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Where do Matthew Stafford’s yards really come from? Part 3

An updated look at where Stafford is doing most of his work.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a narrative that just won’t die. Trust me, I know, I’ve been writing about it since 2016.

You know the one. The “Matthew Stafford’s stats are so high because he throws the ball more than anyone, is always losing and he gets stuff in garbage time when the Lions are down a gazillion points.” I hate this. I hate it because it’s incredibly easy to debunk and so many aren’t willing to just do the work to see that.

Clearly we here at Pride Of Detroit are willing to do the work. That’s why we now present out third installment of the Where Do Matthew Stafford’s Yards Really Come From? series. It’s been a while since the last installment. So we’re going to do some updating here and look at a couple things we haven’t looked at before. Let’s waste no more time and jump right into it.

Part 1
Part 2

But like, he throws the ball 2,000 times a game and stuff

Let’s start with one we haven’t done before. This has long been a stigma of Matthew Stafford’s game since he led the league in passing attempts during the 2012 season. He threw the ball 727 times that year. That is a lot. But does that translate to him continuously throwing the ball more than anyone else? Stafford has played 156 games in his career. Let’s look at his peers, who are currently starters, last 156 games and see if there’s anything to that narrative.

Stafford pass attempts vs. his peers

Quarterback Pass Attempts
Quarterback Pass Attempts
Matthew Stafford 5,696
Aaron Rodgers 5,170
Tom Brady 5,545
Drew Brees 5,837
Philip Rivers 5,301
Matt Ryan 5,555
Ben Roethlisberger 5,418

As you can see, Stafford has thrown the ball a lot. But more than anyone else? it’s pretty close, but no cigar. That record belongs to Drew Brees. In fact, in a somewhat related note, Drew Brees is just nine passes away from holding the all-time record for most pass attempts in a career. Stafford is 19th on that list for what it’s worth.

So yeah, Stafford throws the ball a lot. But not as much as everyone else does. Since 2011 and 2012, when Stafford threw the ball more than anyone else in the league, his rankings go like this:

2013: 4th
2014: 5th
2015: 7th
2016: 9th
2017: 4th
2018: 11th
2019: 28th (8 games)

That last one doesn’t really count since he didn’t play a full season. Now if you want to counter by saying he still throws the ball an awful lot, you’d be right. From 2013 to 2018 Stafford threw the ball the 3rd most in the league. I guess my counter to that would be that it’s a passing league. Per Team Rankings 19 of the leagues 32 teams passed the ball 59% or more during games. If you ask me, this narrative is partially debunked. Let’s move on.

Bro, he does all that stuff in garbage time

Ahh, some familiar territory. The old garbage time narrative. Well we’ve already proven this one wrong twice. Why not go for the hat trick with updated stats? The idea has long been that Stafford does all his work late in the game when the Lions are losing. Let’s look at exactly what Stafford’s all-time stats in those situations look like.

Stafford Trailing in “garbage time”

Trailing with time to go Yards Touchdowns Interceptions
Trailing with time to go Yards Touchdowns Interceptions
Trailing with 2 minutes to go 1,884 17 9
Trailing with 4 minutes to go 3,536 30 17
Stafford Career Stats 41,025 256 134

So again, as you can see there’s nothing to that garbage time idea. If Stafford has thrown for 41,025 in his career and you’re arguing that 3,536 of that in “garbage time” means that Stafford’s stats aren’t real, well then you need to get a new argument. Because this one is broken. Sure Stafford does a lot when the team is trailing. That tends to happen when your team is bad.

During Stafford’s career he’s thrown 21,871 of his yards when trailing. That’s a lot. That’s more than he’s thrown in situations when the team is winning or tied. But there’s more to the story here. Sometimes your football team is losing and you have to throw the ball. Let’s look at Stafford’s peers again to see if they have this same issue.

Passing when trailing

Quarterback Passing yards while trailing Career Passing Yards % of career yards while trailing
Quarterback Passing yards while trailing Career Passing Yards % of career yards while trailing
Matthew Stafford 21,871 41,025 53.31%
Aaron Rodgers 18,429 46,946 39.25%
Tom Brady 22,996 74,571 30.83%
Drew Brees 34,937 77,416 45.12%
Philip Rivers 28,977 59,271 48.88%
Ben Roethlisberger 23,508 56,545 41.57%

More often than not, the case is that these guys are throwing just about half of their career passing yards when their team is trailing. Not everyone plays for the Patriots here. Man, it really makes you wonder if Tom Brady has faced a second of adversity in his career. I’m sure his number here will grow when he fails miserably in Tampa Bay in 2020.

So here’s one you can sort of chalk up in your win column if your argument against Stafford is that he gets all his yards because the team is losing. But that’s A) not really something he can help and B) while he’s in the lead here with 53 percent of his yards coming while trailing, he’s not really that alone in this regard.

All his yards in the fourth quarter. He doesn’t do anything the rest of the game

Here’s another classic that’s been proven wrong in part one and two. Since it’s been about three seasons since the last installment, let’s update the numbers here. Did anything change? Did he magically start just throwing the ball in the fourth quarter exclusively? Let’s look at the numbers.

Passing Yards By Quarter

Quarter Yards % of career yards per quarter
Quarter Yards % of career yards per quarter
1st 9,307 22.68%
2nd 11,450 27.90%
3rd 9.066 22.09%
4th 11,054 26.94%
OT 406 9.89%

It’s close. But the fact remains the same as it’s always been. Matthew Stafford does most of his work during the second quarter. You could certainly make an argument that the reason for that is because the Lions are losing going into the half and work needs to be done. It should come as no surprise that he does the least in the third quarter because the Lions are cursed in the third for some reason.

So that’s that. It’s truly amazing that here we are so many years into Matthew Stafford’s career and the same narratives surrounding him in 2011 are the same ones surrounding him almost a decade later. Nevertheless, they’re all just as false as they were then now.

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