Only two men in the NFL have thrown more touchdown passes than Detroit's Matthew Stafford this season and their names are Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. That's a pretty good quarterback story even if few people in these parts are talking about it as the Eagles prepare for Sunday's big game with the Lions at Lincoln Financial Field.
Eleven minutes passed Wednesday during a conference call with Philadelphia reporters before Detroit coach Jim Schwartz finally received his first question about Stafford. By that point, the coach had answered questions about Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, the Lions' receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, and kicker (David Akers). When the subject finally got around to Stafford, Schwartz offered some complimentary commentary, but the coach hardly gushed about the work of his fifth-year quarterback.
"Seven and five," is how Schwartz described Stafford's play so far this season, offering the Lions' record as the most important section of his quarterback's resumé. "That's the number-one thing when you talk about a quarterback. However you do it, your number-one job is to find a way to win the game. It's not about stats. It's about finding a way to win games, and we've been good enough to win seven games and be in first place in the NFC North."
The one and only question asked of Schwartz about Stafford was one more than Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis received before practice Tuesday. The 25-year-old quarterback may not be the headliner on a Lions offense that includes the world's greatest receiver in Calvin Johnson and one of the league's shiftiest running backs in Reggie Bush, but he still is a potential headache for the Eagles.
"He reminds me of Brett Favre," Eagles cornerback Cary Williams said. "He's a gunslinger . . . a guy who is fearless and a guy who can get it in there with tight windows. He takes chances, and when he makes mistakes he's not afraid to go at you again. I think he's a tremendous player. He's proven it year in and year out in this league."
The comparison to Favre is a good one because Stafford has a big arm and he's not afraid to use it. Like Favre, he is also prone to throwing interceptions. He has been picked off 14 times this season to go along with his 27 touchdowns. He has also fumbled seven times, losing three of them to account for 17 total turnovers. Only four other quarterbacks in the NFL have accounted for more turnovers, so that could be the weakness the Eagles must exploit in order to win Sunday.
No quarterback has thrown more times than Stafford. He has completed 296 of 500 passes for 3,825 yards. And no other quarterback has Johnson as a target. Risky throws to a superior 6-foot-5, 239-pound athlete nicknamed Megatron probably don't seem quite as risky.
"I don't know if [the Favre comparison] is accurate," Stafford said. "I mean, Brett Favre is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play. He definitely had an attitude about him that he's an aggressive player and I feel that way about myself as well. But at the same time, I'm trying to make as many good decisions as I possibly can. We have an aggressive offense, we're an aggressive team, and I understand that, but I also have to play within the offense and make sure I make good decisions."
Stafford is definitely good at making quick decisions. Despite his league-high 500 pass attempts, he has been sacked only 15 times, which is tied with Peyton Manning for the lowest total by any quarterback who has started every game this season.
When Eagles coach Chip Kelly was asked if that was a tribute to the Lions' young offensive line, he took the opportunity to compliment the quarterback with big numbers whom nobody seems to want to talk about.
"I think a lot of the sacks . . . are on your quarterback and a lot of not getting sacks are on your quarterback, too," Kelly said. "And the one thing with Matt Stafford is how quickly he gets the ball out of his hands. He's got one of the quickest triggers in the league. He's got a great understanding of what they're doing. He knows where his receivers are. I don't know why he doesn't get enough credit. I think he's one of the top quarterbacks in the league."
You could tell by his tone that Kelly wasn't just blowing smoke for the sake of making his next opponent feel good. He knows the Eagles are about to face a team with some of the best offensive weapons in the league, and he also knows that Matthew Stafford is quite capable of running a search-and-destroy mission.