During An Impressive 2016 Season, Stafford Was In MVP Talks. In 2017 He Looks To Claim That Title
Back in June of 2016, I wrote about how Matt Stafford was a better quarterback than you thought, before his NFL record eight fourth quarter comebacks happened during the 2016 season. I even talked about how he was a top 10 quarterback a month later.
His MVP talk derailed once he suffered a finger injury that would affect everything. Also, losing the last three games and backing into the playoffs isn’t really MVP type of play. Other things that affected his possible MVP run was the lack of a running game, with multiple injuries and poor blocking the run game couldn’t ever stand a chance.
The offensive line was another issue. Rookie Taylor Decker did well at left tackle, and Riley Reiff was fine at right tackle, but the interior was the major issue. Larry Warford was fine but was inconsistent. Laken Tomlinson would get replaced by rookie Graham Glasgow and while Glasgow did better, he still had some issues. Travis Swanson improved greatly from 2015 to 2016, but he would miss the final five games with a concussion, which forced Glasgow to move to center and have Tomlinson come back in at left guard.
Stafford also didn’t have help on the defensive side of the ball. DeAndre Levy and Ziggy Ansah had multiple issues with injuries that made them miss time and not play up to their true potential. Linebackers were the biggest weak point, with Detroit having backups start many games due to injuries, it helped opposing offenses get off the field quicker as they were able to score easier. Along with the linebackers, the defensive line wasn’t much help either, creating a little bit of pressure and giving quarterbacks all the time to get the throw off, or the running back an easy hole to run through.
That all changes this season. While Detroit didn’t have the perfect A+ offseason, they addressed a majority of their issues and with a fresh start in 2017, Stafford can re-enter that MVP talk and end up winning it all.
Previous MVP’s Experiences
Before we dive into how Matt Stafford can become the MVP in 2017, it is good to take a look at a few of the previous winners. Since 2010, six of the seven winners have been quarterbacks and of those six are Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers (2x), Cam Newton, and Matt Ryan.
What you need to become the MVP as a quarterback in the league is to have a good year, but you also need to help in three other areas: offensive line, running back and defense. Each of these quarterbacks had help in most, if not all areas. Check out the chart below:
Overall, you can see in two seasons that the quarterback didn’t throw for over 4,000 yards, but they had a lot of help in the rushing game and defense, and Brady had help on the offensive line only getting sacked 25 times, Newton wasn’t that lucky, but he still had help elsewhere.
In 2013, Manning was having a career year, and he also had help from the offensive line and the rushing attack, while the defense wasn’t what they would be down the road. Aaron Rodgers had some help from the running game, and while the defenses were ranked middle tier, they were able to produce a total of 67 turnovers in both years combined. The offensive line was struggling, but they made it work.
Matt Ryan, the most recent winner had the worst offensive line of the bunch but had a big help in the rushing game, and while the defense was ranked one of the worst in the league, the number of sacks is big enough to help your team in certain situations.
An Improved Offensive Line Can Protect Stafford
The biggest flaw in helping Stafford take that next step in competing for an MVP trophy is the protection up front. Since 2011, Stafford has been sacked less than 30 times only in two seasons and in one of those seasons he almost threw for 5,000 yards again.
2017 will be his best possible season for protection. Last year’s offensive line PFF grades were:
- Taylor Decker – 82.4
- Graham Glasgow – 42.1
- Travis Swanson – 81.9
- Larry Warford – 81.5
- Riley Reiff – 67.5
This year, the Lions added right guard T.J. Lang from the Green Bay Packers, and right tackle Rick Wagner from the Baltimore Ravens, both upgrades over Warford and Reiff, look at the Lions offensive line grades now:
- Taylor Decker – 82.4
- Graham Glasgow – 42.1
- Travis Swanson – 81.9
- T.J. Lang – 87
- Rick Wagner – 84.5
You can look at Glasgow as the main weak point on the line now, but he didn’t do too bad in his playing time, allowing three and a half sacks, better than Riley Reiff. Even with the struggles, some of the times he had Laken Tomlinson next to him, so you can’t assume all were him between Decker and Swanson.
