Why The Detroit Lions Must Sit Matthew Stafford

7/27/09 in NFL

As the media keeps churning out fluff pieces about how great Matthew Stafford is, and how he is the savior of the Detroit Lions, I continue to shake my head.

Just a couple months ago, Daunte Culpepper was entrenched as the starter of the Detroit Lions. Stafford? A mere challenger, who had only a slim chance of winning the job out of training camp.

Now? The Detroit media reports it as a battle for the the quarterback position, like they really mean it. Stafford is emphasized as the favorite. The flashy new quarterback who should beat out Culpepper by week three at the latest and lead Detroit back from the depths of 0-16.

Why the sudden change? Today, just as three months ago, Stafford still hasn't thrown a single down in the NFL.

Sure, we hear from Stafford's old high school coach, his college running back, the Lions head coach even, that Matthew Stafford is ahead of the curve, that he has maybe the best arm they've ever seen.

I'll believe it, but so what? Ryan Leaf had a great arm too. So did Tim Couch.

This article isn't about citing past #1 draft pick quarterbacks who have failed though. It's about how Stafford is likely destined to fail if he starts this season, period.

Stafford will inevitably be compared to last year's rookie crop of quarterbacks, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco if he starts this season. That's unfair right off the bat. Ryan and Flacco were college seniors when they entered the draft. They were as close to finished products as you can get.

Matthew Stafford entered the draft as a junior. That's strike one.

You might not think it's a big deal, but senior quarterbacks have a much higher percentage chance of success than juniors. Don't believe me? Here's a list of junior quarterbacks who have recently entered the NFL.

JaMarcus Russell, Vince Young, Alex Smith, Ben Roethlisberger, Rex Grossman, Michael Vick, Tim Couch, Ryan Leaf.

You can look at that list and pick out Roethlisberger and Vick as the only two junior quarterbacks in the last 11 years to have really made it. Meanwhile two of the bigger quarterback busts of the last decade are present.

Seniors have more maturity and more experience. Don't discount it.

Now, lets take a look at what Detroit has given Stafford to help him succeed.

For the last five years at least, Detroit has had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. There's no nice way to say it. Detroit's line was a sieve.

They didn't do much to address this in the offseason. They did bring in veteran tackle, Jon Jansen which should be of some help, but this is still more or less the same line that allowed multiple injured quarterbacks last season.

Let's review. Jon Kitna, Dan Orlovsky, Drew Stanton, Daunte Culpepper, Drew Henson. All five of those quarterbacks lined up under center for Detroit last season. Four of them suffered injuries at some point.

Atlanta had one of the best ground games in the NFL last season with Michael Turner and Norwood. Baltimore perennially has one of the NFL's best defenses.

Detroit has neither.

Kevin Smith looks like a solid back, but can he be a guy who forces defenses to focus on the rushing attack and takes pressure off the quarterback? I don't know.

The defense has been revamped big time, but it's still a question mark. Some have compared Detroit's defense to that of an expansion team, taking other teams leftovers. It's a pessimistic assessment, but not too far off from the truth.

What Detroit has given Stafford, is one of the top three receivers in the game in Calvin Johnson. That shouldn't be underestimated. A great receiver can be a young quarterback's best friend.

Will it be enough though?

Then there is the pressure.

Detroit fans are notorious for their huge expectations surrounding the next quarterback of the Detroit Lions. There is that old adage that the most popular man in Detroit is the backup quarterback of the Lions.

Then, if the next quarterback fails, they will never hear the end of it, even after they leave. Just look at Joey "Blue Skies" Harrington.

Sitting your star quarterback is never a popular option, but it should dramatically increase Stafford's chances of success.

Carson Palmer sat for a year behind Jon Kitna in Cinncinati. Although injuries have derailed Palmer's career, his year on the bench helped prepare him for great success in leading Cinncinati back to the playoffs.

Phillip Rivers is another quarterback who sat on the bench behind Drew Brees. Rivers success isn't questioned now. He is a solid starting quarterback in the NFL.

Aaron Rodgers spent multiple years on the bench behind Brett Farve. He ended up being a solid starting quarterback because of it.

Brady Quinn sat on the bench for a year behind Derek Anderson. We won't know for sure how much that helped him until we see him play this season, but it can't hurt.

You might say Detroit doesn't have the luxury of having an entrenched starter who can keep Stafford on the bench. You might be right.

For the time being, if Culpepper falters or gets injured, all Detroit would have to turn to is Drew Stanton or Matthew Stafford.

Detroit isn't going to start Stanton over Stafford. That will never happen.

So if Detroit is serious about developing Stafford properly, they are going to want a veteran quarterback behind Culpepper. That probably means cutting Stanton loose.

There's quite a few options out there. This only needs to be a one-year stopgap after all.

I just hope Detroit does the right thing. There's no reason to throw Stafford to the wolves this early. That's what veterans are for. They've been in these situations, they've seen it all.

I've seen Detroit ruin too many promising quarterbacks. From Joey Harrington, to Charlie Batch, to Andre Ware.

Let's just hope they take the slow route in developing Stafford. There's going to be improvement this year either way.

Likewise, no matter who starts, this is not a playoff team. So why risk it?

Develop the young quarterback on the bench this year, give him the starting reigns next year and his chance for success improves greatly.

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