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A statistical analysis of Matthew Stafford’s poor record against winning teams

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Just how much does Stafford have to do with the Lions inability to beat winning teams?

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback wins: A stat that’s been around for a long while. A stat that’s been deeply flawed for that same amount of time. Nevertheless, quarterbacks are often regarded as a player on his own playing ground. Despite football being a team game by definition, we often consider the quarterback to blame for wins and losses.

The odd part being that an average basketball team has 11 players, baseball has a 25-man active roster and hockey has a 23-man roster. Football has a 53-man roster. It’s the very definition of a team game. All 53 players play a crucial part to the game in one way or another. Yet it’s the quarterback that either takes the glory or takes the shame.

At what point does everyone realize that a quarterback doesn’t win games on his own? You would have thought that moment would have been Super Bowl 50. Peyton Manning was easily the worst player on the field. He still took every bit of the glory for the win.

It’s because we place the quarterback, pitcher, goalie and point guard on a much higher pedestal. These positions are to be the centerpiece of a team. While that may be true, a centerpiece is nothing without a surrounding cast. Somewhere along the way we all forgot that, despite playing team sports growing up.

Nevertheless, this is the way people feel. And I've admittedly been hellbent on proving this theory wrong for years. Today is another chapter of that. Although, I want you to make your own decisions based off the data.

As we’ve heard all week last week and will undoubtedly hear until the summer is complete, Matthew Stafford, not the Lions, but Matthew Stafford is 5-46 against teams with winning records. That’s really something, but is it just unfounded idiocy to say that? I’ll let you decide.

Here’s what I’ve done. I’ve gone back and recorded Stafford’s numbers for every single one of those games. I’ve broken it down into multiple categories. The injury prone years, the Schwartz era, the Caldwell era and the playoffs. We’ll go over the numbers and see just how much Matthew Stafford had to do with all those losses. Let’s jump right in.

The “Injury Prone” years

Year Opponent Completions Attempts Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Comp % Rate Final Score
Year Opponent Completions Attempts Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Comp % Rate Final Score
2009 Saints 16 37 205 0 3 43.24 27.4 27-45
2009 Vikings 18 30 152 1 2 60 56.5 13-27
2009 Vikings 29 51 224 1 0 56.86 74.3 10-27
2009 Packers 20 43 213 1 4 46.51 30.5 12-34
2009 Bengals 11 26 43 1 2 42.31 41 13-23
2010 Bears 11 15 83 0 0 73.33 86.2 14-19
2010 Jets 20 36 240 2 0 55.56 94.7 20-23
2009-2010 Total 125 238 1,260 6 11 53.97 52.65 0-7

There’s no doubt that the Lions lost these games as a team, because they were a horrible team at the time. Let’s not forget that Matthew Stafford inherited the worst team in NFL history.

In the early going, Stafford sure did make a lot of mistakes. Multiple interceptions and unrefined decision-making likely lead to some of these losses. But a defense headlined by Larry Foote might have had something to do with it do. Maybe.

Not much to see here, let’s jump to the Schwartz years.

The Schwartz Years

Year Opponent Completions Attempts Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Comp % Rate Final Score
Year Opponent Completions Attempts Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Comp % Rate Final Score
2011 49ers 28 50 293 2 0 56 86.5 19-25
2011 Falcons 15 32 183 1 0 46.68 75.4 16-23
2011 Packers 32 45 276 1 3 71.1 66.5 15-27
2011 Saints 31 44 408 1 1 70.45 97.5 17-31
2011 Packers 36 59 520 5 2 61.02 103.8 41-45
2012 49ers 19 32 230 1 1 59.38 78.9 19-27
2012 Vikings 30 51 319 0 0 58.82 77.2 13-20
2012 Bears 28 46 263 1 1 60.87 74.8 7-13
2012 Seahawks 34 49 352 3 1 69.39 101.7 28-24
2012 Vikings 28 42 329 3 1 66.67 104.2 24-34
2012 Packers 17 39 266 1 2 43.59 54 20-24
2012 Texans 31 61 441 2 0 50.82 85.8 31-34
2012 Colts 27 46 313 2 1 58.7 84.8 33-35
2012 Packers 27 45 264 1 1 60 74.7 20-27
2012 Falcons 37 56 443 0 1 66.07 82.7 18-31
2012 Bears 24 42 272 3 1 57.14 90.6 24-26
2013 Cardinals 24 36 278 2 0 66.67 108.3 21-25
2013 Packers 25 40 262 1 0 62.5 89.8 9-22
2013 Bengals 28 51 357 3 0 54.9 96.6 24-27
2013 Packers 22 35 330 3 2 62.86 98.5 40-10
2013 Eagles 10 25 151 0 0 40 60.6 20-34
2011-2013 Total 553 926 6,550 36 18 59.22 85.37 2-19

