In Week 10 of the 2019 NFL season, Detroit’s biggest fear came true. Matthew Stafford was ruled out for a game. His back was hurt. He had been carrying the Detroit Lions for the whole season and his back just couldn’t take it anymore. He has been playing the 2019 season with a lack of any real running game, one of the worst defenses in the NFL and yet Detroit is one of three teams to have a lead in every game this year. The other two? 8-1 San Francisco and 6-4 Kansas City. In fact, it had been since January 2nd, 2011 since Stafford had his last missed start. Things that have happened in my life since Stafford’s last missed start:
- I graduated from elementary school.
- I graduated from middle school.
- I graduated from high school.
- I enrolled in college.
It was very unfortunate for this injury to happen in the midst of arguably Stafford’s best season to date.
When Matthew Stafford drops back to pass, he is just as good as anyone in the league at throwing the ball. When looking at Pass Expected Points Added, which is an advanced metric that gives the number of points expected on a pass versus the number of points that the pass actually gained. For example, if a wide receiver is wide open in the endzone from the one-yard line, quarterbacks not named Mitchell Trubisky would have a high EPA of around 5.8 as that is as sure of 6 points as anything. EPA also adjusts for clutchness and difficulty of opponents.
Of those ten quarterbacks, Matthew Stafford is the only one on a team with a losing record. He deserves better. Stafford is ranked as the third most efficient passer, fitting balls into tight windows and almost always finding the right option. New offenses almost always have growing pains, but Stafford is having no trouble fitting it. New offensive coordinator Darren Bevell has opened up the deep ball again as his yards per attempt has never been this high in his entire career.
Stafford has been able to do all of this without the threat of a real run the game the whole year. They rank 21st in the league at 96.2 yards per game. Looking at this chart made by Ben Baldwin, Pass EPA is on the y-axis and Rush EPA is on the x-axis. The Lions have some of the most efficient passers and one of the most inefficient run games. There are only four teams in the NFL with a worse EPA at running the ball than the Lions. Because of this lack of run game, Stafford has carried this team and made names out of both Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. as they are both currently top five in touchdown receptions with eight and six, respectively.
The saddest part about this Detroit Lions team is undoubtedly their defense. Actually, the ‘D’ doesn’t exist, so it’s actually just ‘efense.’ The Lions defense has let up 402 yards per game. That is worse than the Miami Dolphins, who everyone expects to be losing on defense. The Lions defense’s yards allowed per game is currently good for 3rd worst in the entire league. While Stafford has put 26 points per game, the defense has let up 27.1. The Lions-Vikings game was when all of the 2019 Detroit Lions’ problems were heightened. They weren’t able to run the ball well, so Stafford had to take over himself. He threw for 364 yards and 4 touchdowns on a 66.6% completion percentage, but his defense let up 42 points and – unsurprisingly – they lost the game. It is also worth mentioning that Stafford is having the best year of his career when it comes to ESPN’s advanced statistics of Points Added.
And the Lions are wasting it all. There is always next year.