Air and Space: Stafford's short season

Though it's a small sample size, Matthew Stafford has produced encouraging statistics this season. Jerry Lai/US Presswire

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford might miss the rest of the season because of a shoulder injury. He could return in a few weeks. No one seems to know for certain yet.

With relative certainty, however, I think it's safe to assume we're not going to see what we most wanted from Stafford this season: A long stretch of uninterrupted starts. More than anything, continuity seemed critical to get a better handle on what he can do and how much he has developed.

Absent that, what can we make of the small sample size he has thus far provided? After 96 attempted passes over three starts, here some thoughts and statistical observations:*

  • Stafford has been exceedingly cautious from a downfield perspective. Almost 80 percent of his passes (76 of 96) and 93 percent of his completions (52 of 57) have traveled 10 or less yards in the air. Only one of his passes have been completed for 30 or more yards. But within that short-range frame, Stafford has been highly successful. He has completed 52 of those 76 short passes for 463 yards and six touchdowns, good for a 110.8 passer rating that ranks No. 1 in the NFL through that filter.

  • In part because he has gotten the ball out quickly, Stafford has the NFL's best passer rating against the blitz. Against five or more pass rushers, he has completed 18 of 28 passes for four touchdowns. He's taken two sacks, but they don't count against his 119.2 passer in these situations. That rating ranks first in the NFL among qualifiers.

  • Stafford has also been cool in clutch situations. His fourth-quarter passer rating of 109.9 ranks No. 2 in the NFL, while his third-down rating of 104.4 ranks No. 6.

  • For the most part, Stafford has stayed in the pocket and worked the middle of the field. Of his 96 passes, only eight have come outside of the pocket. Seven of them were incomplete. About 60 percent of his attempts have gone to receivers who were somewhere between the numbers on the field. Stafford's 125.6 passer rating on those passes ranks No. 1 in the NFL.

(*As usual, credit for these numbers goes to ESPN Stats & Information.)

It's important to reiterate that Stafford's statistics are a relatively small sample size when compared to other quarterbacks. But that shouldn't diminish what seems to be the beginnings of the second-year leap the Lions were hoping for. Over time, I'm sure the Lions will want Stafford to be more aggressive, both downfield and to the sidelines. But after he threw 20 interceptions in 10 starts as a rookie, I don't think anyone is complaining about a few extra check-downs in Year 2.

Of course, none of these numbers will be relevant if Stafford doesn't move past his injury issues. I have no idea how a quarterback can avoid getting hurt, but Stafford is going to have to find a way or the rest won't matter.