One of the words that’s so infused into our lexicon these days in “triggered.” It’s exactly what I feel every time I see someone float an unproven narrative about football, particularly when it’s an unfounded narrative about Matthew Stafford.
One of the biggest narratives you hear about Stafford outside of Calvin Johnson made him who he is, or any variation of quarterback wins, or he’s friends with Clayton Kershaw, or he only cares about money, and, of course, he’s overpaid, is the narrative that most of his stats come in garbage time when the Lions are losing.
This one just infuriates me. How long do these football fans think garbage time is, for crying out loud? Garbage times is what? The final 2-3 minutes of a blowout? This is an issue I have already addressed before. Back in August of 2016 I wrote a piece that went after LaDainian Tomlinson spouting this narrative on the NFL Network. The sample size in that piece was small. It was mostly based on the 2015 season. I wrote it in a hotel in Houston when I couldn’t sleep. I always meant to come back to it later. but I never did... until now.
Here’s what we’re doing today. Thanks to the magic of the Pro Football Reference, I have all of Matthew Stafford’s splits knowledge one could ever hope to gain. And in four parts today, we’re going to finally determine where the bulk of Matthew Stafford's production comes from. Let’s go.
We’ll start off with the quarters. That’s one of the biggest parts of this narrative. First, we have to look at Matthew’s stats to see what we’re up against. Stafford has thrown for 34,749 yards, 216 touchdowns and 118 interceptions in 125 starts. Let’s look at how each and every one of those stats breaks down by quarters. I’ll even throw in completion percentage and passer rating to see where he’s best.
First quarter: 7,435 yards, 46 TDs, 19 INTs, 65.0 comp. %, 92.8 passer rating
Second quarter: 9,894 yards, 61 TDs, 41 INTs, 60.4 comp. %, 84.0 passer rating
Third quarter: 7,684 yards, 45 TDs, 22 INTs, 66.2 comp. %, 95.1 passer rating
Fourth quarter: 9,381 yards, 63 TDs, 36 INTs, 58.1 comp. %, 83.7 passer rating
Overtime: 343 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs, 62.9 comp. %, 104.8 passer rating
So let’s pick this apart. There’s no doubt that Stafford has a ton of yards in the fourth quarter. He also has 63 of his career touchdowns in the final quarter as well. But as you can see, most of Stafford’s career yards come in the second quarter.
That makes perfect sense when you think about it. The Lions are a traditionally slow-starting team. It’s the second quarter when the Lions usually begin to get cooking. So, naturally, Stafford gets cooking then too.
Lastly, I thought it was interesting that Stafford has only thrown one overtime touchdown in his entire career, but I was happy when I realized it was this one.
We can pretty much get our answer to these questions by doing a little math, but I really wanted to know which half Matthew is better in. This led me to find something that I thought was truly weird. Look at this.
First half: 17,329 yards, 107 TDs, 60 INTs, 62.3 comp. %, 87.7 passer rating
Second half: 17,065 yards, 108 TDs, 58 INTs, 61.5 comp. %, 88.5 passer rating
They’re almost identical. Isn’t this weird? It’s like Stafford is working off a script or something. Wait. Maybe football is rigged, and I just unlocked the Goodell Code. I have to go off the grid now. Tell my wife I love her and someone please tell my story.
It’s really hard to judge one way or the other here. What this seems to show to me is that Matthew is nothing if he isn’t oddly consistent.
Point differential splits
So here’s the other half of the important equation. This is the “Stafford’s production comes when the Lions are getting blown out” part. We’ve already touched on how many games that production could come down to. That’s just an idea. Let’s look at what Stafford does when the Lions are trailing in two minutes and four minutes. Then we’ll at when they’re down by 9-15 points and 15 or more points.
Trailing with 2 minutes remaining or under: 1,206 yards, 13 TDs, 4 INTs, 53.6 comp. %, 87.3 passer rating
Trailing with 4 minutes remaining and under: 2,826 yards, 23 TDs, 11 INTs, 54.9 comp. %, 84.3 passer rating
Trailing by 9-14 points: 6,068 yards, 42 TDs, 18 INTs, 61.0 comp. %, 94.4 passer rating
Trailing by 15+ points: 7,283 yards, 40 TDs, 27 INTs, 63.0 comp. %, 89.0 passer rating
Okay, so the garbage time argument flies right out the window here right? 4,302 of Stafford’s 34,749 yards came in the last four minutes or less of games that the Lions were losing. That’s it. Narrative over. It’s dead. Bury it.
I knew you would want more, though. That’s why I included the parts where the Lions are getting blown out. If you add that up, you’ll see that Stafford has thrown for 13,351 yards and 82 touchdowns when trailing by nine or more points. That means that the other 21,398 yards and 134 touchdowns clearly happen elsewhere.
This, again, buries the idea that most of Stafford’s yards are coming in garbage time when the Lions are getting blown out. Some have, but nowhere near the majority
In the Divsion
Now let’s have a little fun. This last part is sort of a bonus because I wanted to know, and I’m sure the rest of you are curious, too. What team within the division is allowing the most out of Matthew Stafford? Let’s take a look.
vs. Bears: 4,231 yards, 26 TDs, 17 INTs, 63.7 comp. %, 87.3 passer rating
vs. Vikings: 3,993 yards, 23 TDs, 7 INTs, 62.2 comp. %, 89.2 passer rating
vs. Packers: 4,472 yards, 30 TDs, 19 INTs, 61.5 comp. %, 88.0 passer rating
Three things to take away here. Stafford scores the most against the Packers. He’s also his most inaccurate against them as well. That’s been slowly changing over the past few years, though. Stafford’s thrown for 1,878 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions in their last six meetings. He also completed 68.1 percent of his passes in those games and finished with a rating of 111.8. Not bad.
Stafford also seems to shine against the Vikings, throwing just seven career interceptions against them in 16 games. He’ll need to keep that going in 2018 if the Lions hope to pass up the Vikings in the NFC North title race.
Lastly, Matthew Stafford and the Lions own the Bears. The end.