Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stafford Infection: Vikings Game

Previously: Saints Game

Sunday's game was a strange one. It never seemed like the Lions offense was struggling. Matthew Stafford completed 69% of his passes and had a QB rating of 115.2. Yet the Lions offense was only responsible for 20 points and some of those points were aided by a defensive turnover. The offense only managed 13 first downs to the Vikings' 29. Now part of this is due to the amount of plays each team had: the Vikings had 83 offensive snaps to the Lions' 55 (interestingly, the Lions still "won" time of possession). But with the Vikings' secondary banged up, it was disappointing to see Stafford only put up 227 yards (3rd least this season) and two touchdowns. Let's break it down:

Grade: A-

Stafford continued to improve on his accuracy again this game. Stafford did not go deep very often in this game, but in two instances he went deep to Titus Young, he was on the money:
This one wasn't complete, but still a gorgeous pass.
But his accuracy wasn't just on the long ball, he also converted a couple key third downs due to his accuracy. On this play, Stafford had to fire the ball in between to defenders and did so with perfection:
Bam. First down.

The only reason for the minus is because this third-down pass by Stafford early in the game rubbed me the wrong way:
For the record, there was another inaccurate pass or two, but this one irked me the most.

Pocket Presence
Grade: B+

Despite taking five sacks on the day, Stafford actually impressed me quite a bit in terms of pocket presence. Stafford saw almost every sack coming and therefore, only lost a few yards on each play. Four of the five sacks were for three yards or less. By seeing the pressure coming, Stafford limited the damage and gave the Lions a chance to keep drives alive despite the sack. 
Based on this screenshot alone, what do you think happens on this play? Strip sack? Sack of at least 3 yards? Wrong and wrong. Stafford senses the pressure from his blind side, finds a hole, and picks up a yard on the play:

The only other option he had on this play was a quick pass to Morris at the top of the screen, but it would've been hard to throw over Kevin Williams and would've likely resulted in Stafford taking a huge hit.

However, one issue I had with Stafford's pocket presence was what he did once the pocket broke down. Often times he would take his eyes off of his receivers and worry more about the pressure.
Stafford correctly senses pressure coming from his blind side. At this point, he has two decent options, dump it off to Morris in the middle of the field, or (and this is what he chose) scramble to his right and extend the play. But his is where he commits a fatal error. He takes his eyes off his receivers to see how close Jared Allen is to taking him down:
By turning his head backwards, he makes two mistakes. First, this slows him down and allows Allen to eventually take him down from behind. Secondly, he makes it harder to watch his receivers' routes develop. Pettigrew could have been a decent option if Stafford had bought himself just a half-a-second more. Instead, he was taken down for a two-yard loss. Now that Stafford is correctly sensing when the pocket is breaking down, he needs to improve his response to pressure. Obviously, Stafford is not going to get too much quicker or elusive, but he needs to keep his eyes down field and know when to throw the ball away.

Decision Making/Vision
Grade: C+

Part of the reason for his low grade is the exact thing I was just talking about. Stafford too often took his eyes off his receivers and, basically, gave up on a play. There's no doubt Stafford needs to improve his out-of-pocket play, especially against elite pass rushers like Jared Allen.

On this play, Stafford's first read isn't there and he's starting to panic. 
This is a rare instance in which we can see three different options Stafford has before he throws it. Okay, armchair quarterbacks, where should the ball go? Obviously, the answer is to the tight end at the bottom of the screen, Will Heller, who is as uncovered as he looks. Alright, Stafford, show me what you got....
GAH! Stafford complete's the pass for a couple yards to Maurice Morris for a couple yards, but Will Heller would have easily picked up a first down and more.

But, obviously, Stafford still had a decent day in terms of decision making. The Lions were good on third down (8 of 16) and Stafford had his fourth best game in terms of passer rating.

What's interesting to see, however, is how the game plan seems to be more conservative in the past two weeks. Perhaps it was because of Stafford's nine interception in the previous three games, but it seems Scott Linehan and Stafford have been satisfied with taking what the defense gives them: short routes underneath. Running backs and tight ends have been responsible for 53% of the receptions over the past two weeks. Over the entire season, they only caught 49% of the passes. I'm not convinced that the Lions are becoming a more conservative team. Their opponents may just be effectively taking away the long ball. But this is a trend to continue to look at and see if the Lions offense can gain their explosiveness back. Because 227 yards and 20 points isn't enough against a terrible pass defense. 

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