Matthew Stafford – Chuck It, Lose, Get Paid – Only in Today’s NFL

As recently shared by ESPN, did you know that Matthew Stafford has averaged 284.6 passing yds/game in his career? Only Kurt Warner (287.5) averaged more in his 1st 4 seasons.

Sounds tremendous, right?  Only problem is, cumulative stats like total passing yds/game are simply a joke to cling to as a logical statistic to glean any value from.  How many of those yards were in blowout losses or victories which had minimal, if any, impact on actually winning the game.  AKA, garbage stats?  Odds are, it’s a high percentage, as in his 45 starts, almost half (20) were decided by double digits in either a big loss or a big win.  There are countless other reasons why dinosaur stats like these are outdated, but this post is about Stafford, so I’ll conclude by saying:

Far too many media outlets, NFL analysts, football fans and even handicappers still seem to care about these outdated, relatively meaningless stats.  Which is why every single season I’ve analyzed football I’ve been on a path to pursue and utilize advanced metrics.  Whether I use advanced metrics I find elsewhere or whether I create my own customized statistics, quoting yards/game or total yards statistics is not helpful now that more advanced metrics are available.  Whats more, fans of the game (I believe) are aware that there is “better information” available and would rather see player performance based on advanced metrics that “mean” something by translating into wins or losses rather than be spoon fed outdated stats that look “cute” and sound impressive.

How about 2 more stats focusing entirely on the “cumulative” statistics and how Stafford really ranks?

  • Since the 16 game regular season was implemented in 1978, only 1 quarterback threw 615+ passes in 16 games yet won fewer than 7 games. That was Matt Stafford last year (he won 4).  The avg of all other NFL passers with 615+ attempts was delivering 10 win seasons.  Stafford’s 727 attempts was the MOST of all time, and delivered only 4 wins.
  • Since the 16 game regular season was implemented in 1978, only 1 quarterback threw 615+ passes in 16 games and threw fewer than 23 touchdown passes.  That was also Matt Stafford last year.

So yes, he’s chucking the ball all around Ford Field, putting up insane yardage totals, but its not equating into points on the scoreboard, which means its not equating to wins, as the two basic stats above show.

With that rant completed, let’s look at a more realistic picture of Matthew Stafford.  Aside from that insanely unimportant statistic comparing his passing yds/game to Kurt Warner’s, did you know:

Matthew Stafford started 23 NFL games in his career vs teams who finished the season with a winning record and he led the Lions to a 1-22 (4%) record in those 23 games?

In these 23 games, he completed just 58% of his passes for an avg of 6.1 yds/attempt.  He had almost as many interceptions (27) as TD passes (32) and was sacked 51 times.

For comparison on those numbers – Blaine Gabbert and Matt Cassel completed 58% of their passes in 2012, and 6.1 yds/attempt is in the neighborhood of 2012 stats from Christian Ponder, Gabbert, Brady Quinn and John Skelton.

Against teams with a winning record at the time of the game, Matt Stafford is 5-22 (19%), and 8-18-1 ATS (31%).

Stafford essentially played bad and the team was owned vs. good competition.

When he played losing teams?  Different story – Stafford recorded a 16-6 record and completing 62% of his passes for an avg of 7.0 yds/attempt, with almost twice as many TD passes (49) as interceptions (27).

Now while both the completion percentage (62%) and the ypa (7.0) are jumps up for Stafford (vs 58% and 6.1 ypa when playing winning teams), compared to 2012 QBs, neither numbers are incredible – Andy Dalton and Ponder completed 62% of passes in 2012, and Jake Locker, Dalton, Andrew Luck, Carson Palmer and Jay Cutler completed 7.0 ypa.

No matter who he plays, Stafford is a chucker.  No quarterback has thrown more passes the last two seasons than Stafford, and 88% of his passes come from the shotgun, which is the largest percentage in the league.

