Stafford to be Under Big Microscope on Sunday

12/20/13 in NFL   |   Andrew_Ericksen   |   230 respect

Nov 28, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) before the game against the Green Bay Packers during a NFL football game on Thanksgiving at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY SportsAfter two rocky, injury-filled seasons to begin his NFL career, 2011 seemed to be evidence that former first overall pick Matthew Stafford was on the verge of NFL stardom. He was 23 years old and led the Detroit Lions to a 10-6 record behind 5,038 passing yards and 41 touchdowns.
 
Then the train wreck season of 2012 came along. The Lions went 4-12 and Stafford’s production regressed greatly. He fell just shy of 5,000 yards on the year but his touchdown passes were cut in half, only 20 - paired with 17 interceptions.
 
Sometimes things just don’t click for whatever reason. Not that that’s any excuse for the Lions’ dreadful campaign last year, but that’s the most simple explanation. Close games that the Lions won in 2011 ended up being close losses in 2012 and the 4-win season put a ton of pressure on Stafford, head coach Jim Schwartz and the entire Lions organization going into 2013.
 
After a huge week 10 victory over the Chicago Bears, it looked like the Lions were on the verge of making amends for 2012. The control of the NFC North was in their hands and both Chicago and Green Bay didn’t have their starting quarterbacks. Forget about the bad early season loss to the Cardinals by 4 or the 3-point loss to Cincinnati in week 7 when the Bengals offense put together a game-winning drive in Detroit after Stafford and the Lions couldn’t. All that mattered was that the road ahead was looking favorable for the team as long as they won the games they needed to.
 
In the last 5 weeks, Stafford has had one really solid game (Green Bay), one pretty good game (Pittsburgh) and three rather awful games (Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Baltimore). You can try and validate his three awful games by bringing up his 297 yards and 3 touchdowns against Tampa Bay or the fact that the Philadelphia snowfall was too great of an obstacle for him to overcome, but all three games were very winnable, the Detroit defense did everything they needed to do to put their offense in position to win, and Stafford couldn’t make the big plays he needed to.
 
Dating back to week 8 against Dallas (a 7-game stretch), Stafford has thrown 13 interceptions versus 13 touchdowns. He’s put together some solid touchdown drives and some highlight reel plays (especially against Dallas), but the turnovers have been one of the main reasons why the NFC North is no longer in Detroit’s control.
 
This has been the most pressure Stafford has seen so far in his career. 2011 was his first full year and expectations were highly exceeded by his 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns, leading the Lions to 10 wins. 2012 was over before games really became important.
 
2013 was Detroit’s year to take the NFC North, all the cards were in place for them but the last 5 weeks have been like a nightmare for Stafford and company. If Green Bay and Chicago stumble the next few weeks, there’s still a chance for the Lions to eek their way into the playoffs, but first Stafford needs to prove he can beat a pair of teams that are well out of the playoff picture in the Giants and Vikings. Two games the Lions need to win and Stafford can’t allow himself to underperform or else the scrutiny and questions will continue to follow him.
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