After a disappointing season, there are rightfully calls for heads to roll. Jim Schwartz is likely to be fired, either today or following next week's slate of games. Both coordinators are likely to leave, as neither will be considered for the Head Coach job and the new Coach will want to bring in his own staff. Will this be a Gruden or a Cowher? If so, Mayhew might find himself taking a hit for this disaster of a season.
All of those things are fine and dandy. What should not happen, what cannot happen, is the trade of Matthew Stafford to another team. He is not the reason this team didn't make the playoffs -- he's the reason we even had a shot at the playoffs. Stick Shaun Hill back there and you can forget about the miracle in Dallas or any of the big throws he's made all year long just to keep us in games and/or get the lead in the 4th quarter. A "safe" QB like Hill doesn't make more plays than Stafford -- and Schwartz's idiotic game management ensures we'd lose a lot more than we'd gain with Hill over Stafford.
It wasn't that long ago that we all saw Matthew Stafford run back on to the field, his left arm completely destroyed, in obvious pain, and throw a game-winning TD. Or how he willed the team to beat Dallas this year. Or any of the WOW drives that happened these last few years. Calling him "not a winner", or saying "he doesn't have the right stuff" means you're either ignorant of what those words mean or ignorant of how those words are applied.
I grew up here in Detroit, and despite loving the Lions, I always had a spot in my heart for Brett Favre. He'll probably always be my favorite player despite having been a Packer. Why? His gunslinger spirit. His willingness to make the tough throw, His ability to make that same tough throw. His toughness. His courage. His will to find a way to win -- throw it left-handed behind my back? If that's what it takes!
I spent close to 20 years watching Favre play. That's three dozen or so games against us and another 40 or 50 (or more) against other teams. I've watched a lot of football, and in all that time, I have never seen a QB more like Brett Favre than Matthew Stafford. Same arm. Same attitude. Same balls of steel. Same need for two things: guys that can catch the damn ball and coaches who can put it all together.
Favre got those two things and took home MVPs and a Super Bowl trophy. That's Stafford's ceiling. You don't hand that kind of talent off to some other team.
So yeah, are there things Stafford can improve on? Yes. He will be the first to tell you, in great detail, what needs work.
Did these things cost us a playoff spot? No. Like I said: Stafford's good plays kept this 2-14 team above .500 almost all season. You can't expect him to win an entire season's worth of games solo -- at least not under these conditions.
Consider the litany of things that Schwartz and the Lions handed to Matthew Stafford this year. Here is a bit of their communications to Stafford this season:
- We want you to lead a pass-first offense with one starting quality WR and your choice of one TE who can't block or a second TE who can't catch.
- We want this pass offense to be based on precise timing and changing routes and route depths based on subtle changes in the defense, so we'll give you a combination of untalented and/or injured receivers that shuttle in and out of the lineup. We're fairly certain that the half-yard difference in speed from one receiver to the next won't result in you placing a football half a yard in front of, or behind, any random receiver we throw out there.
- We want you to establish the run, but only when it's obvious we'll be running. We'll also use whichever RB is performing better that game, unless it's Bell, because Bush gets paid more. Unless it's raining or snowing or Bush has a cervical exam that morning.
- We're not big on discipline, so we’re not going to get on the players for penalties. Expect some 3rd and longs after holds or false starts. We still expect you to find an open receiver among the garbage pile of guys no one else wanted. If the throw isn't there, try and fit it in there anywhere. We're pretty sure if Kevin Fucking Ogletree can't catch it, no CB will be able to. The magical non-INT fairy will save the day.
- We’re going to make things really easy on the opponents’ defenses by throwing early and often. This will let them cut most of their run defense plays out and give them time to scheme and practice to stop solely our passing game. Not to worry -- we won't adapt to this or change anything.
- We want you to be a leader, but... the head coach won’t give up being the "leader" of the team AND refuses to lead himself, leaving a leadership void that he terms "acceptable penalties". Oh well! ESPN will still blame you.
- We want you to run a complex offense that rarely takes advantage of your strengths and doesn’t cover for your weaknesses. When it doesn’t work, fans will blame you first and not the boneheads who designed this garbage playbook and certainly not the OC who sat on the sideline and called every game poorly – even the ones we managed to win.
- PS You have to do it all with a QB coach who had never, before becoming your personal QB guru, ever held a real coaching position on offense. Because clearly you won’t need reminders mid-season or mid-game about footwork or arm angles or even just a pick-me-up when Beavis and Schwartzhead have the Lions punting after another series of draws, screens, and 4-yard routes on 3rd and 8.
Add it all up and think about the totality of what was asked of Stafford, at 25 years old, in his third year as a starting QB:
- Go out and win a ton of games with a suspect defense and an offense that demands a lot of points, cannot control the clock, and is highly dependent on the ability of people to get open with
- One WR worth a damn
- Predictable playbook that let opponents plan to shut us down
- Offense predicated on skills that the players lacked
- Good RBs that we refuse to use properly
- Coach that wants to be the center of the team but not be responsible as the leader of the team
- Coach that refuses to change what is not working, ever
- Position coach that comes from the wrong side of the goddamn football
- And do it on a team that has no accountability from the top – leaving you with no voice to establish leadership even if you wanted to.
There is not one QB in the league who could make that work.
It’s crazy that Stafford was able to squeeze 7 wins out of these circumstances, let alone ask for 10 or 11. The reality is that Matthew Stafford’s brilliant days were good enough to mask the deficiencies that Schwartz and Mayhew handed him. If you take those days away, if you plug in some other QB, this team is 2-14 and looking to draft a guy just like Stafford.
So please, for your sake, for my sake, for all our sakes, stop calling for Stafford to be traded. Even if it were possible, it would be the dumbest of all the dumb things we could possibly do this off-season.
Instead, hope we hire a coach who values leadership and will surround himself with professionals who know what they’re doing and demand accountability from everyone.
Throw in an actual QB coach and Stafford will be right back in the mix for "best young QB" and we’ll be talking about the ridiculous prices of playoff tickets, rather than wondering how in the hell we ever let old Jim Schwartz scam us for five solid years.