Some 2012 stats about Stafford:

  • He completed just 2.8% of his passes for TDs.  The only QBs with a lower percentage were 3 rookies and a 2013 benchwarmer:  Nick Foles, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Tannehill and Matt Cassel.
  • He completed just 56% of his passes in “close” games.  The only QBs in the NFC with a lower percentage were 3 Arizona QBs (Kolb, Lindley and Skelton) and Cam Newton.
  • He ranked 25th in accuracy percentage, tied with Blaine Gabbert.
  • When given time in the pocket (at least 2.6 seconds) his completion percentage of only 53% ranked 24th, behind such quarterbacks as Matt Hasslebeck, Carson Palmer, Blaine Gabbert, Kevin Kolb, Christian Ponder, Jake Locker, Ryan Tannehill, Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden.

I’ve been doing more and more work with advanced metrics this offseason, and based on some initial custom analytics that I’m fortunate enough to be presently working with, there were only a handful of 2012 QBs who contributed less to their team in 2012 than Stafford.  Based on a threshold of total passes thrown, the QBs Stafford outperformed included:

  • Cutler, Rivers, Foles, Weeden, Cassel, Dalton, Henne, Skelton, Sanchez, Kolb and Quinn.

A pretty poor list, which shows that he underperformed the vast majority of NFL caliber starting QBs in 2012.

Positives for Stafford include that he performed better as the game went on, performed better later in the downs, and performed better as he approached the opponent’s end zone.  These trends certainly are positive for any QB to have in their numbers, but there are clear areas he needs to improve, including accuracy and consistency.

These “trends” are evident when you look at the games he played against teams who had a winning record at the time of the game:

In 27 games against teams above .500 at the time of the game, he only won 5.  And largely due to his poor first half starts, his team trailed at halftime in 20 (74%) of these games.  His stronger 2nd half performance allowed them to come back and win 5 of these 20 games.

Stafford’s Lions led at halftime in only 6 games vs. teams who were above .500 at the time of the game.  Partially because of the Stafford and the Lions offense in these games (scoring just 8.8 2nd half pts as compared to 15.4 1st half points) and partially because of the Lions defense (allowing 21.2 2nd half points as compared to 10.4 first half points) the Lions lost ALL 6 games!  Were they outcoached and underprepared in following halftime adjustments?  Did the not know how to play with a lead?  Or were these games examples of Stafford’s inconsistency?  After all, as you’ll read below, in several games last season, Stafford led the Lions in come-from-behind rallies and scored 15 points in the 4th quarter alone?  And in these 6 games we’re discussing here, Stafford’s Lions scored fewer than 9 points TOTAL in the entire second half.

Of the Lions 16 games last season, they lost the last 8 games to close out the season after starting 4-4.  But in 12 of their 16 games, they played within 1 score (8 pts) of the other team.  They won 3 of these games, and lost 9.

Of the 3 games they won by 8 pts or fewer, they trailed by an avg score entering the 4th quarter of 14.3 to 11.  While the Lions defense gave up 9 ppg in the 4th quarter, Stafford scored 15 ppg in the 4th quarter!  Bringing his team back from behind and winning these 3 games in the 4th quarter.

Of the 9 games which they lost, not only did the Lions start slow on offense (trailed 13.6 to 11 on avg at halftime), which was definitely a trademark of Stafford’s in 2012, Stafford was unable to pull off the 4th quarter magic, scoring just 8 ppg in the 4th quarter, which was fewer than the 8.3 ppg his opponents scored in the 4th quarter.

Clearly, much of a new contract is about team need and options, and I won’t opine on whether or not the Lions should have paid Stafford $53 million guaranteed to extend him 3 more years.

But the bottom line is, Stafford’s performance is no where near as good when you stop looking at total yards or yds/game.  He’s a chucker, his attempts are ridiculously high, and all of the advanced metrics show he’s off of a very subpar 2012 season.

And certainly, beating just 1 NFL team who is a winning team in 23 tries over a 4 year career is nothing to add to his “plus” column.

Stafford really needs to improve moving forward to make this a smart way for the Lions to spend their money.