Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Nation [Print without images]

Wednesday, October 2, 2013
QB Watch: Lions' Matthew Stafford

By Michael Rothstein

A weekly analysis of the Lions’ quarterback play.

Stafford
Stafford
Rewind: After three weeks of brilliant play, Matthew Stafford took a small step back Sunday -- but it didn’t matter for Detroit as the Lions beat the Bears 40-32 in an impressive overall offensive performance. Stafford completed 23 of 35 passes for 242 yards, a touchdown, an interception and two fumbles -- one of them lost. That fact that this game -- in which he completed 65.7 percent of his passes -- is considered an off game for him illustrates how far he has progressed this season.

Fast-forward: Now comes the challenge. For all of Detroit’s streak-breaking this season, winning at Green Bay would firmly place the Lions among the NFL’s playoff contenders. Even though Detroit has not had success in Green Bay, Stafford has. He threw for a team-record 520 yards and five touchdowns at Lambeau Field in 2011 and completed 27 of 45 passes for 264 yards last season. He’s a 60.6 percent passer at Green Bay in his career.

Quick decisions: Part of Stafford’s success this season has been his fast, smart decisions. He has the shortest time before pass among regular starters in the NFL this season at 2.75 seconds, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and he also spends the least amount of time in the pocket (2.18 seconds). That he’s completing 64.1 percent of his passes -- and it’d be higher if not for a 7.1 percent drop rate by his receivers -- tells how good he has been this season.

Pass protected: The other reason -- and we’ve written about this before -- is his pass protection. Yes, he’s getting the ball out early, but in some ways he doesn’t have to. He’s been sacked on a league-low 1.9 percent of his drop backs -- more than a full percentage point better than Peyton Manning, who is in second place. He’s also been sacked a league-low three times. Short pass play calls to Reggie Bush and Joique Bell have helped, but much of the progress is due to the line and the quarterback.

Prediction: For the first time this season, Stafford truly struggles at Green Bay. He still throws for 275 yards, but most of it is trying to rally his team from an early deficit due to Aaron Rodgers’ success. He throws a couple of interceptions and only one touchdown.