Even if you aren’t big into PFF, you can look at the number of sacks allowed by each player. Warford and Reiff combined for allowing seven sacks, three by Warford, four by Reiff. Wagner and Lang combined for allowing three, one by Lang and two by Wagner.
Now, four fewer sacks don’t seem that big, but it is an upgrade that can help Stafford play longer, give him more time in the pocket to create a play, or open the holes for the running game to get going. Detroit was tied for 11th in the league for most sacks allowed, tied with the NFC champions Atlanta Falcons. Now if Stafford and company can get less, that can change a lot.
Help From The Running Game Can Create Versatility
Running the ball in Detroit isn’t popular. Since 2011, Stafford has had only two seasons where the rushing game produced more than the 1,558 Aaron Rodgers had in 2011. In 2012 the Lions had 1,613 yards and in 2013 they improved to 1,792. Since then the rushing game has gone downhill, as 2016 finished with 1,310 yards.
A big problem with the running game is with the offensive line and like it was explained above, that has improved, and so should the running game. The other big issue with running the ball in Detroit is injuries. Reggie Bush had a good 2013 season, rushing over 1,000 yards, but in 2014 he would suffer multiple injuries and end up with only 297 yards. That was passed onto Ameer Abdullah who has dealt with two big injuries so far into his young career.
Last season was a carousel for running backs as Abdullah, Riddick, Zenner, and Washington all suffered injuries and Detroit brought in Justin Forsett and brought back Joique Bell for help as well. With a better offensive line, these guys should be getting hit less.
Not only should they be getting hit less, with a stable offensive line can mean the offense can have some creativity and versatility. Teams should have a harder time predicting the run or pass, instead of knowing what is coming when they see who is in the backfield. If Stafford’s running game can come alive, that helps him even more in play-action and mixing up play calls. A quarterback can be better if he has a running game to rely on if things get rough, or to mix it up and call the defense on their bluff.
Improved Defense Can Create Turnovers
Defense can win you championships, it can also help you get further into the MVP race. Now having a good offensive line and running game can be enough to get you that title, but defense helps as well. Not just an average defense, a defense that can create turnovers and/or get to the quarterback plenty of times to make big stops and get them off the field.
The problem with the Lions is they aren’t good at either. Since 2011, Stafford has had two seasons with at least 20 interceptions, but 2015 and 2016 have ended with nine and 10, not many ballhawks in the secondary. They also have only been able to match the most fumble recoveries of 14 once, in 2011 and since then they haven’t picked up over 10.
Getting to the quarterback used to be simple for Detroit with Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril, and Nick Fairley on your defensive line. Now the only true stud left is Ziggy Ansah. Stafford has had three seasons where his defense was able to produce over 40 sacks, but once most of the firepower left and injuries added up, the production dropped. In 2015, Detroit had 43 sacks. In 2016, Detroit had 26.
Now, this is the part where Stafford will struggle to find much help. Detroit added some depth and help to the defensive line, but not enough to raise this number substantially. Detroit did get some help in the secondary in D.J. Hayden, Teez Tabor, and Jamal Agnew to help possibly increase the number of interceptions. They added Paul Worrilow, Jarrad Davis, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin to help the depleted linebacker position and if they can produce enough big hits you could see an increase in fumbles and more that the Lions pick up.
In The End, It’s All Up To Stafford
While having these three components should help Stafford get into the MVP discussion, it all rests on him playing like an MVP quarterback. He needs to continue to show he can play without Calvin Johnson. He is a fantastic leader of the offense and the team overall. Last year he only had some help from the offensive line, and while it was better than his previous offensive lines, it could get better.
Last year he didn’t have help from the defense, they couldn’t get to the quarterback, couldn’t create many turnovers, got beat up and injured. The team couldn’t run the ball either and with the starting job becoming a revolving door, he had to be the offense, not the team, just him.
And a finger injury was what knocked him out of the race.
Now just imagine what Stafford can do with what could be his best offensive line he has ever had. An offensive line that can create holes for the running backs. A healthy running back trio or quartet that could see help from everyone, not just one player. A better defense that can create more turnovers, make bigger stops and possibly get to the quarterback more.
If Stafford can stay healthy along with everything mentioned above, there is no doubt he will be the NFL MVP in 2017.