Through five games, Matthew Stafford has had a tumultuous season. At times, he's looked unstoppable. In the Detroit Lions' three wins, he has completed 68 percent of his passes for an average of 295 yards and a passer rating of 100.6. In his two losses, Stafford is only completing 57 percent of his passes for a passer rating of 74.4. It's pretty clear that the team rides or dies with him, so what went wrong on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills? In short, Stafford didn't trust himself.
Stafford's first, and most egregious mistake, came in the first quarter. After being afforded great field position from a good punt return, the Lions had a chance to strike quick:
Stafford seems to be staring down Eric Ebron over the middle of the field. Ebron is open. Wide open, in fact. Stafford feels the pressure, but he keeps his body facing downfield and still has time to throw the ball. For whatever reason, however, he fails to trust his read and eats the sack.
This is a truly confusing play, because Stafford is clearly looking in the right direction, there is no one in the passing lane and it's a fairly easy pass to make. It looks like Stafford just doesn't trust his read and is affected by the poor pass protection on the play. Whatever the reason, he has to make this throw.
Later in the game, again, Stafford continued to leave plays out there on the field.
Here, the Lions are running three curl routes on second-and-long. The ball is designed to come out quick, yet Stafford again sits in the pocket too long and fails to get the ball out. He initially draws the defense downward, eying Calvin Johnson at the bottom. He then looks for Brandon Pettigrew in the middle, who is covered. However, just next to him, Golden Tate is standing there open.
This is a difficult read to make, because Tate is quite possibly the third option on the play. Additionally, the safety eventually makes a quick break on the route, so a late pass likely results in an interception. However, this play is designed to get the ball out fast. All three receivers are stationary, which is a good sign that the ball should already be out. At the very least, Stafford needs to throw the ball away to avoid a sack and potential fumble. But when you have a receiver open like this:
You have to find him and you have to find him quick.
Finally, as the Lions were teetering on what 31 other teams call "field goal range," Stafford missed a big opportunity to get a valuable chunk of yards.
Stafford is just very impatient with his read here. He never looks downfield and is just waiting for George Winn to break open out of the backfield. It never happens, and he doesn't bother looking elsewhere. What he misses is Jeremy Ross beating his man soundly (after being initially jammed) over the middle of the field. A pass with good touch (granted, not Stafford's specialty) results in first-and-goal at the worst.
Now, the offensive line has made the degree of difficulty on these plays much higher. Stafford has a shorter time frame to get rid of the ball and less space to maneuver. But a lot of these plays are designed to get the ball out quick, and at this point in the season, Stafford either doesn't have the confidence or the vision to build this new offense to its full potential.