The Detroit Lions are off to a horrible start this season and much of the blame falls on quarterback Matthew Stafford. While Stafford’s performance against the San Francisco 49ers Sunday was much improved from his Week 1 stinker against the New York Jets, there are still many concerns following the Week 2 loss.
On paper, Stafford had a great game in Santa Clara. 347 yards and three touchdowns will always hop off the page, but the quarterback struggled throughout. He missed many throws at both the intermediate and deep levels. His mechanics when throwing the ball were awful and he was panicked when put under pressure in the pocket.
The quarterback had trouble shifting his weight and getting his feet in order before he threw the ball. Even when he was not under pressure his release seemed rushed. Overthrowing passes downfield was the story of the game, as he missed four potential deep touchdown throws.
What may be really worrying is that two of the deep misses looked like perfect releases for Stafford. He did everything properly while making the throw and just still couldn’t put it in the right spot.
A quarterback throwing off their back foot causes the ball to float as they are not stepping enough into their passes. On the other side, when a quarterback throws with his front foot the passes don’t have enough air underneath them.
While Stafford is known for his great side-armed releases, if his body weight isn’t set, then the ball will not end up where he wants it to be. On this next pass, he was leaning too far forward, and on release, his hips were parallel to the line of scrimmage. This caused the ball to end up way too far in front of his receiver.
Failing to properly adjust his weight and set his feet while releasing the ball was an issue all game. Even when under pressure it was rare for the quarterback to have this much trouble with his footwork in previous years.
One of the skills that made Stafford great, especially on his patented fourth-quarter comebacks, was his ability to dodge pressure in the pocket and still quickly find a man downfield. He was able to navigate the pocket with ease and still find open targets. Stafford was also never scared to roll out of the pocket and made great decisions once he had done so.
He has had issues navigating the pocket over the past few weeks, though.
On this play in the red zone last Sunday, he seemed to lose track of what he was doing and walked himself into a sack.
Stafford should not have been under any pressure on this play. One of his tight ends got open on a curl route for a moment and Stafford spotted him late. The quarterback almost threw it to him, but chose to pull back at the last moment. He didn’t pull back his release fast enough, though, and ended up tucking himself down. With his eyes now pointed down to regain his balance, he wandered himself right into a sack.
This hesitation is extremely unusual. Rarely do you see a quarterback get himself stuck in that situation, especially one who has been in the league for 10 years now. Stafford should have either pulled his release back earlier, or just thrown the ball at his receiver’s feet. This panicked reaction is not something we have seen from the quarterback in recent memory.
Stafford panicking in the pocket was not an isolated incident. On this play late in the game, he put himself in an odd spot and made an even odder pass.
The quarterback sensed the edge rusher breathing down his neck and tried to get out of his path. Instead of just taking a step up in the pocket and throwing it to Theo Riddick, he took off as if he was going to scramble. Once he realized that the 49ers defensive tackle was going to get in his way, he tried a modified jump pass and ended up just spiking the ball into the ground. This combination of poor decision making and bad mechanics led to an embarrassing play for the quarterback.
Holding on to the ball for too long and trying to do too much with it caused an early turnover that cost the Lions big time. In the first half, Detroit ran a designed roll out and the quarterback made a mess of it.
He couldn’t find any open receivers downfield and instead of throwing the ball away, he waited until the last moment. Stafford tried to throw it as the defenders closed on him, putting him a vulnerable position. The quarterback was strip sacked and the 49ers would kick a field goal on the ensuing possession.
Stafford’s decision making and mechanics are worse than they have been for years. It is rare that a quarterback this experienced regresses like this and one has to wonder if the new coaches in charge are having any effect on him. These issues are probably fixable, as we have tape of him from nine months ago with near perfect mechanics and great pocket presence.
Whatever it is, Stafford and the Lions must fix it fast.