Extra Points: Lions focus on fixing Stafford

3:07 PM, Jan 7, 2014   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The current unemployment rate in Detroit is a staggering 17.7 percent, but if you scan the help-wanted section, you'll find a high-profile opening for a mechanic.

The Detroit Lions need one to fix quarterback Matthew Stafford.

If you really can't teach an old dog new tricks, the Lions need to pick up the pace with Stafford. Four years into his NFL career, the book on Stafford hasn't changed. He's an elite talent with mechanical issues, relying on his plus-arm strength to make up for shoddy footwork, poor arm angles and questionable decision-making.

The University of Georgia product is hardly the first upper-echelon talent to eschew the attention to detail which sets quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady apart.

Former head coach Jim Schwartz made a lot of mistakes in Detroit, but perhaps the most perplexing of all was enabling Stafford's distorted view of his own fundamentals.

A high school kid entering his second week at the position could watch Stafford's five arm angles a week, including his awful Chad Bradford impression, and come to the quick conclusion that cleaning things up would probably be a better way to succeed.

Not Stafford.

"(I'm) very comfortable with my mechanics. I feel good about them," Stafford told WXYT in Detroit earlier this season after losing to Arizona.

To their credit, the hosts on that show, Mike Valenti and Terry Foster, didn't snicker when hearing the denial, but did press Stafford about his inordinate amount of sidearm throws each week.

"I really don't feel like it's too much different, to tell you the truth. I'm just trying to make the plays that are there," Stafford said. "I feel like I probably threw two balls sidearm and I think both of them were complete. If that's a problem, then I don't really know what to tell you."

We have all been in a room with people who are so far gone they can't see the forest for the trees, and that's Stafford.

After all, we are talking about a man who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, a player that despite all the aforementioned deficiencies threw for 4,650 yards in 2013 -- his third consecutive season with at least 4,500 -- and surpassed Hall of Famer Bobby Layne for the most passing yards in franchise history.

And, oh yeah, he signed a three-year, $53 million extension with $41.5 million in guaranteed money last July.

In other words, Stafford has a few reasons to swagger in and out of any room.

Things have been working out pretty well for Stafford, but this isn't about being better than the majority of quarterbacks in the NFL, it's about being in the same rarified air as players like Manning, Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.

You can make a very strong argument that Stafford has a better baseline skill- set than each of those quarterbacks with the possible exception of Rodgers, yet it would be folly to compare him as a player to any of them.

And that's where the Lions' next head coach comes in.

NFL.com reported that ex-Indianapolis coach and current Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell impressed the Lions' braintrust by sitting down with Stafford during his recent interview.

"Honestly, it was just he and I sitting down and talking," Stafford said. "He told me he watched basically every play of our season. He picked my brain about our team, and I picked his about his philosophy in coaching and all that kind of stuff."

Much is made of the exhaustive interview process NFL teams go through with potential head-coaching candidates, but Detroit can really boil it down to two issues: who can fix Stafford, and, more importantly, who has enough cachet to tell Stafford he needs fixing?

Perhaps that's what Lions GM Martin Mayhew was trying to ascertain by having his QB get involved with the process.

"It's something, however much they ask me to be a part of it, I'll be a part of it," Stafford said. "I'm not knocking on the door. I'm sure I'll have some involvement in (hiring a head coach)."

This is being well-played by Mayhew. He's keeping Stafford engaged while searching for a personality who can handle the talented 25-year-old.

On the football side of things, Caldwell has a history with Manning and Joe Flacco while the other perceived leading candidate, former Cardinals coach and current San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, has done solid things with Kurt Warner and Philip Rivers.

From the outside, looking in Whisenhunt gets the slight edge. Manning can coach himself and more than a few argue he does, while Flacco had a short spike under Caldwell in 2012 en route to the Super Bowl before flatlining a bit this year. Conversely, Whisenhunt rehabilitated Warner after his disastrous New York stint and would have Rivers in the MVP conversation this season if Manning didn't exist.

In the end, though, the Lions should just pick the best mechanic.

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