Last week we played around with the thought that Matthew Stafford's best year was 2015 as opposed to 2011. The response was quite mixed. But you still saw a decent amount of Lions fans switch their opinion to the 2015 side of things. Ultimately the argument was all about Stafford's overall play, from improved decision making to consistent footwork. Now the question is why did his play indeed improve? Is it because Stafford matured as a player on his own? Or was it coaching? More importantly, was it Jim Caldwell?
As with the 2011 vs 2015 argument, I want you to decide. First I needed to gauge the Lions' section of the Twittersphere and see what they thought.
Do you think Jim Caldwell has made Matthew Stafford better?— Mike Payton (@POD_Payton) June 5, 2016
These results were even more mixed than the last. As you can see, it's almost split down the middle, with the edge going to the fans that believe Caldwell didn't have an effect on Stafford's improvement. So again, what we'll do today is present both sides of the case and let you, the Detroit Lions court, decide who gets the credit. Each section will be presented with a yearly average of each stat.
What Jim Schwartz' time with Matthew Stafford will be remembered for is the unbelievable stats in 2011, and the absurdly poor play of 2012 and 2013.
Stafford had a beginning to his career that most quarterbacks wouldn't have been able to survive. After going down with season ending injuries in his first two seasons, Stafford was hit with bust tag early. Then a remarkable 2011 season put him in a box that he'll never get out of. No matter what happens in his subsequent years, it will always be an underachievement compared to that.
Was the 2011 season an anomaly? Was it just raw talent working at the right time? I personally believe that yes is the answer to both of those questions. I don't think it can be argued that Stafford had no idea how to do his job during the Jim Schwartz era. What you saw from Stafford early on was a guy that had formed habits and was trying to get by on raw talent.
Small example: I threw discus my senior year of high school. I had no idea what I was doing. Despite coaching, I would just muscle the disc out there and get by on pure strength. Sure I would get the disc to go far and I made varsity, but imagine how much farther I would have thrown it with the right coaching.
Same rules apply here. Even if you believe quarterbacks should come into the NFL pre-assembled, they just don't. Proper coaching is needed at every level. Proper coaching wasn't given to Stafford. Hence the habit of chucking it down the field. Works for a while, but you get figured out pretty quick.
To go back to my days of throwing the disc. I was getting by doing things the wrong way. It wasn't until I began to throw the disc the way I was coached to do so, that I reached my full potential. Admittedly I still wasn't that great, but I was better.
Same story with Matthew Stafford. What Stafford needed was somebody to come in and rip all the wires out and put him back together the right way. In other words, he had to learn how to play quarterback in the NFL. The simplest way to start that is to play to his strengths. One could argue that Jim Bob Cooter is the one pulling the strings in that aspect.
What Caldwell did to control Stafford's mechanics was put handcuffs on him, much to the displeasure of many fans who like to see Stafford air it out. I'll admit I was one of those fans who argued Caldwell was putting the chains on Stafford's game and Matthew wouldn't be able to succeed this way. At the time, all I looked at was the low amount of yards and touchdowns. I neglected to notice he had an improved completion percentage and threw less interceptions.
The chains were supposed to come off in 2015 and a more controlled version of the 2011 "bomb it down the field" Matthew Stafford was to be unveiled. Unfortunately Joe Lombardi didn't get the memo and decided Stafford is better when he stays planted in the pocket with the ball in his hands for 20 minutes.
Here's where the Caldwell argument sort of falls apart. Because Jim Caldwell let Joe run the offense that way for the first half of the season and Stafford almost came home from Minnesota in a body bag. Yes Caldwell improved the finer points of Stafford's game, but he also forgot about the "playing to his strengths" portion of things.
This is why you can make an argument that Jim Bob Cooter is the real hero here. In the second half of 2015, Stafford played arguably the best football of his career. But can you give Jim Bob the credit for everything without at least admitting that Caldwell's plan to control Stafford's game and make him a smarter quarterback worked?
2016 should be a very telling year for Stafford, Caldwell and even Cooter. If Matthew takes yet another step forward in the absence of Calvin, you'll know that he was unevolved in the Schwartz days and is now a quarterback that can take the team to new levels. If he regresses, it was all just two sides to a flash in the pan.