A version of this story was published by the Detroit Free Press.
Matthew Stafford had plenty of great moments and forgettable moments in the Lions’ 20-14 win over the Chicago Bears last Sunday.
The sixth-year quarterback displayed his attributes, both the good and bad in leading his team to yet another fourth quarter comeback victory. He showcased toughness and made plays when his back was against the wall. He also made you scratch your head and ask yourself what he was thinking on multiple occasions.
Against a bottom-five pass defense, Stafford finished 22-of-39 (56.4 percent) for 243 yards with two red zone interceptions for a QB rating of 53.7. For the season he has thrown 19 TDs to 12 INTs with an 85.4 passer rating, 20th in the NFL. He has mostly avoided turnovers (his 2.1 INT % is a career best) but that was not the case in this game.
As has become customary, Stafford’s accuracy fluctuated play-to-play, but for the 11th time this season, he and his teammates were able to snatch a victory. This sets up a colossal finale for the division title and a first round bye against the Green Bay Packers.
Let’s evaluate the good and bad from Stafford against a young Bears defense.
Good Stafford: On the opening possession, the Lions ran a few play-action passes to try to establish a rhythm for Stafford. On the second offensive play, he hit a slanting Calvin Johnson for 18 yards after the corner slipped. Two plays later, they ran play-action again with Johnson slanting behind the linebackers.
The Lions sold the run action and all three linebackers bit, which eliminated them in pass coverage. This gave Stafford a clean look and he hit Johnson in stride for 10 yards against tight coverage from rookie Kyle Fuller.
Watch how the linebackers jumped at the run-action, affording Stafford an unimpeded throwing lane. The ball placement was perfect on this toss.
Bad Stafford: Two plays later against Cover 3, Stafford one-hopped a pass to a wide-open Tate over the middle.
A good throw would have put Tate in space against the corner who had peeled off of Johnson at the top.
Bad Stafford: This was a nice man beater drawn up by offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. It’s a tight formation bunched to the right with Tate as the outside receiver. He ran behind the routes from Jeremy Ross and Eric Ebron. The commotion caused veteran cornerback Tim Jennings to completely lose track of Tate, who came free for what could have been a big play. Stafford faced pressure and just missed Tate who again was wide open over the middle. As was the case all game long, center Dominic Raiola was beaten up the middle by standout tackle Stephen Paea.
Good Stafford: Stafford made a gutsy throw on third-and-five in the second quarter. He took a vicious hit from Paea but threw a well-covered Tate open for 34 yards.
Bad Stafford: Stafford was 2-for-8 for two yards in the red zone with two interceptions. Two plays after the completion to Tate, he made a horrible decision and a worse throw. The result was an easy interception by rookie safety Brock Vereen.
This is what Stafford saw as he wound up to throw. As he moved left, his mechanics went awry. He had an open stance, causing his arm to sink and the pass floated. It was an unwise decision and worse execution.
Good Stafford: Trailing 14-10, this fourth quarter throw to Johnson for 26 yards was on the money and was one of his most impressive throws of the day. Stafford displayed excellent anticipation; as soon as Johnson came out of his break, the throw was on him. Nice catch and run for 26 yards.
Good Stafford: Stafford’s ability to improvise and extend plays was on display on this crucial third-and-10 on the same drive. His heads up play allowed Bell to gain eight yards and set the stage for one of the biggest plays of the game. He had a chance to hit Corey Fuller on the bomb, but felt pressure and scrambled. If not for this completion, the Lions probably punt.
Good Stafford: The quarterback then made a pinpoint throw to Tate on fourth-and-two to extend the drive. He had a nice pocket to throw from, but with every receiver blanketed, stepped up and trusted his newest weapon for 13 yards and a fresh set of downs.
Jennings was draped all over Tate but Stafford’s throw beat the coverage. Unfortunately, the drive came away with no points after a botched field goal attempt.
Bad Stafford: On the following drive, he overthrew a wheel route to Bell that would have been at least a 25-yard gain.
Bad Stafford: On the next play, he underthrew Fuller on a go-route that would have been a touchdown with a decent throw. Stafford again showed trust and anticipation by releasing the ball while Fuller was actually behind Jennings. Fuller showcased his elite speed by racing past Jennings to create great separation, but the pass was badly underthrown. This caused Jennings to run into a slowing Fuller, giving the Lions a 46-yard interference call at the Bears 17-yard line. Bell scored the go-ahead touchdown on the next play.
As usual Stafford was erratic, making a fantastic throw one play, yet throwing a pass into the dirt on the next. This is basically the story of his career.
Detroit’s offense has ranked in or near the bottom third for most of the year. The recent emergence of the run game gives them more credibility heading into Green Bay and beyond.
The Packers defense will be a challenge, having slowly climbed to 13th in Football Outsiders’ defensive rankings—9th against the pass. In the week three matchup, Stafford threw for 246 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
You know the history of this rivalry: the Lions have lost 23 straight games in Wisconsin. Sure, the Lions stymied the Packers at Ford Field, but Green Bay is a different beast at home. The Packers are 7-0 at Lambeau Field, averaging a staggering 41 points per game led by Aaron Rodgers’ historic 23-0 TD-INT ratio.
The Lions have an opportunity to shed past demons and prove that this season is different. To do that, they will need Stafford to rise from mediocrity and cement the franchises’ belief in him that he is a championship caliber quarterback. It starts on Sunday in Green Bay.
Credit to NFL Game Rewind for the game film. All Illustrations and GIFs were created by Marlowe Alter for the purpose of reporting, commenting and critiquing.