Matthew Stafford’s sidearm throwing action used to be a subject of scorn and ridicule that functioned as a fulcrum that helped pry loose all indictments of the No. 1 overall pick from faulty mechanics to questions about his commitment to winning.
But these days, with the Lions quarterback enjoying a renaissance under new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, he has been showered with praise from opposing coaches.
And when the 11-year veteran still slings a football sideways? Well, that too is met with adulation.
Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur has called Stafford “elite.” Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer called Stafford “outstanding” while playing “maybe the best I’ve ever seen him.”
This week, it was Chicago Bears Matt Nagy’s turn.
“Well, I’ve always had the ultimate respect for Matt Stafford,” Nagy said Wednesday in a conference call with Detroit reporters. “Some of the throws that he’s made over his career are just ridiculous. I mean there are not many players in the NFL that can make the sidearm throws that he does on the run, running left throwing right, just putting it where no one else can get it.”
Stafford, who is on pace for 4,998 yards and in the midst of an MVP-caliber season with 19 touchdowns with five interceptions, continues to downplay his penchant for unorthodox throws.
Throughout his career, Stafford has always been more comfortable examining the ins and outs of success rather than his own statistics or idiosyncrasies. While the Lions have struggled as a team to a 3-4-1 start, Stafford has the offense and particularly the passing offense humming. The Lions rank fifth overall in total yardage and third in passing offense at 295.3 yards per game.
“I think we’ve done a nice job in the play-action game, making some big plays – those guys are making great plays down the field,” he said of his receivers. “The guys up front are giving me time to get it down there. I think we’ve done a nice job on third down staying on the field, which helps. We’re getting more plays and those guys on the outside are making great plays.”
The deep passes have become a deadly weapon for the offense. Stafford has developed an eagle eye for spotting streaking receivers Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. He leads the NFL with 41 passes of at least 20 yards and he’s fourth with eight passes of at least 40 yards.
And there’s something else, too. Stafford doesn’t speak of it, but his coaches and teammates regularly do. It’s his fortitude. He’s been dealing with a hip injury for several weeks and against the Raiders he suffered a back injury while dealing with a cold — and still threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s tough, he’s a competitor,” Nagy said, “and when he’s back there at the quarterback position, he’s scary because he can make any throw and you always have a chance with him. You take that and you combine these wide receivers that he has, so anybody that’s a hell of a quarterback like he is that has weapons at the wide receiver and tight end position, they’re always going to have success. You see that right now.
“They’re aggressive in the pass game, they’re taking shots — a lot of deep balls — and it’s definitely a cause for concern.”