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How does Matthew Stafford perform with a lead?

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Is Matthew Stafford efficient when the Lions are in the lead?

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a crazy few weeks for yours truly. I spent some time in Philadelphia eating more food than I’ve ever eaten in my life. I cheated on my diet so hard that it made whatever Dean Blandino and Jerry Jones did to the Lions in 2014 look like a protocol move.

Then I got a kitten named Loki. Look at the guy.

We mulled over a ton of different names. I had a great idea for one, but it would have sounded weird if you heard me shout “Quarterbacks Wins is Not A Stat, come get your dinner!” I also lobbied pretty hard for Cat Stafford too, but I did not get what I wanted. So as a consolation, I added another piece to the Summer Stafford series today.

It’s been a few weeks since we had an entry, so I’ll catch you up here first. We looked at all of Stafford’s comebacks. Then we revisited the narrative that Stafford’s yards come in garbage time. Then we found out just how good a Matthew Stafford is compared to other quarterbacks with the worst run game in the league. Lastly, we wondered what life would be like if the Lions drafted Mark Sanchez instead of Matthew Stafford.

Today I wanted to do something a little different. A few weeks back I asked Lions fans to tell me what they wanted to go in the Summer Stafford series. Paul Caverley gave a great idea.

This is a great idea. We do always talk about Stafford overcoming obstacles. That’s all we ever talk about because it seems Stafford and the Lions always have to find their way out of a jam. But what about when things are going well? How does Stafford play when the Lions are ahead and how much does it have to do with the Lions having to fight from behind? Let’s jump into it.

Being Ahead

When I started to do my research for this piece, I was shocked by some of things I found. In Stafford’s career, he’s thrown for 34,749 yards and 216 touchdowns. That’s a lot. To give you an idea, Matthew Stafford is 29th all time in passing yards. That’s 29th out of every quarterback that’s ever played. Crazy right? He’s 32nd in touchdowns.

With that knowledge I just dropped, I will now give you everything Matthew Stafford has ever done with a lead. He has thrown for just 8,790 yards and 57 touchdowns. That’s just 25.3 percent of his total yards and 26.4 percent of his touchdowns. So, yeah, the Lions have clearly had a million obstacles since 2009.

Now let’s look at some particulars. The question I had was if Stafford plays poorly in the lead and if that harms the Lions? The answer is no. Stafford has thrown 34 interceptions while in the lead. That seems somewhat high considering the touchdowns is just a bit more than that.

But Stafford has been pretty accurate otherwise. When in the lead, He completes 63.3 percent of his passes and plays with a passer rating of 88.4. That’s not amazing, but it’s not all that bad.

Diving Deeper

My next thought here was how recent is any of this? So I took a look at the last three years, which everyone can agree has been the best years of his career by far. Here’s what I found. Just as I suspected, there’s a completely different story here.

In the last three years, when the Lions are in the lead, Stafford has been almost automatic. He’s competed 68.5 percent of his passes and has a passer rating of 100.7. He’s thrown for 3,746 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. That’s pretty good.

What stood out the most to me was 2017. He threw for 1,154 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. That doesn’t seem like a lot, and it’s not, but check out his accuracy: He completed 73.6% of his passes and had a passer rating of 107.8.

Diving even deeper.

This is where I found by far the craziest stat I’ve ever seen in regards to Matthew Stafford. I wanted to find out how Stafford plays with the lead late in games. Now let’s get crazy.

When leading the game with four minutes or less left to go, Stafford has thrown for 259 yards and three touchdowns in his entire career. He’s completed 72.7 percent of his passes and has a passer rating 125.7. So when the game is in hand, Stafford knows how to keep it there.

Now let’s get really crazy—keep in mind, this is throughout Stafford’s entire career. With the lead and with two minutes or less left on the clock, Matthew Stafford has thrown for just six yards. You read that right. He’s completed exactly one pass for six yards when the Lions have the lead with two minutes or less in the game. It was for a first down. So that’s cool. Interestingly enough, that was back in 2015.

There’s a really easy explanation for this. You don’t have to do a whole lot when you’re in the lead with four or less minutes left in the game. You should running the ball to run out the clock or you’re taking a knee if it’s even later in the game. Still just six career yards is very interesting.

So what we learned here today is that Stafford is legit when the Lions are in the lead. I think we can safely say that Stafford has rarely cost the Lions a game with reckless late-game play while having a lead.