Matthew Stafford does not seem to be off to a stellar start this season with the Detroit Lions. Luckily, the record is 1 – 1 and not 0-2 on the first two games. Because it was very close to being 0 – 2 until the end of game one when Stafford staged a comeback. But if you look closely at the first two games of this year and compare them to last year, are they really that different? Is Stafford off to a rough and rocky start like people are claiming?
Game one versus the St. Louis Rams was the Stafford the Lions are used to seeing. He came out and promptly marched the ball down the field. There were completions to plenty of players, including running and passing plays. Then there was the first interception. When Stafford got the ball back, he again marched down the field with confidence. There were more completions than misses, there were run plays and passing plays. It looked like the young star was starting right where he left off last season…until he threw the second interception. The next two quarters were fuzzy with a rattled Stafford trying to make plays that weren’t going to happen. When the fourth quarter started, the Stafford of old appeared yet again and led the Lions to rally with two great series and a win.
Then came the San Francisco 49ers game. Stafford didn’t come out strong and march the ball anywhere, the entire game. The confidence appeared to be sagging. There were run plays attempted over and over again that were not effective. The plays were not mixed up and spread around all of the offensive targets. Why? Was there some injury Stafford didn’t tell the coaches that prevented him from connecting deep to Calvin Johnson? Did the pregame coverage get to his head? Was he rattled from the first game and letting it affect him still?
The answer is that the 49ers’ defense just made connecting deep impossible. Just like how they put a quick stop to having much of a run game. The fault might not be with Stafford exclusively, his arm, or even his head. It might be that the developing offense was just met by a solid defense. Stafford might be suffering from a bit of a confidence problem, but who wouldn’t be if they had three interceptions in game one? In all of 2011 Stafford only threw 16 interceptions.
When you break down Stafford’s numbers between all of last year and the first two games this year, they are surprisingly close. In 2011, Stafford’s completion rate was 63.5 percent. This season it is slightly higher, at 63.8 percent. Huh? Coach Jim Schwartz said in the post game press conference that Stafford was going to be a 60 “percenter” when it came to completions. He was right. And the fact that this year is actually higher in two games than last year is almost funny.
In 2011, Stafford had 5,038 yards, which averages to 314 yards per game. This year he has 585 passing yards so far this season, which breaks down to 292 yards per game. That isn’t a big difference per game. Yet, his overall quarterback rating for 2011 was 65.5 and for 2012 it is a lowly 45.5. A whole 20 points lower. Can he make up the difference?
The numbers don’t appear to be that drastically different. What does seem to be drastically different is the perception of Stafford and his abilities. The expectation that grew in the off season by the media and the fans has made Stafford’s start appear rockier than what it actually is. Can it improve? Certainly. Is it terrible? No. Will it be improved versus the Tennessee Titans this week? According to both Schwartz and Stafford, definitely.