Alright. So at this time, as we know, the Lions are beginning to improve. Matthew Stafford is healthy and playing some great football, but he just can’t seem to beat those good teams. While the Lions defense was better around this time, outside of Ndamukong Suh, there wasn’t much to write home about. Stafford’s receiving crew and running back corps was much the same. Nothing to write home about, but somehow an improvement.

This time Stafford’s stats tell a bit of a different tale. This is the old Stafford. The “he only chucks it down field” Stafford. You can make a case that some of these games were definitely lost by the quarterback. Like the the Thanksgiving massacre against the Packers or the or the ugly winter game in Lambeau when Stafford had the ugliest fumble known to man.

But then there are a lot of other games that you can’t blame Stafford on. Like the Thanksgiving day loss to the Texans. The Lions win that game if Jason Hanson doesn’t miss a field goal. A week later against the Colts, the Lions defense gave up a last second touchdown to lose the game. The Lions defense allowed a backup quarterback to go video game on them in Green Bay. Things like that.

The Caldwell Era

Year Opponent Completions Attempts Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Comp % Rate Final Score
Year Opponent Completions Attempts Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Comp % Rate Final Score
2014 Packers 22 34 246 0 2 64.71 61.6 7-19
2014 Bills 18 31 231 1 1 58.06 78.8 14-17
2014 Cardinals 18 30 183 0 1 60 63.6 6-14
2014 Patriots 18 46 264 0 1 39.3 49.5 9-34
2014 Packers 20 41 217 3 0 48.78 89.2 20-30
2015 Vikings 32 53 286 2 1 60.38 79.6 16-26
2015 Broncos 31 45 282 1 2 68.89 74.5 12-24
2015 Seahawks 24 35 203 0 0 68.57 83.4 10-13
2015 Cardinals 20 32 188 1 3 62.5 50 17-42
2015 Vikings 18 26 256 2 0 69.23 126.4 19-28
2015 Chiefs 22 36 217 1 2 61.11 64.2 10-45
2015 Packers 24 38 242 2 1 63.16 87.8 18-16
2015 Packers 22 35 220 2 0 5.71 102.1 23-27
2016 Titans 22 40 260 1 1 55 72.9 15-16
2016 Packers 28 41 385 3 1 68.29 112.3 27-34
2016 Redskins 18 29 266 1 0 62.07 103.5 20-17
2016 Texans 27 41 240 1 0 65.85 89.5 13-20
2016 Giants 24 39 273 0 1 61.54 71.8 6-17
2016 Cowboys 26 46 260 0 1 56.52 63.7 21-42
2016 Packers 26 41 347 2 1 63.41 96.3 24-31
2014-2016 Total 461 759 5,066 23 19 60.55 79.7 3-18

What sticks out the most here is that the Lions have won against winning teams more under Caldwell. That’s three wins. Save your Lombardi comparisons for later.

As we know, Matthew is a much more polished quarterback these days than he was under Schwartz and Linehan. That shows in the Lions’ ability to come back and win games. Can you honestly say that the Lions lost any of these games because of Stafford?

You can bring up 2015’s horrible outing against the Cardinals. Stafford threw three interceptions and got benched. But you’d then have to explain the defense giving up 42 points like it was easy. Then you’d have to ask what happened a couple weeks later when they allowed the Chiefs to have a 40-burger of their own.

Then there’s the fumble in Seattle, the defense losing to Drew Stanton, the Lions’ inability to find a kicker for a month, bad calls, coaching lapses and so on. Is it possible that the Lions just lose games in weird ways that are beyond anyone’s control? Naahhh.

