Many statements have been made about Matthew Stafford already, and many more will enter the national conversation as we get closer to Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season.
“He’s been held back by the Detroit Lions franchise”
“He has one of the top three arms in the NFL”
“Stafford makes too many bonehead throws”
“He was throwing incredible sidewinder completions for years before Patrick Mahomes”
“His legal name at birth was actually Staff Mattford”
“His 41 touchdown passes in 2011 were more than the Lions had scored as an entire team in the previous 50 years combined”
Some statements will be fact, some will be fiction. But there are a few narratives that seem to dominate the conversations around Stafford in both LA and Detroit, and he is doomed to hear those storylines again as the Rams prepare for a handful of primetime games and he gets more national attention this season than he’s ever experienced before.
Unfortunately, much of what you’ve heard about Stafford is probably bullshit. It’s just a narrative. What are the facts? This is what I found when looking at four potential myths that have followed Mattford around for years.
1 - “Matthew Stafford doesn’t win games”
When I think of quarterbacks in college who lost a lot of games but were graded on a scale because they were at bottom-tier programs, I think of Jay Cutler and Vanderbilt. Cutler went 2-10, 2-10, 2-9 in his first three seasons as a starter, then went scorched earth as a senior by leading Vandy to a 5-6 record. “Scorched earth” as compared to Krusty.
NFL teams did not care about his win-loss record and neither did most fans. Cutler was doing some sort of charity work by joining Vanderbilt’s football team and so he was still the 11th overall pick in the draft. During his first two years at Vanderbilt, Cutler only came across one other future NFL player on his team.
Well, Stafford struggled to meet very many NFL players during his 12 years with the Lions.
Since their last championship in 1957, the Detroit Lions have won one playoff game. Not one Super Bowl, not one NFC Championship, one playoff game. I mean, the NBA gives out free playoff wins to teams every year. Jalen Ramsey won more playoff games than that during his time with the Jaguars. The Jaguars.
And the coaching hires have been consistently awful because it’s always going to be the same people hiring the coaches. You can’t expect to grow a carrot farm if you hire a rabbit to do it. Not because the rabbit will eat all the carrots while he’s filing paperwork with the county. Because HE’S A RABBIT. He doesn’t know of paperwork or deadlines.
(I like what the Lions have done this year actually.)
Even the Cleveland Browns accidentally hired Bill Belichick once. And the punishment for that good deed was firing him and moving to Baltimore.
Just think about how the Lions even acquired Stafford to begin with: by going 0-16. By being the Lions and getting the first pick in the draft. This was not a situation where a savvy general manager made a decisive move to fleece the other 31 teams. This was not the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes. Detroit sucked, the 2009 draft happened to have one (exactly one) really great prospect in the top-ten picks. Stafford fell into their laps like Luck to a horse.
Most fourth quarter comebacks in a single season: Matthew Stafford. pic.twitter.com/r3pGVRX62M— NFL (@NFL) December 14, 2016
And for the next 12 years, through three head coach firings, a multitude of offensive coordinators who had little-to-no success around the league, and few Pro Bowlers around him other than Calvin Johnson (a player who Stafford should have maybe had at least three or four more years with, but then Calvin Johnson remembered that he was under contract with the Detroit Lions and retired), Stafford probably won as many games as most any other starting quarterback could have.
The last actually terrible season with him at the helm was all the way back in 2012, and Stafford went at least 7-9 in six of seven years between 2011 and 2017. If that sounds like a low bar, it’s because I’m talking about the Lions, a franchise that lost at least 10 games in eight of the nine years prior to drafting Stafford. The only exception being a 7-9 record in 2007.
Stafford led the NFL in game-winning drives in 2014, 2016, and 2017. I do think he wins games.
2 - “Matthew Stafford sucks in the playoffs”
I’ll make it quick:
- Refer to point 1 about being on crappy teams
- Sample size is too small; again, refer back to point 1
- Peyton Manning sucked in the playoffs
- Stafford threw for 380 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2011 playoffs; 323 yards in 2014 playoffs; didn’t have a good supporting cast in 2016 playoffs and was still okay
In his most famous playoff appearance, Stafford went on the road and helped lead the Lions to a late third quarter lead of 20-7 over the Cowboys. “What is up with that?!” said Rich Eisen, when watching the highlights of a picked up flag on third-and-1 that should have given Detroit much greater odds of winning the game.
It’s not so much that this is a myth so much as I really don’t think people should even bring up the playoffs with Stafford. We should get to judge him after he gets more and better opportunities.
