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Tuesday, December 10, 2013
A look at Stafford's fourth quarter struggles

By Michael Rothstein

At points this season, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has heard variations of the same question.

How do you feel your accuracy has been this season? Do you feel like you’re an accurate passer?

Matthew Stafford
Playing in the snow in Philadelphia, Matthew Stafford completed just 40 percent of his passes -- his lowest percentage of the season.
When Stafford last defended his accuracy in October, he pointed out that the more he goes deep to receivers, the less chance the pass is completed.

"There's just a lot of variables that goes into it," Stafford said. "You miss a couple and then you hit a couple and they make big plays for you. Obviously I want to make every throw. I want to complete every pass. I want to throw for as many yards as I can, as many touchdowns as I can to help our team win.

"I will continue to do that for as long as I'm playing the game."

And for the first part of the 2013 season, Stafford was doing that at a high rate. He had completed more than 50 percent of his passes in his first eight games and had been over 60 percent in five of them.

That Stafford, though, appears to have gone away. In the second half of the season, Stafford has dipped below the 50 percent marker twice -- and hit a season-low 40 percent of his passes during the blizzard-like conditions last Sunday against Philadelphia.

The issues have sent his numbers plummeting. His is now 31st in the NFL in completion percentage at 58.3 percent -- one spot behind Terrelle Pryor from Oakland and eight below Jacksonville’s Chad Henne. Of quarterbacks who have started 10 games this season, Stafford is ahead only of San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick (57.2 percent) and Geno Smith of the New York Jets at 55.4 percent.

He is now tied for sixth in the NFL with 14 interceptions yet is still third in touchdowns with 27. This is part of the confusion about Stafford. He puts up big numbers and can make big plays -- see the fourth quarter comebacks in his career -- but that fourth quarter success has disappeared the past five games.

It might explain why the Lions have been unable to close out games. It might not be a coincidence that in an offense predicated on passing, late-game struggles from Stafford would become a huge issue.

Consider this: In his first eight games this season, Stafford completed at least 62.5 percent of his passes in every game during the fourth quarter and did not throw an interception. The Lions were 5-3 in those games.

Since Detroit took the week off, it hasn’t gone so well. Other than Detroit’s blowout win against Green Bay, where he completed both of his fourth quarter passes in a 40-10 rout, Stafford has not completed more than 50 percent of his passes in the fourth quarter of any game.

He was 5 of 13 for 89 against Chicago. Went 0 of 10 against Pittsburgh. Was 5 of 13 against Tampa Bay and 1 of 8 last Sunday against Philadelphia. He has thrown two touchdowns in the fourth quarters of those games compared to three interceptions.

In none of those games did he throw for more than 100 yards after doing so in five games during the first half of the season. And, of course, Detroit has lost leads in the fourth quarter in all three of those second half of the season losses.

Those four games are among his 10 worst fourth quarter completion percentage games in his career.

Looking at the second half of the season, Stafford hasn’t been completed a lot of passes anywhere in the fourth quarter. He is 7 of 25 for 108 yards and a touchdown from the line of scrimmage to 15 yards out. Beyond 15 yards, he is 5 of 15 for 117 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

He hasn’t been helped by his receivers in the fourth quarter during the second half of the season, either. Other than the Green Bay game, the Lions have had a drop rate of 7.7 percent or worse in every fourth quarter the second half of the season, capped in futility by a 20 percent drop rate against Pittsburgh and a 25 percent drop rate against Philadelphia.

After six fourth quarter drops in the first eight games of the season, the Lions have had six in the first five games of the second half of the season during the fourth quarter. Not surprising, though, since Detroit’s pass catchers drop more passes than any team in the league.

Whatever has been going on with Detroit on offense, be it Stafford or the receivers or a combination of both, time is running out for the Lions to fix it or to return to the form they showed in the first half of the season, when Stafford and Detroit looked like one of the most efficient offenses in the league.

Some numbers from ESPN Stats & Information were used in this post.