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Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Midseason Review: Quarterbacks

By Michael Rothstein

This week, during Detroit’s bye, we’ll take a look at each position group at the midpoint of the season.

Stafford
Stafford
What has worked: Matthew Stafford is coming off one of the bigger performances of his career, throwing for 488 yards (second most in his career) and completed 68.8 percent of his passes. Oh, and he made a decision to run a quarterback sneak to score a touchdown with 12 seconds left to beat Dallas.

He has had four games over 350 yards passing this season and is on pace for a career-high 5,234 yards, 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Stafford has hit on 62.4 percent of his passes and this is while his receivers have dropped 6.8 percent of his passes, the most of Stafford’s career.

He’s also hitting on more yards per completion (12.4) than he has at any point in his career and has a 2.67 touchdown-to-interception ratio, 10th in the NFL. His average time before pass, at 3.01 seconds, is third among regular NFL starters behind Denver’s Peyton Manning and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton. That has also helped his offensive line, as his 2.8 percent sack rate is the best in the league.

Stafford has the longest pass in the league this season -- 87 yards to Calvin Johnson last week against Dallas -- and has thrown the most attempts of any quarterback this year, with 338, and is second in completions (211) to Manning.

What has not: While Stafford has done very well with short passes and screen passes, he has struggled whenever he has had to throw 10 or more yards in the air. His completion percentage drops to 44.8 percent (47 of 105), ranked 24th in the NFL, just behind Brandon Weeden and ahead of Eli Manning.

His drop rate from 10 yards or longer is equivalent to his drop rate overall -- second worst in the NFL at 6.7 percent (Miami’s Ryan Tannehill is at 7.1 percent).

The interesting part here is Stafford has thrown six touchdown passes and two interceptions when he has thrown the ball 10 yards or longer and is throwing touchdowns on 5.7 percent of those attempts. So when he does hit, it usually leads to good things.

Stafford still makes some bad decisions with the ball -- he’ll force the ball to Johnson a lot and the interception to Sean Lee on Sunday was a misread. Stafford will sometimes miss receivers, but his frequency of poor decision making has dropped this year.

Prognosis: If you use QBR, Stafford is 11th in the NFL with a total QBR of 66.2. The ranking, though, is a bit misleading. When understanding QBR, those who devised the stat say a player is approaching a Pro Bowl-caliber season if he is in the 65-to-70 range or higher. Thus far, Stafford is right in that metric.

His clutch-weighted expected points added is 40.4 -- second only to Manning in the NFL. He is in the midst of the best season of his NFL career, both in actual statistics and the way he is playing. He has led his team to three come-from-behind wins in the second half this season, against Minnesota, Cleveland and last Sunday against Dallas.

Yes, he has Johnson and the best receiver in the NFL will help his case, but he has also lost his No. 3 receiver (if you consider running back Reggie Bush his No. 2 receiver) for most of the first half of the season. Yet Nate Burleson should return soon after the off week, making the offense more dynamic.

He’s still 25 years old and growing into the position while not hitting his prime yet. It’ll be interesting to see how much he grows over the second half of 2013.

The statistics used in the post are courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information.