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Matthew Stafford’s 2017 season was among best ever for QBs without a running game

Analyzing the last 20 years of horrible run games to see how Matthew Stafford compared statistically.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I sure do write a lot about Matthew Stafford, don’t I? In the last few weeks we’ve looked at all of Stafford’s comebacks and we checked all the splits stats to decipher where the bulk Matthew Stafford’s production comes from. Today we continue what I’m now calling the Summer Stafford Series with another statistical breakdown of No. 9’s play.

As we know, the Lions run game has been historically bad since Barry Sanders retired, more so now than ever. The Lions ranked 32nd in rushing in 2017 and 2015. Through that, Matthew Stafford has still managed to play quite well. In 2017, he had tied his career low in interceptions, had the highest passer rating of his career, and had the second highest completion percentage of his career.

This got me wondering, is Stafford an anomaly? Is Stafford a guy that, despite such a poor run game, can be an unbelievable quarterback? There’s only one way to find out. So I charted the last 20 years of quarterbacks playing with the 32nd ranked rushing attack to see where Stafford falls. let’s look.

Quarterbacks with the 32nd ranked run game

Year Team Player Pass yards TDs INTs Comp % Passer rating
Year Team Player Pass yards TDs INTs Comp % Passer rating
2017 Lions Matthew Stafford 4,446 29 10 65.7 99.3
2016 Vikings Sam Bradford 3,877 20 5 71.6 99.3
2015 Lions Matthew Stafford 4,262 32 13 67.2 97.0
2014 Raiders Derek Carr 3,270 21 12 58.1 76.6
2013 Falcons Matt Ryan 4,515 26 17 67.4 89.6
2012 Cardinals Multiple QBs 3,383 11 21 55.4 63.1
2011 Giants Eli Manning 4,933 29 16 61.0 92.9
2010 Cardinals Multiple QBs 3,264 10 19 50.8 60.5
2009 Colts Peyton Manning 4,500 33 16 68.8 99.9
2008 Cardinals Kurt Warner 4,583 30 14 67.1 96.9
2007 Chiefs Multiple QBs 3,525 17 20 59.5 73.0
2006 Lions Jon Kitna 4,208 21 22 62.4 79.9
2005 Cardinals Multiple QBs 4,723 21 21 62.5 81.0
2004 Raiders Multiple QBs 4,019 24 22 56.7 76.1
2003 Lions Joey Harrington 2,880 17 24 55.8 63.9
2002 Bears Multiple QBs 3,316 22 18 57.1 74.8
2001 Browns Tim Couch 3,040 17 21 59.9 73.1
2000 Chargers Multiple QBs 3,540 19 30 53.8 56.2
1999 Browns Multiple QBs 2,997 19 15 55.1 73.2
1998 Saints Multiple QBs 3,514 19 19 52.0 69.8

You can see right off the bat that there are a lot of recognizable names on this list—a few Hall Of Famers, in fact. Peyton Manning immediately sticks out here. I’ve compared these two on countless different occasion because they consistently have gone through the same woes on the field in their careers.

After having the worst rushing attack in the league in 2009, Manning’s run game only improved a little bit the following year, but the Colts went to the Super Bowl. Oddly enough, Jim Caldwell was the Colts coach at that time. The year after he left Indy, the team’s run game got a little better. Going from 26th to 21st. It kept going up from there.

Peyton’s little brother also dealt with the 32nd ranked rushing attack in 2011. That Giants team went on to win the Super Bowl that year. Of course, that team is a freak of nature and cannot be explained in any other way than they just got hot at the right time.

What’s encouraging is that Stafford stands out here. He threw the fourth most touchdowns (20) of any quarterback in 2017, the third highest total of his career. He had the sixth highest completion percentage in the NFL (65.7), his personal second-best mark.

Among the other running game-less quarterbacks on the chart above, he threw the second fewest interceptions and had the second highest passer rating. Compared to his counterparts, Matthew belongs in just about every conversation that involves the word elite. This is a another example of that.

Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Lions appear on this list three other times as well. Once from Stafford’s solid 2015 season, and two from other, less successful Lions passers. You can see all the glory that is Jon Kitna and Joey Harrington. It’s yet another hard reminder of how bad things could be if some Lions fans got their wish and Stafford left.

There’s another side of all of this, though. I have 20 years of really bad running games charted here. We know Stafford has performed really well with a bad run game, but how bad is his run game compared to others?

32nd ranked rushing units

Year Team Yards Yards Per Carry Yards Per Game Touchdowns
Year Team Yards Yards Per Carry Yards Per Game Touchdowns
2017 Lions 1,221 3.4 76.3 10
2016 Vikings 1,205 3.2 75.3 9
2015 Lions 1,335 3.8 83.4 7
2014 Raiders 1,240 3.7 77.5 4
2013 Falcons 1,247 3.9 77.9 11
2012 Cardinals 1,204 3.4 75.2 10
2011 Giants 1,427 3.5 89.2 17
2010 Cardinals 1,388 4.3 86.8 9
2009 Colts 1,294 3.5 80.9 16
2008 Cardinals 1,178 3.5 73.6 14
2007 Chiefs 1,248 3.3 78.0 6
2006 Lions 1,129 3.7 70.6 9
2005 Cardinals 1,138 3.2 71.1 2
2004 Raiders 1,295 4.0 80.9 10
2003 Lions 1,338 3.6 83.6 5
2002 Bears 1,344 3.5 84.0 8
2001 Browns 1,351 3.2 84.4 8
2000 Chargers 1,062 3.0 66.4 7
1999 Browns 1,150 3.7 71.9 9
1998 Saints 1,325 3.5 82.8 6

The Lions are bad, but, as you can see, it can get much worse. The 2000 Chargers were an unbelievable garbage fire. I know I have multiple quarterbacks listed for them above, but it was Ryan Leaf who started the majority of the games for the Bolts that year. Again, imagine how bad things could be.

The Lions’ 2017 run game is not the worse. They’re the eighth lowest in rushing yards, fourth lowest in yards per carry, eighth lowest in yards per game and tied for eighth lowest in touchdowns.

An interesting thing about last year’s team is that of the top ten teams that ran for the fewest yards on the list above, only two of them finished the season with winning records: the 2017 Lions and the 2008 Arizona Cardinals. The latter made it to the Super Bowl but ultimately lost to the Steelers.

So essentially what we learned today is that Matthew Stafford is really good, but most us already knew that. The other thing of notes is that this Lions team may not be far off from big things. Several of these successful quarterbacks on the list were able to do big things despite a limited or downright poor rushing attack.

As for Stafford and the Lions, we’ve already seen this.

Lions fans could be in for an extremely fun season if the Lions can finally get that run game going.

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