Hey Lions fans. How’s it going? Good. Oh and me? Oh, you know, Lions football is exactly one week away from today, and I’m currently feeling a bit saucy. So saucy, in fact, that I’m ready for a grand proclamation just before the season starts. We couldn’t really do this without a hot take could we?
Our managing editor Jeremy Reisman asked us some questions Sunday night about our predictions for the 2018 season. I won’t get too much into those because that piece isn’t out yet, but what I found myself coming away with was if there’s any quarterback in the league not named Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers that has a potentially perfect situation mapped out for them to become league MVP, it’s Matthew Stafford.
That’s what we’re doing here today just one week before the season starts. We’re going to discuss why I believe Matthew Stafford could very well be a legitimate MVP candidate in 2018. Here’s a few reasons why.
Matthew’s either in or entering his prime
I mention this all the time, but former Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry believed that a quarterback doesn’t really hit his prime until his 30s. The philosophy was that at that age, a quarterback had been in the league long enough that the game started to slow down for them.
Well Matthew Stafford just entered his 30s. I can’t say for sure whether or not he’s going to continue to get better, but what I can say is that we’ve seen a giant change in this player over the last few years. Specifically, since that game against the Cardinals in 2015 when he got benched. From that moment, look how he compares to the guys we associate with being elite.
- Tom Brady: 11,789 yards, 87 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, completion percentage of 65.2 and passer rating of 103.7.
- Aaron Rodgers: 8,929 yards, 76 touchdowns and 21 interceptions, completion percentage of 62.6 and passer rating of 95.8.
- Drew Brees: 13,443 yards, 88 touchdowns and 32 interceptions, completion percentage of 70.1 and passer rating of 102.6.
- Matt Ryan: 12,428 yards, 73 touchdowns and 33 interceptions, completion percentage of 66.8 and passer rating of 98.5.
- Matthew Stafford: 12,018 yards, 80 touchdowns and 28 interceptions, completion percentage of 66.1 and passer rating of 98.2.
It’s pretty clear that Stafford belongs in the discussion when it comes to elite quarterback play. You’ll notice wins is not listed. If you follow anything I do, you know why. Frankly I’m tired of saying it.
Quarterback Wins Are Not Real! There I said it.
And what if Stafford continues to get better? What if there are things to help him achieve that? What if that’s the next thing I’m going to talk about?
An actual offensive line
Remember all those stats I just listed out above? Consider this. Matthew Stafford did all of that while getting sacked 122 times. That’s more than any quarterback in league during that time. It’s clearly more than the guys I listed above. The closest to him was Aaron Rodgers with 97 sacks.
Now consider this: Last year Matthew Stafford finished third in yards, fourth in touchdowns, 18th in interceptions, sixth in completion percentage and sixth in passer rating while getting sacked 47 times (second most). He did what he did while going through ten different offensive line variations and only having his best offensive line for 95 of the teams 980 snaps.
But this year the Lions actually have their best offensive line ready and healthy going into the season, and that line has actually looked pretty good for the most part. There were some issues in the second preseason game. But they seemed to have cleaned that up in the dress rehearsal game.
Sure T.J. Lang is a little banged up at the moment. But the guard has said that his injury is nothing major and that he plans to be ready by Week 1. And as we know, he’s been working with “certain people” to do just that.
If the Lions can simply keep Matthew on his feet, that makes him all the more dangerous. History will tell us that is a mighty big “if,” but if everyone stays healthy, they could be one of the better offensive lines in the NFL. They’d also really help with this next section.
Don’t look now, but the Lions might actually have a run game
Not to beat a dead horse, but if you refer to the stats I listed above again, you’ll notice that Stafford did all of that with the worst running game of the last three years. That might not be a problem anymore.
The Lions brought in some reinforcements this offseason that could really turn things around, the first being Kerryon Johnson. I think he could be a dark horse for offensive rookie of the year, and I’m not alone in that thought either.
The second big addition was LeGarrette Blount. We’ve already seen how Blount can help the Lions in those dreaded short-yard situation in the preseason. I can’t wait to see him do that in the regular season.
How does this help Stafford? Imagine a world where you have no idea what the Lions are going to do. Imagine the Lions actually setting up the pass with the run. Imagine a world where Stafford doesn’t have to throw the ball one million times a year. Imagine a world where the Lions offense keeps a defense honest. Imagine a world in which the defense actually has to bring an extra defender in the box? Is anyone catching my drift here?
The lack of a run game is a big reason why Stafford always seems to hurt his hand late in the season. It’s also a big reason why he keeps getting hit so damn much. The Lions might actually be able to fix that problem in 2018.
If these two problems are fixed and Stafford does what he does, wins will come
I know many are scared about the Lions defense, and you probably should be. That defense has a lot of issues outside of the secondary, but it’s probably not the worst in the league. You’re most likely looking a lot of bending and not breaking type of games in 2018, and that’s okay if a W is the result.
But finally consider again the thing I’ve mentioned all summer long. The Lions were seventh in points per game in 2017 with the 32nd ranked run game and 10 different offensive line variations. This offense was already dangerous when it was broken Now you’re going to see how dangerous it is when it’s in fully working condition. We’re quite possibly talking about the best offense in the league, and I don’t care if you think that’s hyperbole.
As I’ve always said when I make these proclamations, the Lions still have to actually do it. We can talk all day about the potential and the what ifs, but the reality is that the Lions have to go out and put it together for any of this stuff to happen. History shows us that the odds might be a bit long, but I can comfortably say, I’ve never been more optimistic about a Lions offense in my four years of covering this team.