Playoffs

Year Opponent Completions Attempts Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Comp % Rate Final Score
Year Opponent Completions Attempts Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Comp % Rate Final Score
2011 Saints 28 43 380 3 2 65.12 97 28-45
2014 Cowboys 28 42 323 1 1 66.67 87.7 20-24
2016 Seahawks 18 32 5 0 0 56.25 75.7 6-26
2011-2016 Total 74 117 908 4 3 62.68 86.8 0-3

Everyone’s favorite time of year... until it isn’t. The Lions have had a really fun time in the playoffs. New Orleans’ offensive onslaught in the second half, the picked up flag and lost lead in Dallas and, of course, whatever that was last Sunday against the Seahawks.

All in all, Stafford has played somewhat well during these games. Well enough to keep them in the game in most cases. Drops and a horrible defense were huge issues in these games, but again, three interceptions is bad, too.

Some quick things I noticed

What’s weird is that the Lions have lost 23 of these 51 games by seven points or less since Stafford joined the Lions. Evident enough, in my opinion, that 23 of these games could have gone either way. To me that looks like Stafford is keeping the Lions in these games. Maybe?

Or it’s evidence that the Lions lack killer instinct. You’ve heard that before, I’m sure. While Stafford, or the team will lay well enough to keep the team in the game, it never seems to be enough. They’re never able to stick the dagger in the backs of their opponents, and twist it. Is this a Stafford issue? Or has this long been a coach issue? In my opinion, it’s the latter. As we know, Lions coaches are somehow always impervious to adjustments.

The other thing is that a lot of these losses seem to come against the same teams. The Packers, Texans, Vikings and Cardinals. The Lions just can’t seem to beat these teams. That’s actually proven. All four of these teams have all-time winning records against the Lions.

There’s also the fact that the Lions had a streak of losses in Green Bay and haven't won in the desert since 1993. Only two teams have beaten the Lions more than the Vikings and the Lions just can’t beat the Texans. Nothing special there. They just can’t do it for some reason.

In reality, it could really boil down to the fact that the Lions can’t stop Aaron Rodgers, or couldn’t stop Brett Favre. They always shoot themselves in the foot against the Cardinals. The Lions may be the only team to lose to a Ryan Lindley led team. That’s actually true. If quarterback wins were real, Ryan Lindley’s only win is against the Lions.

The Vikings have always had playmakers that give the Lions defenses fits with Cris Carter, Randy Moss and Adrian Peterson. As for the Texans, there really is no rhyme or reason here. The Lions just fall short every time. Outside of their one win over the Texans in 2004, the Lions have lost every other outing to the Texans by seven points or less; all games blown in the fourth quarter. That goes back to the Lions inability to put games away.

Overall

Year Opponent Completions Attempts Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Comp % Rate
Year Opponent Completions Attempts Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Comp % Rate
2009-2016 All 1,213 2,040 13,784 69 51 61.83 85.1

So there it is. That’s Stafford’s all-time stats against winning teams. As you can see, it’s not the horrible train wreck massacre you thought it would be. For fun, here’s everything Stafford has done in his career, minus this stuff.

Stafford stats against non-winning teams

Year Opponent Completions Attempts Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Comp % Rate Record
Year Opponent Completions Attempts Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Comp % Rate Record
2009-2016 All 1,495 2,362 17,427 122 60 61.5 86.8 46-12

What do you know? The man’s a legend. 46-12. That’s incredible, but I’m not going to give him all of the glory. Just like I choose not to give the man all of the blame. Whether it’s 46-12, 5-46 or 51-58, that’s the Lions’ record. Not Matthew Stafford’s record. Just like if the Lions win the division, a playoff game or the Super Bowl, the team won those things. Not the quarterback.

But at second glance, it’s worth noting that while the Lions don’t win or lose these games directly based off Stafford’s play, it’s nice to see that Stafford’s play isn’t often affected by the strength of the opposing team. By all accounts, Matthew Stafford gives the Lions great play whether it’s against bad teams, or future Super Bowl winners. That’s a real positive and another layer to Matthew’s game that hasn’t ever been discussed.

Now imagine if the lions put a run game around that, or second half adjustments, or receivers that don’t lead the league in drops and a consistent defense that doesn’t go from historically good to agonizingly mediocre on a monthly basis. Then who knows what this team is capable of? But in my opinion, their quarterback is far from the problem.

What are your thoughts, Lions fans? After taking a look at the numbers and everything I’ve presented, is QB wins a real stat? Are the Lions just bad? Is it a team game? Be sure to leave your comments below.