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Football Outsiders Q&A: Can Matthew Stafford keep up his incredible 2019 pace?

New York Giants v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Last year, Matthew Stafford was slinging it. On pace for nearly 5,000 yards, Stafford had been reborn under new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Specifically, the long ball was back, as Stafford set a career high with 8.6 yards per attempt, blowing away his previous mark of 7.9.

He was right in the thick of MVP conversations and had the Lions going toe-to-toe with the eventual Super Bowl-winning Chiefs and the NFC North-winning Packers. Then he was diagnosed with a back injury and it was all over.

With 2020 on the horizon and Stafford looking as good as ever in training camp, will the Lions franchise quarterback come out firing again? Will his growth under Bevell only continue to get better? Or is there a chance for some serious regression? Is it possible 2019 was the outlier and we’ll see a more above-average Stafford compared to 2019’s elite Stafford?

In Part 2 of our interview with Football Outsiders’ Bryan Knowles, we asked him exactly that.

Previously - Part 1: Why the Lions are NFC North favorites

Question #2: Matthew Stafford was on fire by just about every metric in 2019. Is that kind of performance sustainable over a full season or are you projecting some regression?

Knowles: “Our projection system is designed to be a little conservative by nature, so yes, we’re projecting a bit of a regression for Stafford—his 28.8% DVOA was not only the highest of his career, but also the second-best eight-game stretch of his career, behind Weeks 8 to 15 of 2017.

“Predicting a 32-year-old quarterback coming off of a major injury to repeat career-best numbers is a losing proposition. That being said, Stafford clearly loved Darrell Bevell’s deep-ball-centric offense. The knock on Stafford has always been his processing in the short game; rather than try to fix it, Bevell just let Stafford loose. All of his aggressiveness numbers shot up—he was throwing the ball deeper, he was taking chances in tighter windows, and it was paying off with the best passing DVOA we had ever recorded for Detroit, going back to 1985. We don’t think he’ll repeat that level of efficiency, but it wasn’t smoke and mirrors, either; we’re excited to see a full season of Stafford and Bevell together.”

Tomorrow: The Patriots had one of the best defenses. The Lions had one of the worst. Why?

If you want more detailed information on the Lions’ 2019 season and projections for the upcoming season, check out the Football Outsiders 2020 Almanac.