Thanksgiving Day was not pretty for Matthew Stafford and the Lions. With the game tied at 16 and six minutes remaining, Stafford had the opportunity to drive his team down the field and earn a much-needed win against one of the best teams in the NFC. Two interceptions later, including a pick-6, and the Lions had lost an opportunity to keep themselves in the thick of the playoff race.
Stafford wasn’t fooled on either interception. On the pick-6, the Bears brought an inside blitz, which the Lions had the numbers and ability to pick up. Behind it, they played man coverage. The blitz and matchups are illustrated below.
Stafford recognized the man coverage. Given the route combination (illustrated below) and safety Eddie Jackson’s depth, Stafford thought his tight end, Michael Roberts, had Jackson outflanked to the flat.
Stafford was a bit late delivering the ball. Jackson did a great job of closing quickly, fighting through traffic, and undercutting the route for the go-ahead pick-6.
There are misreads where a quarterback is fooled by coverage. There are also misreads where the quarterback miscalculates depth, leverage, and the relationship of defenders to his receivers. This was the latter. And it’s the type of misread you see most often from Stafford.
Stafford’s second interception, which ended the game, came on a play where he put too much faith in his receiver. Once again, the target was tight end Michael Roberts.
As shown below, the Lions were in the red zone with the opportunity to tie the game late. They aligned in a closed 3×1 set. Stafford saw Bears Cornerback Kyle Fuller aligned to the closed side.
Stafford clearly liked the 1-on-1 matchup to that side between his tight end and Fuller. Roberts is listed at 6’5”, 265 lbs, while Kyle Fuller is 5’11”, 190 lbs. Stafford viewed this as a physical mismatch. Watch how the play unfolded, though.
You can’t really blame Stafford for the decision, given the 1-on-1 opportunity and the size mismatch. But Roberts isn’t a receiver with ball skills like Calvin Johnson. He is a big-bodied tight end who moves like one.
With that being the case, the ball has to be put on him so he can have a chance to use his body to his advantage. You can’t rely on him to track down and make a play on the ball against a more athletic cornerback. Not to mention, Fuller was clearly playing over top of Roberts. That ball needed to be thrown shallower and more to the outside.
Maybe the ball just came out of Stafford’s hand wrong. Maybe he expected Roberts to get deeper in the end zone and not flatten his route so much. Regardless, it was the wrong type of throw to beat the coverage.
Stafford is still a very good quarterback that the Lions can win with. His struggles can often be attributed to putting too much faith in his arm. Part of his 2018 struggles can no doubt be attributed to losing Golden Tate halfway through the season. The Lions took away one of his key weapons and safety blankets and then asked him to throw the ball more.
The Lions started the season 3-3 and looked like they had started to develop a decent running game. Since then, they have become less and less balanced on offense. Injuries have played a major role here. Sometimes the score has dictated this approach as well. Still, losing four of their last five games is not a coincidence. The Lions Offense needs to try and head back in the direction they appeared to be going earlier in the season.