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Football Outsiders Q&A Part 5: How good will Matthew Stafford be with a running game?

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Can Stafford take his game to another level if Detroit establishes the run?

NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

“If only Matthew Stafford had a running game.”

It’s something we’ve all uttered at some point after the Lions failed to pick up a third-and-1 on the ground or after Stafford was taken down in a split second after a failed play-action fake.

Well, Stafford may be getting one in 2018 for the first time in his professional career. The Detroit Lions’ backfield is stacked with talent. Their offensive line has potential to be a top five unit. And their offensive line line coach has a history of some decent success.

So if the Lions’ get a running game, what will it do for Matthew Stafford’s game? Will he become a play-action master? Will the Lions offense turn into an unstoppable force?

For the final question in our five-part series with Football Outsiders’ Scott Kacsmar, we asked him just that.

Catch up on the series below:

Question 5. Matthew Stafford was one of the best quarterbacks on play action last year. Could he be even better with a legitimate running game?

Kacsmar: Only if the Lions feel compelled to let him use it more often due to a newfound rushing success. We have never been able to find any link between rushing success and play-action success. Some of the best play-action offenses had terrible running games. Generally speaking, play-action works well for most offenses most of the time. That little hesitation you can create in the defense by making the play-fake can buy just enough time to keep a passing window open for an easy completion.

Since he came into the league in 2009, Stafford’s yards per attempt (YPA) on play-action is 9.53, good for 11th in the league according to ESPN Stats & Info. Aaron Rodgers is only a tenth of a yard above him at 9.63. Kirk Cousins ranks second at 10.31 YPA, and Washington had two of the worst rushing offenses in 2015 and 2017.

Offenses league-wide probably don’t use play-action enough. Maybe the “RPO” trend, which can boost the play-action numbers if it’s charted that way, can help increase this, but there really should be more play-action given how much coaches talk up the importance of the running game.

Thanks to Scott and the entire crew at Football Outsiders for the unique look at the Lions all week. Head to their store and pick up their annual almanac if you love hearing analysis like this.