Are the Detroit Lions Holding Matthew Stafford Back?

Matthew Stafford only played in half of the Detroit Lions’ games for the 2019 season, but they helped confirm a trend that’s haunted the 31-year-old quarterback since entering the league a decade ago. 

Stafford has always given his all, put up star numbers, and made himself the heart and soul of a franchise that is, in many ways, unworthy of his talents. The Lions have flirted with mediocrity for most of his career yet Stafford has put everything on the line to keep them respectable.

Matthew Stafford’s rise with the Lions

Stafford was the first overall pick by the Lions in 2009. Despite all of the years of mediocrity, he remains the team’s go-to starter 10 years later. Like many quarterbacks, he struggled as a rookie, throwing for 13 touchdowns against 20 interceptions for an astronomical 5% interception rate. He completed 53% of his passes for 2,267 yards. 

After being limited to only three games in his second season, Stafford had a comeback year in 2011. He erupted for 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He also threw for 5,000 yards and a 63.5% completion rate — a 10 improvement over his rookie season. The Lions were better for this, going 10-6 on the season. 

A growing trend 

Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions watches the pregame activities
The Lions’ Matthew Stafford watches pregame activities | Leon Halip/Getty Images

After the 10-6 season, Stafford and the Lions regressed to a 4-12 team. The quarterback cut his touchdown numbers in half. This type of inconsistent play has plagued the team throughout Stafford’s stint there.

The Detroit Lions have had good seasons, like the 11-5 season where Stafford threw for 4,257 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. But the team typically hovers around the six- to nine-win range

Stafford’s numbers during most of these seasons, however, are those you’d expect from a star quarterback. Despite this, he has only made one Pro Bowl in his first 11 seasons.

Since 2011, this was his first season missing any games. While the quarterback can often be the backbone of the team, they also need some help that the Lions have never been able to provide Stafford

Is Stafford to blame? 

Stafford has made mistakes throughout his career just like any NFL quarterback. As important as it is for a QB to perform and lead a team, however, a team needs to provide its leader with a path to success. The Lions have afforded Stafford no such opportunity. 

On a statistical basis, Stafford can be compared to several players with varying degrees of success. Quarterbacks like Eli Manning and Joe Flacco may have seen Super Bowl success throughout their careers. But they have failed to touch individual seasons like Stafford’s best seasons.

The 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo may have had similar results if he hadn’t been surrounded by a stronger team this year. Herein lies the key to Stafford’s career: He has never had a team worthy of his talents. Like Andy Dalton in Cincinnati, Stafford is a victim of the franchise that employs him. 

The Lions are to blame

Some could blame coaches, although Stafford has only had three in his career. In the cases of Jim Schwartz and Jim Caldwell, they were held back by the franchise and saw success despite this. His current coach Matt Patricia has not been dealt an ideal hand, either. If not the coaching, then, who is responsible? 

The two full-time GMs who’ve surrounded Stafford with subpar offensive lines, insufficient targets, and otherwise abysmal rosters aren’t blameless. Stafford can’t perform at his best if he doesn’t have winning teammates.

Still, the GMs are brought down by the team, too. After all, it is hard to get talent for a team that doesn’t seem to want it. 

Ownership woes and the future

The Ford family has owned the team since 1961. While the Lions have had some decently successful seasons, both the late William Clay Ford Sr. and Martha Firestone Ford have treated the team as a hobby more than a passion.

They rarely swing for the fences to improve the team. Instead, the owners seem content to maintain the status quo with hopes that something could change. Until Stafford either moves teams or the Lions find new management, the same problems will plague the team.

Perhaps, a team like the Chicago Bears or Miami Dolphins could bring in the veteran quarterback. More unlikely, a team like the New England Patriots could take a check on him if Brady calls it quits and they want a reliable arm to fill in the gap. Until then, Stafford will be stuck in a mediocre franchise with few things to look forward to.