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Matthew Stafford's success depends on his pocket presence

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Breaking down film on how Matthew Stafford's improved pocket presence is key to his success.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason, the Detroit Lions went out to try and "fix" Matthew Stafford. They hired Jim Caldwell, Joe Lombardi and Jim Bob Cooter in part because of their proximity to great quarterbacks. The focus seemed to be on Stafford's mechanics and footwork. So how has his progress been 10 weeks into the season? In a word: mixed.

At the forefront of Stafford's issues is his pocket presence. He has a natural tendency to escape the pocket when his first read is covered and has problems recognizing a strong pocket. This habit is not completely gone yet.

stafford bad pocket 1

Above, Stafford has a lane up the center of the field to step up into. But as soon as he feels the pressure, he escapes the pocket rather than stepping into it.

stafford bad pocket 1.2

Cameron Wake easily keeps pace with him to the outside. Because Stafford has left the pocket, he essentially only has one receiving option: a well-defended checkdown to Reggie Bush. He has no way of seeing nor throwing to Golden Tate, who is breaking open on a crossing route. If Stafford had stepped up into the pocket, he could have given himself more throwing options and would have had more time to go through his progressions.

The good news is that Stafford is improving, and when he gets his pocket presence right, he makes the defense pay.

stafford good pocket 1.1

As Stafford faces pressure up the middle, he escapes to his right. This is a good play, but it's one that almost any quarterback would make. It's what Stafford does next that is crucial to his success:

stafford good pocket 1.2

Now that he has bought a little time, he has two options: scramble further to his right and escape the pocket or step up into the pocket and leave all of his options still open. Stafford sees that he still has room in the pocket to step up, sets his feet and delivers a perfect pass to Calvin Johnson:

stafford good pocket 1 gif

This is just a small example of Stafford's improvement, but it is not an isolated incident. He basically did the same thing against the Atlanta Falcons on his long touchdown pass to Tate. However, Stafford's nasty happy-feet habit is not completely gone yet. If he gets a little more consistent in the pocket, he will become a much better quarterback and the Lions will be a more dangerous team.