Detroit Lions quarterback and former No. 1 overall draft pick Matthew Stafford is by no means a bust. But after another disappointing performance Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens, it's fair to start wondering if Stafford might simply never live up to expectations as a franchise quarterback in the Motor City.
After tossing three picks in the second half of a crushing loss to the Ravens, Stafford has now thrown at least 16 interceptions in three consecutive seasons right as he enters his prime. His current total of 17 is three short of the career-high he set as a rookie in 2009.
The guy is 25 years old and has the best wide receiver in the game at his disposal. In fact, Calvin Johnson might wind up as the best wideout in NFL history. But Stafford's passer rating of 85.8 ranks 20th in the league, behind Carson Palmer and just half a point up on Buccaneers rookie Mike Glennon.
In years past, you could point to the lack of a running game, a bad defense or poor pass protection. Those were the common excuses, anyway. But what now?
A lack of balance isn't the problem, because Reggie Bush and Joique Bell have made up one hell of a duo in the Detroit backfield. Those two lead a ground attack that is averaging a solid 113 rushing yards per game and 4.1 yards per carry. They've both also been stellar options on screens and underneath routes as wide receivers, complementing Calvin Johnson in the passing game.
The defense hasn't been exceptional, but 24.2 points allowed per game isn't crippling. In fact, it's as close to the league average as you can get. Peyton Manning and Nick Foles have had it a lot worse in that area, and yet those two are the league's No. 1 and No. 2 rated passers.
By all indications, this is the most support Stafford has ever received from his running game and his defense. And get this: According to Pro Football Focus, he's the league's third-least-pressured qualifying quarterback.
Remember the days when Stafford was constantly being harassed? It's a big reason why he missed a large portion of the 2010 season. But he's been under pressure on only 28.3 percent of his dropbacks this year. And, per PFF, Detroit has the third-most efficient pass-blocking offensive line in the game.
This didn't happen overnight. It's actually the third straight year in which Stafford has been well protected. The line has changed a fair bit, but the protection has been good for some time, and it's extremely strong right now.
It's not as though Stafford is bad under pressure anyway, and he's fairly accurate on deep balls — he's got 11 touchdowns and only two picks on passes that travel 20 yards or more, per PFF — but he's just ordinary too often, and he makes far too many mistakes.
And those mistakes are coming at inopportune times, which is far from ideal when you're supposed to be an elite quarterback — something that is expected of first overall picks in their fifth season. Stafford's passer rating is just 80.3 in the fourth quarter of games that are within seven points, and his completion percentage in such situations is just 54.1. With Megatron and Bush on the field, that just isn't cool.
The Lions won't be giving up on Stafford anytime soon — not after handing him a five-years, $76.5 million contract in the offseason — but you do have to wonder if they're thinking twice about that early extension, and you definitely have to suspect that maybe the kid just doesn't have what it takes to rise to the next level.
I know, he's only 25 years old. But in 2013, the NFL doesn't wait very long for passers to endure growing pains.