Cosell Fantasy Film: Matthew Stafford - 2019


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Cosell Fantasy Film: Matthew Stafford - 2019

In this series of articles, our resident tape wizard Greg Cosell will take an in-depth look at some of the more interesting fantasy players for the 2020 NFL season. It’s a peek behind the curtain of the film room, as these are Greg’s raw, unfiltered notes he takes as he watches a player.

One of the more underreported stories of the 2019 NFL season was that, before a back injury ended his campaign prematurely, Lions QB Matthew Stafford was in the midst of a career year. Stafford missed eight games, the first action he’s missed since the 2010 season.

Hopefully the extended time off allowed him to heal up and get ready for his second season in OC Darrell Bevell’s system, which was a refreshing, aggressive change from Jim Bob Cooter’s ill-suited attack.

Let’s check the tape and see how Stafford fared before the back injury unfortunately cut his season short.

I focused on two areas for this study — all of Stafford’s third-down snaps, and all of his 20-plus-yard completions. The study will focus on Stafford’s traits and also some of the tendencies Bevell showed to take advantage of them.

Stafford’s Traits

  • Not many NFL quarterbacks have Stafford’s throwing talent. He is a high-level passer who can make every throw, with the ability to make special throws in any game.

  • Stafford has excellent second reaction ability. He has plus athleticism with good vision downfield and the throwing talent to make any throw off movement.

  • Stafford also has the mobility to get first downs with scrambles. He is tough and competitive.

  • Stafford has always had the arm strength to sit on his back foot in the pocket and drive the ball with velocity at the intermediate and deeper levels.

  • Stafford is capable of making excellent throws under pressure. He made some outstanding throws to beat free rushers.

  • Stafford throws the ball well between the numbers at the intermediate levels of the defense. He is an excellent seam thrower — Stafford can drive the ball with velocity and he can make the firm touch throw that is demanded on inside seams.

  • While Stafford has shown excellent functional mobility and is a better athlete than people think he is, at his core he is a pocket QB who is willing to work through progressions late in the down.

  • Stafford can navigate the pocket and both reset his feet and deliver the ball.

  • Stafford can throw from different arm angles when demanded.

  • Stafford has always been capable of “wow” throws. He has a strong power arm and he can throw with touch and pace. Stafford is a pristine example of the term “arm talent.”

  • Stafford, as a veteran QB, showed a good feel for moving the secondary and using subtle moves like shoulder rolls to manipulate zone coverage.

Third-Down Scheme Observations

  • Stafford third-down stats: 53/83 (63.9%), 739 yards (8.9 YPA), 6 TD, 0 INT
  • The Lions featured hi-lo concepts on third down. It was a staple concept from different personnel groupings and formations.
  • Empty sets were also part of the Lions’ third-down packages. They featured empty out of 11 and multiple TE personnel.
  • In Week 1, the Cardinals played high percentage man coverage on third down against Stafford and the Lions, including snaps of zero blitz. They also featured double mug fronts.
  • A 27-yard completion to WR Marvin Jones on third-and-4 against the Eagles, with the Eagles zero blitzing, was a fantastic example of Stafford making a big-time throw to beat a free rusher under pressure.
  • The Lions featured five-man protections on third down. They clearly wanted to get all five eligible receivers into routes – empty sets were a critical part of this approach.
  • One concept the Lions featured on third down out of empty against zone coverage was “All Glance,” with Stafford given quick-game throws to the inside slots against off coverage zone defenders.
  • The opponent dictated the Lions’ protection schemes. The Lions ran more six- and seven-man protection concepts against defenses that featured “amoeba” and movement front looks, and/or those that had higher third-down blitz tendencies.
  • What consistently stood out was the Lions’ offensive line struggled with one-on-one pass protection on third down.
  • The Lions ran many of the same route concepts that you see throughout the NFL — mesh, levels, dagger, etc. “Dagger” can come out of both 2x2 and 3x1 sets, or empty, and is effective against zone coverage, particularly Cover 3 and Cover 4.
  • Trips bunch was a featured part of the Lions’ 3x1 sets out of 11 personnel on third down. In fact, the Lions at times featured 4x1 sets out of empty with a bunch as a part of that receiver distribution.
  • TE TJ Hockenson was at times used as the boundary X on the backside of trips out of 11 personnel – I think Hockenson has the receiving traits to line up at boundary X and be effective. He can win one-on-one matchups against linebackers and safeties.

