From a physical standpoint, Matthew Stafford is one of the league’s most talented quarterbacks, if not the most talented. He’s a gifted passer, possessing the arm strength to make every throw from any platform into any window, the accuracy to hit his intended target in between the digits in their chest, and a moving pocket presence and the mobility to evade pass rushers. But the same can’t be said about Stafford mentally.
He tends to have quarterbacking blunders, forcing throws at the most inopportune of times, and almost blindly lobbing the football up for grabs at other times and flat out just airmailing it. He shows a lack of control over his velocity, which stems from his lackadaisical footwork.
Against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, he threw two more interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Including Sunday’s game, Stafford has thrown interceptions in seven of the 10 games he’s started, bringing it to a total of 10. It’s not a significant number in comparison to the rest of the league leaders in the statistic, as he averages more attempts per game than all 10 quarterbacks ahead of him. But it’s still troubling how his picks are coming.
Stafford’s footwork continues to be undesirable, blatantly showing a lack of proper technique at the quarterback position. He doesn’t transfer his weight with any sort of consistency, as instead he tends to open his hips and then just let the ball fly. This was troublesome last season as well, when he tended to do more of the leaning back like Kobe Bryant on a fade away jump-shot. He still does that and it’s still a problem, because despite all his arm strength, he easily puts a cap on it due to his lack of weight transfer. Instead of his weight coming forward, it’s all on his back foot whether he’s leaning back and throwing or simply just opening his hips up and throwing.
On his second interception and pick-six to Packers’ free safety M.D. Jennings this past Sunday, Stafford received the snap and set up a strong base with his feet, widening them out to shoulder width. That was the first step of his footwork and he executed it with proper form, but what followed next was troublesome.
He identified a target and went to deliver the ball. In doing so, he opened up his hip and stuck his left leg out, but he didn’t truly stepped through to shift his power forward (you can see this by the placement of his foot in each image). Instead, he simply stepped into the grass and came forward with his upper body, consequently lacking bend with his lead knee which significantly affects the accuracy of the pass, causing it to flutter as it goes forward. As a result, Stafford had no control over the ball, leaving it to fall behind his intended target and into the welcoming arms of Jennings for a turnover.
As one can see, Stafford’s footwork is simply a problem, and it has been for two years now. Last season, he made many more plays (41:16 touchdown/interception ratio) and the Lions were winning, so his footwork problems weren’t magnified by critics, but they were still there. This season, Stafford isn’t making the same big throws he made last year and the Lions aren’t winning as much, so his fundamentals are becoming a greater issue to those who study his game.
If this is truly a problem — which it is — then the big question that must be asked is, can it be fixed?
“Fixing” quarterbacks is no walk in the park. It’s a very difficult task to take on because so much of the movements of the passer are habitual, such as his arm slot, delivery, or the way he flicks his wrist. However, when it comes to footwork, the transfer of weight can be improved through repetitions, but it doesn’t always work.
I’ve written in the past about Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has a very similar issue that’s been addressed by Buffalo’s coaching staff, but to no avail. Fitzpatrick’s issues are compounded by his lack of arm strength, but Stafford’s aren’t due to his immense strength. However, footwork is still an area of Stafford’s game that must be cleaned up if he’s going to perform with consistency and get the Detroit Lions back to the playoffs.