When Joe Lombardi became the Lions’ offensive coordinator prior to the 2014 season, he declared that franchise quarterback (at least in compensation) Matthew Stafford isn’t broken. A full 20 games into their time together, Lombardi renewed his vows with Stafford, sort of.
“I still don’t think he’s broken,” Lombardi said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “I think he’s a good player.”
The numbers suggest otherwise, this year at least. Five touchdowns, five interceptions. No touchdowns for the last six quarters.
“I think Matt Stafford is a very good quarterback that we’re happy to have,” Lombardi said. “I don’t think – of all my concerns, Matt’s not the biggest one. So we’ve got to protect him, we’ve got to run the ball better. He’s going to take care of his side of it.”
It’s not exactly condemnation, but it’s a far cry from praise. And the reality for the Lions (and most teams) is that the quarterback is the guy who makes the offense go. Or not go.
Late in the fourth quarter of Monday night’s game between the Lions and Seahawks, ESPN’s Mike Tirico shared some comments from receiver Golden Tate that perhaps reveal one of the problems with Stafford’s overall performance.
“I wish that the Matthew Stafford that we see in the fourth quarter I could see for all four quarters,” Tate told Tirico, “because he loves to close the deal and [has that] great look in his eye. Makes those tight throws in a big spot.”
It’s not exactly condemnation, but it’s a far cry from praise. And at this point in Matthew Stafford’s career, with a second contract that pays him close to market value for high-end quarterbacks, Stafford needs to perform like a high-end quarterback.
The faded dominance of receiver Calvin Johnson makes it harder to do that. But high-end quarterbacks find a way to overcome not having a receiver who commands double coverage everywhere he goes. High-end quarterbacks also find a way to deal with an offensive line that isn’t protecting the quarterback the way it should.
If, as Tate told Tirico, Stafford can find his groove when the game is on the line, Stafford needs to find a way to play that way the rest of the game. Then, maybe he won’t be facing many drives with the game on the line. And maybe his offensive coordinator won’t be declaring publicly that the quarterback isn’t broken.