Breaking Down #1: A Look at the Outing of Lions First Pick Matthew Stafford

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1st and 10: Stafford drops back to pass, good play action fake shielding the ball from defenders, and maintains good balance in a clean pocket. Sets up tall (some quarterbacks tend to bounce into their set up, and if they bounce too low they lose sight of the receivers) and strides into his throw which is a little high but catch-able. Play Result: Incomplete pass. Comments: I would like him to sell the play action fake a little longer and bring that throw down into the receiver’s frame. Other than that, a very strong play with good fundamentals and despite the throw being a little high, it should have been a routine catch for Colbert.

2nd and 10: Shotgun snap, takes one step back and fires the ball to Derrick Williams on the quick slant route and hits him in stride. Good ball placement. Stafford didn’t stride into the throw and locked on to Williams right after the snap. Play Result: 10 yard gain. Comments: One of the benefits of having such a strong arm is displayed on this play. Stafford did not stride into his throw, but had plenty of arm to get the ball there on time. Generally on the quick slant routes, the quarterback doesn’t have time to look off the defense and then make the throw, but Stafford was staring the receiver down from the moment the ball was snapped. He needs to watch the receiver out of peripheral vision, then turn and confirm the receiver is open and release the ball. The linebacker went with the slot receiver, but had he decided to jump the route he would have been able to make a play.

2nd and 9: Stafford sees the defense showing blitz to the right, he takes the snap, confirms the blitz is coming and draws them in before dumping the pass off to Cason in the flat. Again, Stafford hits the receiver in stride, which allows him to gain maximum yards after the catch. Play Result: 5 yard gain. Comments: Stafford showed great presence and poise on this play in reading the blitz correctly and going to his hot receiver. He showed great maturity in holding onto the ball as long as possible to bait the defenders in. If he rushes the throw, the defense may have time to turn and pursue.

3rd and 4: Shotgun snap, three step drop but the pressure from the right end forces him to step up in the pocket. Makes the correct read and decides to throw to Colbert on the short crossing route. Doesn’t get to stride into the throw because he is brought down by the foot and falls forward. The throw is accurate but Colbert stopped running for a moment and had to reach for the pass. Colbert bobbles it and drops it. Play Result: Incomplete pass. Comments: Stafford showed excellent pocket awareness in stepping up to avoid the rush and made the right read and throw. The pass was out of reach for Colbert because he slowed up, Stafford was leading him because he had a lot of open space in front of him and it could have been a big play. Stafford showed great poise and presence again.

1st and 10: Play action fake to Cason followed with a naked bootleg back to the right side. Stafford sells the play fake well and senses the pressure while his back is turned to the line. Stafford throws on the run without squaring up to the receiver and throws with just his arm. The pass is behind the tight end Heller, who has to turn around to catch the ball. This forces him to slow down and turn upfield with less momentum. Play Result: 3 yard gain. Comments: The play fake and pocket presence were good once again, but even on a short dump off pass, he needs to maintain proper technique. When Stafford didn’t square up to the receiver and made the throw with just his arm he ended up putting the ball behind the receiver rather than out in front. If he were under duress it would have been a good play, but he had plenty of time to square up and throw with good fundamentals. This is where a lot of his problems with accuracy stem from, poor mechanics despite the time and room to maintain good technique.

2nd and 8: Stafford takes the shotgun snap, makes a cursory attempt at a play fake that does not fool the linebackers and sets up in the pocket. Looks at Heller on the crossing route before turning and throwing to Colbert on the seam route, this kept the safety in limbo between Heller and Colbert unable to get to the sideline in time to break up the pass. Once again, Stafford has time and a clean pocket but does not use proper technique. Takes a small stutter step forward rather than striding into the throw and the ball flutters and hangs up high. Pass is still relatively on target and the ball is caught. Play Result: 28 yard gain. Comments: While it’s good to see he has decent accuracy with poor fundamentals, those are the types of plays that result in batted passes or turnovers. A spiral travels through the air significantly faster than a pass that wobbles, on a deep throw the difference can be almost a half second. Consider that most defensive backs run the 40 yard-dash in the 4.5 second range a half second allows the defensive back to travel 4.4 yards in the extra time it takes the pass to get there. That is more than enough time to turn a completion into an interception.


2nd and 2: Stafford takes the snap in the shotgun, takes a two step drop and once again stutter steps into his throw with a clean pocket. Prior to the throw, did a good job looking the safety off again to keep him away from his intended target. Good throw a little high, but he needed to drop it over a defender to reach the receiver. Colbert drops the pass despite hitting him in stride. Play Result: Incomplete pass. Comments: Even with poor technique, Stafford still threw a tight spiral and put the ball in a catch-able location. This is starting to become a broken record, but he needs to maintain good technique in a clean pocket to be consistently accurate.

3rd and 2: Stafford maintains good footwork as he takes his drop, and looks down the middle of the field to keep the safeties in place. Turns his hips and takes another small step into the throw rather than a stride. He may have sensed the left end coming free, so it’s hard to determine how clean a pocket he thought he had. Not knowing the play design makes it tough to determine if this was a bad read on Stafford’s part. The pass is to a well-covered Colbert and the ball is too high for Colbert to catch. Play Result: Incomplete pass. Comments: The play looks as if it was designed to go to Colbert the as long as he had one-on-one coverage. The throw was high, but if the throw is going to be off target on that route, high is where you want it. There was no risk of an interception as Colbert was the only one that had a chance at making a play.

