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Coach Killers, Week 15: About Matthew Stafford, franchise QB

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com


Matthew Stafford, now in his fifth season, still struggles with consistency. (USATSI)

Coach Killers is your weekly look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that put the guy in charge squarely on the ol' hot seat. Questions, comments, casserole ideas? Hit us up on Twitter at @ryanwilson_07.

Matthew Stafford, QB - Lions

On Sunday morning, the Lions were in first place in the NFC North, fully in control of their playoff destiny. With a Monday night matchup against a Ravens team that has struggled to score points, followed by games with the lowly Giants and Vikings, it wasn't a stretch to think that Detroit would be returning to the postseason for the second time in three seasons.

By late Monday night, right around the time Justin Tucker's game-winning 61-yard field goal was scraping the paint off the back of the crossbar, we were all reminded that these are still the Lions. A franchise Matt Millen spent nearly a decade destroying, and that hasn't won a playoff game since the 1991 season.

In April 2009, on the heels of Millen's swan song, an 0-16 season, the Lions took Matthew Stafford with the first-overall pick. In subsequent years, the organization has surrounded him with playmakers on both sides of the ball, and in 2011, the team made the playoffs with a 10-6 record. But disappointing four- and seven-win efforts the last two seasons led to talk of underachievement, particularly with the franchise quarterback.

So when Detroit headed into Monday night's game with a 7-6 record and a slight lead in the division, it was an opportunity for Stafford to quiet his critics on national television. By the time it was over, Stafford was 18-of-34 for 235 yards with one touchdown and three second-half interceptions. And the loss not only dropped the Lions out of the NFC North lead, they fell to third in the division thanks to the Packers' comeback win over the Cowboys, and the Bears' victory over the Browns. Detroit is now ninth in the playoff race.

Stafford isn't solely responsible for the loss -- Calvin Johnson had two big drops and the Lions' pass rush was a no-show for most of the night -- but he looked nothing like the guy worthy of the contract extension he signed this offseason.

And like most criticisms of Stafford's game, it comes down to decision making and mechanics.

“A lot of those balls, a lot of those interceptions are the receivers' fault, or like I said they get tipped balls, stuff like that,” Johnson said, trying to deflect blame from the franchise QB (via the Detroit Free Press). “Matt's doing good, man. Like I said, it's on us. It's a team effort. Like I said, I could have had some more plays today that could have changed the outcome of the game, so we can't just put it on Matt.”

Except we can.

Early in the fourth quarter with the Lions trailing 12-10, Stafford thought this was a good idea:

And it's every bit as bad as it looks:

- Sidearm pass. Check.
- Heavy traffic. Check.
- Linebacker staring right at you. Check.
- Receiver with no real chance to even get a hand on the pass. Check.

It got worse. On the Lions' final possession, trailing 18-16 with 38 seconds on the clock and having all three timeouts, Stafford rushed his very first throw and that, too, was intercepted.

Ball game.

And that led to this poor sap becoming the unwitting face of the Lions' season.

"Some of the stuff that happened to us was just kind of self-inflicted,” Stafford said.

That's one way of putting it. Coach Jim Schwartz tried to take the glass-half-full approach.

“I like the character of our team, I like the toughness of our team, and I like our quarterback,” he said. “Our quarterback will bounce back. He's going to play great over these next two games.”

He's going to have to be. And that's still no guarantee the Lions backdoor their way into the playoffs.

Cowboys, top to bottom

Yep, it's hard for us to watch, too, Tony. (USATSI)
Some people called Sunday's loss to the Packers one of the worst in Cowboys history. Wherever the latest predictable fourth-quarter collapse ranks on your list of predictable fourth-quarter collapses, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Tuesday that the defense went into the game working under the assumpition that Green Bay's offense was unstoppable. Even with Matt Flynn, who has been released three times since last season, starting for Aaron Rodgers.

Unless Jones is hoping reverse psychology works on his team, this is the worst admission ever.

“We weren't going to count on getting any stops as we went into the ballgame," he told 105.3 The Fan. "That's not being negative, that's just a strategy. As the game unfolded and we got a lead and we were stopping them, then we adjusted. What happened when we came back out frankly, we probably had to be shown that they were going to be able to score almost at will -- which they were in the second half.”

So, yeah, this is the worst admission ever.

The Cowboys went into Sunday's game -- at home and with playoff implications on the line --thinking they had not chance to stop Matt Flynn. No defensive game plan in the history of tackle football has ever started from that premise when Flynn was the opposing quarterback.

Jones conceded that the Cowboys' defense has been so decimated by injuries and that led to the "We ain't slowin' up Flynn!" reasoning. He also explained that he had no issue with the Cowboys taking risks late in the game.

"Make no mistake, with where we our with our personnel (defensively), we're going to have to take risks," Jones said. ... "With us not being able to stop them, we didn't want to give them the ball back. Frankly, when they would score, I wanted to answer them. I was for the aggressiveness that we showed in the half."

Of course, that aggressiveness led to two Tony Romo fourth-quarter interceptions that nearly broke Twitter. We're firmly in the "Romo's no choker" camp and Will Brinson revisited the topic this week.

(And, yes, I fully get that when you're constantly writing "Romo really isn't this bad" stories it probably doesn't support the point that, you know, he's not really this bad.)

If you somehow missed how Romo did his part to will the Cowboys to another loss -- or if you're just looking to relive it one more time -- here's the breakdown of those last two interceptions.

The first pick came with the Cowboys leading 36-31 and with three minutes left in the game. All they had to do -- despite Jones' after-the-fact talking points about being aggressive -- was run the ball. (DeMarco Murray had 134 rushing yards on 18 carries on the day. That works out to 7.5 yards per carry.) Instead, on a 2nd-and-6 from the Cowboys' 35-yard line, Romo tried to find Miles Austin across the middle of the field.

Debilitating interception No. 1

But there's more to this play than a scrambling, stumbling, bumbling Romo heaving a pass in Austin's general direction. After the game, coach Jason Garrett pointed out that while a run play was originally called, Romo had the option to throw a "smoke" or "flash" route. ESPN's Tim Hasselbeck explained exactly what that meant during Monday' NFL PrimeTime.

"[Romo's] not audibling, he's not changing the play because it was the call. He's deciding that 'I'm throwing the flash' based on the [defensive] look. Now what he has to remember ... because they're running the run play, and they're not pass protecting, [Romo] can only take one (step to quickly throw the) slant. Because tight end Gavin Escobar is the guy that's accounting for Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.

"Romo has to understand that he has to navigate Clay Matthews. If the ball doesn't come out after Romo's first step, you have no chance for the play to succeed whatsoever."

Romo should have just given the ball to Murray. Problem solved. (USATSI)

And that's exactly what happened.

After the Packers scored to take a 37-36 lead, Romo threw his final pick, this one intended for Cole Beasley.

Debilitating interception No. 2

The explanation, this time courtesy of former NFL head coach NBC Sports' Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison, former NFL safety:

"The Cowboys only need a field goal to win," Dungy said. "Beasley is going to run an option route, and the coverage dictated that he sit (the route) down. It's just miscommunication."

"Beasley sees cornerback (Tramon Williams on the outside) so he's supposed to sit down (between the two cornerbacks)," Harrison adds. "But Romo thinks Beasley's running an out right. The Packers drop eight players into coverage.

"That's Tony Romo's fault," Harrison continues. "Beasley did exactly what he was supposed to do. It's an option route. If you see a cornerback on the outside, you sit down and you wait on the ball."

Romo's second interception officially sealed Dallas' fate. (USATSI)

Beasley's still waiting.

 
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