3 - “Matthew Stafford doesn’t show up until the fourth quarter”
Fans have often praised Stafford for his late game heroics, but that compliment sandwich is known to come with bread that is laced with concerns about how he played in the first three quarters. “The Lions wouldn’t have fourth quarter deficits if they played better to start the game.”
While it is true that Stafford’s 84 touchdown passes are the most of any quarter in his career splits — 10 more touchdowns than what he’s thrown in the second quarter, and 26 more than what he’s produced in the third — his fourth quarter passer rating of 85.7 is actually the worst of any period. Stafford has thrown 65 touchdowns and 22 interceptions in the first quarter for a passer rating of 97, as compared to 93.5 in the third, and 86 in the second.
Stafford’s best quarter by yards per attempt: 3rd (7.7)
Stafford’s best quarter by adjusted Y/A: 1st (7.59)
Stafford’s quarter with the most rushing touchdowns: 4th (8 — more than the other three combined)
Stafford’s career OT numbers: 26-of-44, 406 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 9.2 Y/A.
Compare him to another quarterback who has been starting in the league only a little bit longer — Matt Ryan — and there’s something to be excited about with LA’s new QB:
Matt Ryan, less than 4 minutes to play, Falcons trailing: 348-593, 23 TD, 23 INT, 5.47 AY/A
Matt Stafford, less than 4 minutes to play, Lions trailing: 300-546, 32 TD, 17 INT, 6.64 AY/A
We also know that Ryan has had his fourth quarter struggles in the playoffs.
Matthew Stafford: 149 Pass yds— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 8, 2014
Calvin Johnson: 98 Rec yds
Both are career-highs in yards for a 1st quarter.
It is true that Stafford has done some incredible things late in the game. But it has not come at the cost of struggling for the first 45 minutes. His first half and second half statistics? Practically identical. I’m not going to defend Stafford as some “Tom Brady in disguise” — I’m sure Detroit fans will be able to recall quite a few of those 45 fourth quarter interceptions — but I’m going to declare this complaint as a myth.
4 - “Matthew Stafford is injury prone”
There are a few facts about Stafford’s injury history that one can not bust. Such as the six games he missed as a rookie with a dislocated patella and a separated shoulder. And the 13 games he missed in year two with that same shoulder. And the fractured tailbone that cost him eight games in 2019.
Even though Stafford didn’t miss any games in 2020, he played with a torn UCL in his left elbow, a partially torn UCL in his right thumb, a right ankle sprain, broken cartilage in his rib cage, and he also “tore something” in the back of his left knee, according to Stafford.
Sounds bad. It also sounds like this: Matthew Stafford played with the elbow injury, the thumb injury, the ankle injury, the rib injury, and the knee injury. He played. Why did he play? Stafford said he did it for Detroit, Michigan: “For them it’s not injuries on their hands and ankles and ribs,” Stafford said. “It’s ‘Where am I going to get the money to pay the mortgage? And how am I going to get my car from here to there?’”
Terms like “injury prone” lost meaning for me as I got older. Stafford is “injury prone”? Okay, how many games has he missed in the last 10 years? He’s played in 152 of a possible 160, plus three of three playoff games. Getting hurt is a part of football and it is actually not standard to expect players to fight through all of their injuries.
The website Sports Injury Predictor has estimated that Stafford has 0.6% chance of getting injured in any given game and while I’m always the first person to caution against predictions, I’ll give credit to the website for dedicating their entire purpose to it. It’s a website that only cares about football injuries, it’s all they study, it’s all they report on, it’s all they keep track of, and do you want to know where Matthew Stafford ranks in terms of “Probability of injury in the season” (will miss at least 2 quarters of a game) out of 33 quarterbacks?
Stafford has been ranked as the least likely quarterback in the NFL to miss a game due to injury, at 10%, just below the 11% of Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson, and Jared Goff.
SIP gave Stafford a Durability Score of 5 out of 5.
It may seem like “Well, where are they even getting this shit?” if you have entered the conversation with a preconceived notion based on a narrative that Stafford is injury prone, but I’ll tell you where I think they are getting this shit: A quarterback misses zero games for eight years, suffers a back injury that we don’t typically see at the position, was “completely healed” six weeks after surgery, then returned and played a full 16-game season for a shitty coach, a shitty team, and through nagging ailments all over his body when nobody would have blamed him for asking to take it easy as he neared the end of his career in Detroit.
Matthew Stafford isn’t busted, but this myth is. Any quarterback could suffer an injury next season, including Stafford, however I don’t see a reason to lose sleep over his chances of missing games — and in fact I would now feel even more comforted that he won’t.