3rd and 6: Falcons show a middle blitz, but bring two different rushers as the ball is snapped. Stafford still executes the play action fake despite the running back abandoning the fake to pick up the blitz. Stafford has a rusher come free and makes a small side step before throwing off his back foot. The ball floats out into the flat and is intercepted by the linebacker that originally showed the blitz. Play Result: Interception returned for a touchdown. Comments: In my experience, when a quarterback sees the blitz he should abandon the play fake so he has more time to react to the blitz. Stafford makes a rookie mistake of trying to do too much. Rather than eat the ball and take the sack, he makes a desperate throw with little velocity. He made the right read to go to his hot receiver, but he never should have tried to make the throw. Even in college, he would have been unlikely to complete that throw.

2nd and 6: Stafford takes a three step drop with a poorly sold play fake, the defense did not buy the fake and continued in their pass drops. Stafford squares up to the receiver and aggressively strides into his throw. He throws a strong, accurate spiral that is broken up by the cornerback. Play Result: Incomplete pass. Comments: Stafford executed the play very well with the exception of the play action fake. The incompletion appeared to be on account of the wide receiver (Eric Fowler) not getting off of the press coverage and the cornerback getting in good position to break up the throw.

3rd and 6: Stafford sets up a screen pass out of the shotgun, he displays good presence of mind to not give away the screen with his body language. He makes an easy on target throw off his back foot. Play result: 22 yard gain. Comments: This was a well executed play from the start. Stafford didn’t look over to Ervin until right before he intended to throw the pass. He drew the defense in and lobbed the pass over them on target. Screen passes are one of the exceptions where the quarterback doesn’t need to square up and stride into his throw because he needs to safely retreat from the defense.

1st and 15: Stafford drops back executing a play action fake that the defense didn’t bite on. He sets up in the pocket with good balance but takes the small stutter-step into his throw again. He throws a tight spiral to Fowler and hits him in stride. Play Result: 21 yard gain. Comments: I’d still like to see him hold his play action fakes a little longer to sell them better. He does a good job of not locking on to his primary receiver and throws an accurate pass despite the small stride.

3rd and 2: Stafford drops back and recognizes the coverage is taking away the short crossing routes the Lions were trying to run. He takes an aggressive step up in the pocket and avoids the defensive tackle that broke free of his block. He scrambles while carrying another defensive tackle forward for the first down. Play result: 5 yard gain. Comments: Stafford did a great job of recognizing the pass wasn’t going to be there, so he took off and got a first down. Very mature decision and great execution on his part.

1st and 10: Stafford takes the snap, executes a play action fake that momentarily freezes one linebacker. He sets up and takes a short stride into his throw that sails above a double covered Eric Fowler. Play Result: Incomplete pass. Comments: I don’t like the decision he made on his read before throwing. The linebacker didn’t bite up on the play fake, he dropped right into the throwing lane of the intended receiver. Stafford had time to go to the next read but instead threw into coverage when Derrick Williams was running a corner route with room after beating one-on-one coverage. He needs to show more patience on plays like this.

2nd and 10: Stafford takes the snap and once again executes a below average play fake, he does get one linebacker to bite however. He looks to his left at zone behind the out of position linebacker despite not having a receiver in that area. The safety freezes in the middle of the field and as he gets hit Stafford throws a tight spiral with touch over the cornerback’s right shoulder. Derrick Williams makes the catch and hangs onto the ball as he’s taken down in the endzone. Play Result: 25 yard touchdown. Comments: This was a beautiful play on Stafford’s part because he only had three receivers running routes with six men in coverage. He maintained poise in the face of the rush and manipulated the coverage even with pressure in his face. He made a great throw despite being hit and not being able to follow through. This is the type of play that Jon Kitna thought he was capable of, but instead threw a wounded duck for a pick in the red zone.

Overall Observations: It seems that Stafford relies too heavily on his arm strength when throwing, as he rarely takes a strong stride into his throws. He has a very strong wrist flick to snap the ball into a tight spiral, but on off balance throws that will make the ball flutter harder. Since this evaluation is based off of fifteen pass plays in an exhibition game it is hard to tell if he is one of the rare quarterbacks that can consistently make accurate throws without using perfect technique. The only problem is those quarterbacks tend to be high risk high reward type players, the best known is Brett Favre. He is able to make some incredible plays, but he also throws more interceptions than if he would use more technique. Brett Favre most likely would have flamed out if Mike Holmgren wasn’t able to harness his raw ability and get him to focus on his fundamentals, it’s no coincidence that Favre won all three of his MVPs under Holmgren’s tutelage.

The other main criticism I have after this performance comes on his play action fakes, I’d like to see him hold the fake a little longer before turning around and setting up to pass. His first play action fake was really successful, but they gradually decreased in effectiveness to the point that the defense didn’t bite at all.

The one big compliment we have heard about Stafford was his maturity on the field, and it was very evident with the exception of the interception. He does a great job of looking defenders off his intended target, which is one of the hardest things for a young quarterback to do. The reason it is so difficult is the quarterback has to know where he’s going with the ball almost instantaneously so he has the time to manipulate the defense and still make a successful throw. This shows Stafford processes information quickly and has good anticipation. He doesn’t need to see the receiver get open before he throws it, he can anticipate the receiver getting open so he can make the throw before the defense can react.

While Stafford’s performance was encouraging, I still believe he’d be best served fine tuning his technique for a while before taking over as the starter. Once a quarterback starts developing bad technique, it makes it more difficult to break the bad habits and reinforce the good habits.


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