Observations from All Stafford 20+-Yard Completions

  • Stafford had 41 completions of 20 or more yards in just eight games. Continuing at that pace for a full season, he would have led the league.
  • The Lions’ coaching staff showed some excellent pass-game concepts on first and second downs. They did a good job with personnel, formations, and motion.
  • Marvin Jones was predominantly the movement Z in the Lions’ offense, with Kenny Golladay predominantly the X. WR Danny Amendola was also used as a movement receiver.
  • Lions OC Darrell Bevell featured multiple hi-lo concepts both inside and outside the numbers to attack zone coverage.
  • Overall, the Lions did a good job creating explosive pass plays on first-and-10 out of base personnel off play action. Bevell had a good feel for the opponents’ base zone coverages and how to attack and defeat them – I saw some excellent Cover 4 and Cover 3 beater route concepts.
  • The Lions had good success, especially in normal down-and-distance situations, with reduced splits. They resulted in free access off the ball and at times caused some communication issues in zone coverage.
  • The Lions featured snaps of 21 personnel, including lining up in the straight I formation. Play action was featured out of that personnel and formation – overall, play action was a significant part of the Lions’ first-down pass game.
  • RB Kerryon Johnson was used effectively in the screen game – the Lions featured a multiple screen game.
  • TJ Hockenson’s first career reception — a 28-yarder against the Cards in Week 1 — came out of 12 personnel 2x2 reduced splits, with Stafford under center and an I back. It was a basic quarters beater concept with Hockenson from #2 to the field running the out route underneath a vertical release by #1 Kenny Golladay. It was a base-personnel concept against a base defense.
  • Hockenson’s next reception — a 39-yarder on first-and-10 against the Cards — came on a well-designed concept out of 12 personnel with twins to the field and closed to the boundary. The wrinkle was Hockenson was aligned in the backfield and ran his crosser through the line-of-scrimmage – it was great design off pistol play action, with Hockenson looking like he was the lead blocker on an inside run play.
  • A 21-yard completion to Marvin Jones in overtime against the Cards came on a backside dig off a frontside read for Stafford. It was the same frontside concept that produced Hockenson’s 28-yard reception earlier in the same game (same 12 personnel, same reduced formation), but the coverage was different (it was Cover 3) so Stafford came to the backside.
  • The Lions featured well-designed pass game concepts off of play action out of 12 personnel against the Cards in Week 1. That produced all but one of their 20+-yard pass plays in the game.
  • A JD McKissic 26-yard TD against the Raiders was a good example of a well-designed three-man route concept to the field that attacked and broke down Cover 3, isolating the field stacked LB and winning the leverage game.
  • Two more big-time throws Stafford made: a Golladay 31-yard TD against the Chargers on a post route against Cover 1 robber, and a 59-yard TD for Golladay against the Raiders.
  • WR Marvin Hall’s 58-yard reception against the Packers was an excellent example of how motion created leverage on the corner Jaire Alexander and allowed Hall to release inside with free access on his deep sail route.
  • In addition to the one against the Packers, Stafford made more big-time throws to Hall on deep sail routes, both out of reduced splits and off motion — 47 yards against the Vikings, and a 49-yard TD against the Giants.

One of the preeminent NFL analysts in the country, Cosell has worked for NFL Films for over 40 years. Due to his vast knowledge of personnel and matchups based on tape study, Cosell regularly supplies us with valuable and actionable insight and intelligence that cannot be found anywhere else.