When it comes to quarterback play, the Green Bay Packers are fortunate. Not only have the Packers transitioned from one Hall of Fame quarterback to another, but they also possess the top passer in a division stocked with talented arms. The NFC North is one of only two divisions where every starting quarterback has led their team to the playoffs. In the modern NFL where passing and the ability to defend the pass are the strongest indicators of wins and losses, it’s important for Green Bay to keep tabs on the quarterbacks it sees most often.
With that in mind, let’s profile the resume and project the future for one of the NFC North’s other quarterbacks.
So without further adieu, the final NFC North quarterback under the microscope is…
Name: Matthew Stafford
Team: Detroit Lions
Experience: 45 games, 44 starts
Resume: Matthew Stafford is the NFC North’s most intriguing case study. Stafford’s first two seasons were defined by injury, but both included extremely promising moments.
In his first complete season as a starter, Stafford exploded for a jawdropping 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns. Yet Stafford’s more impressive statistic was 6.2 – the percentage of his passes that went for touchdowns. For context, the only passers that year who exceeded that figure were Tom Brady (6.4 percent), Drew Brees (7 percent), and Aaron Rodgers (9 percent).
Stafford’s touchdown percentage would have been top five in any of his four seasons in the NFL. Helping matters further, Stafford threw 2.56 touchdowns for every interception that year. It seemed as though his incredible physical gifts were finally coalescing with his mental preparation and that Stafford would soon be entering the pantheon of the NFL’s top quarterbacks.
And then came the 2012 season.
While Stafford narrowly missed another 5,000-yard season, virtually all of his other metrics regressed considerably. Stafford’s touchdown total was more than halved while his interceptions went up. He passed for his worst completion percentage since his rookie year, and averaged a Christian Ponder-like 6.8 yards per attempt.
Yet the most damning metric was Stafford’s touchdown percentage. It dropped from 2011’s impressive 6.2 percent to a paltry 2.8 percent, bad enough to finish bottom five in the league. The only players with worse figures were rookies and Matt Cassel. This comes at a time when the Detroit Lions are looking to extend Stafford’s rookie deal. How the Lions grade Stafford at this point in his career is anyone’s guess.
Projections: Despite his 2012 woes, Matthew Stafford projects very well. If there is one quarterback who can take Rodgers’ title as the best quarterback in the NFC North, unlikely as that may be, it’s Stafford.
He possesses the strongest arm in the division, and with Calvin Johnson just entering his prime, there is no reason to expect Stafford won’t be able to return to his high volume, high efficiency form. Detroit has no plans to bring in any competition, and probably couldn’t do so if they wanted to with their cap situation.
With the Minnesota Vikings in a war of words with Percy Harvin and the Chicago Bears entering the first year with a new head coach, there are games up for grabs. Frankly, even the Packers could take a step back this season with their losses on offense.
Stafford should perform much closer to his 2011 form, and if he does so the Lions are a real threat to challenge for a playoff spot and perhaps the division.
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Lombardi Ave. He has previously written for Hail to the Orange, College Hoops Net, Mocking the Draft, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JBHirschhorn.