Disclaimer: This is not an attempt to revisit the Stafford-Culpepper feud nor is it to fuel the "is it the right decision" debate. My goal is to look at Stafford's week one situation as objectively as the president of the Matthew Stafford FanClub can. Hopefully, you all know I am kidding and that I look at everything objectively (**as he is typing he follows the rest of the lemmings of the cliff**).
I've been thinking a lot about the match-up this weekend between the Lions and Saints, as I am sure you guys are too. I'm trying to get a feel for what might go down on Sunday with respect to the team as a whole and more specifically, with Matt Stafford getting his first NFL start. The new feud, now that the Culpepper vs. Stafford decision has been finalized, is whether or not the right decision has been made. It's no doubt a fair question and only time will tell if it's the right one. But in my opinion, the debate should dissolve because the decision has been made and there's no going back. The era of the Lions with Matt Stafford under center begins this Sunday in the stifling Louisiana heat. That heat will come both in the form of temperature and in the form of a smoldering offense led by a quarterback one play from Dan Marino's single season yardage record last year. Two teams on opposite ends of the expectation spectrum. The Lions are just looking for a little respectability, while the Saints are looking for a Super Bowl ring. So when I ask myself how well the New Orleans game sets up Stafford for his NFL start, I come to an unlikely conclusion: It is a perfect situation.Okay, before you all think I've been hitting the old man's secret stash of Wild Turkey, hear me out on this one. Road game... tough opponent... first NFL start... how can this possibly be a perfect situation for Matt Stafford? Well, I'll answer that question with a question: Who do you honestly think is going to win this game? C'mon... put down the Kool-Aid, take off your Lion's fan hat and put on your football intelligence hat and try answering again... honestly. If you are still saying the Lions, you are beyond my help, friend. In every way possible, this game heavily favors the Saints. Now, I know we all hope that the Lions will win and will be cheering our patooties off, but there is no denying that statistically, the Saints are a far better team and do not match up well with our Lions. The most dynamic offense in the league against one of the most questionable defensive secondaries in the league does not put this game in our favor.
But let's get back to Matt Stafford here. Why do I say this is perfect situation? There is very little pressure to win, that's why. He can either be the hero, by actually winning what many deem to be an un-winnable game, or he can simply lose like everyone expects him to anyway. Now he could come in and throw five interceptions and really tank, that's true. But it's probably unlikely as I assume that the coaches will be looking at a ball-control style offense to try to win a little of the time of possession battle and keep Brees & Co. off the field. If we get behind early, which is more than possible, Stafford will no doubt throw more. But even if he has a bad game and the Lions lose, can he himself really lose anything here? I don't think so. This goes back to a previous article I wrote about expectation-based pressure on a rookie. If the expectations are low for the team, it makes for an environment where a young player can make more consequence-free mistakes. For Stafford, the Saints game is as close to a consequence-free environment as he is going to get.
Let me be clear... I am not saying that the media or fans will completely exonerate Stafford if he has a horrible performance. I'm saying the expectations for the Lions against the Saints are not very high. No one really expects - outside of some of the most avid Kool-Aid drinkers - that the Lions will win this game. Me personally... I think they'll make it closer than most expect and maybe even raise some eyebrows, especially on offense. But with that statement... it means I expect them to lose... and I do. That sentiment, which I'll just assume is pretty widespread amongst both the fanbase and the media folks, gives Stafford a perfect setting for his first start and takes a huge amount of pressure from his shoulders. No one will fault him for the loss unless he makes a ton of mistakes that actually cost the Lions the game. I really can't see that happening. Either the game will be close, which in turn, the coaching staff will go conservative or it will be a torching - and in that environment, a quarterback that is trying to mount a comeback is typically not faulted for forcing balls and throwing "risk-taking" picks.
I'm sure many of you who disagree with Stafford being in the line-up in the first place, won't agree with this sentiment. To those of you pining for Culpepper, I have no consolation, except that the outlook of this game would be no better with him under center... but you would probably disagree with that as well. I think that if Daunte started and then went out and had a bad showing in New Orleans, the clamoring for Stafford would be loud and clear. Not that it would have or should have influenced Schwartz's decision in the matter, but that's likely how things would have gone down. With Stafford, I think he can be the hero, but not the goat. Like I said... perfect situation.