won Super Bowls. And if it wasn't for Peyton and Eli coming along in the last few years, the SEC, Super Bowl, QB rate would be even lower. I don't understand how LSU and Alabama can be the number one college football team, but not have a QB that start in the NFL. I had a hidden agenda

ChrisSteward
ChrisSteward

@drmuon @RexShea Great QBs over come the 6th highest scoring defense in the league? Great QBs over come one of the worst running games in the league? Great Qbs over come the highest amount of drops in the league? How about having your receivers get tackled inside the five yard line 23 times? How about spotty OL play? Or the defense being unable to force a TO while your players coughing it up? Revolving door at WR?

Yes great QBs do over come those, but rarely all in the same season. Bush will help and hopefully a WR not named Calvin will show up. Maybe the defense can keep teams out of the endzone. Lets see the rest of the team catch up to Stafford before we call him the problem.

MidwestGolfFan
MidwestGolfFan

@drmuon @RexShea  

I didn't realize Stafford was also responsible for bad starting field position and defensive collapses, as well.


MidwestGolfFan
MidwestGolfFan

@DavidS1 @RexShea  

A quarterback who has virtually no offensive team around him.

Now, he could have taken a little bit less money so the Lions could have bought themselves some O-Line talent...

atthebarbershop
atthebarbershop

@MidwestGolfFan @drmuon @RexShea Every great QB deals with that. You're in denial. He can rack up 5000 yard season's all he wants. Go ask Stafford if he'd rather have that or make it to the Super Bowl.