Do The Detroit Lions Have A Plan B Behind Matthew Stafford?
By Scott McMahon
I grew up in St. Louis as a Rams fan and was nine years old when Kurt Warner miraculously led my hometown team to their only Super Bowl title. I didn’t know much about many players at the time, but had heard enough about Trent Green’s arrival in St. Louis to know that his season-ending knee injury in the preseason of 1999 was a big blow to the team’s chances at success – so much so that coach Dick Vermeil cried at the press conference in which he stated that the Rams “would rally behind Kurt Warner, and…play good football.”
Fast-forward six months from Vermeil’s emotional press conference and you would have been hard-pressed to find any kid without a piece of Rams or Warner memorabilia. Warner had supplanted Green –a St. Louis native – as the team’s starting quarterback and was able to hang onto the job long enough to reach another Super Bowl and win a league MVP award.
You may be wondering what Warner’s rags-to-riches story has to do with Matthew Stafford and the 2014 Detroit Lions?
Stafford may not have been brought in as a free agent expected to immediately turn around a losing franchise (he was the No. 1 overall pick five years ago), but like Green in St. Louis in 1999, the 2014 Lions have been designed explicitly for Stafford to succeed. When the unthinkable happened and Green tore his ACL in the preseason, just about everyone in St. Louis wrote the 1999 season off as a wash. However, Warner stepped up and led his team to a Super Bowl title. With such high expectations in Detroit for this year's offense, would the Lions be able to rally around their second-string quarterback and play good football if something were to happen to Stafford?
The two prime candidates are Dan Orlovsky, now in his tenth NFL season (primarily as a backup) and Kellen Moore, a second-year pro out of Boise State who set an unofficial NCAA record for most wins as a starter. James Franklin, a rookie out of Missouri, has also been mentioned as a possible candidate for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart, but has not seen any playing time in the preseason.
Orlovsky is back in Detroit after playing for three teams between 2009 and 2014. Fans in Detroit may remember Orlovsky as a seven-game starter for the 0-16 team in 2008 and for executing the most emblematic play of the Lions entire winless season. While under pressure in his own end zone, Orlovsky scrambled out of the back of the end zone for a safety, but continued to scramble out of bounds in search of an open receiver.
But it’s 2014 now and it seems like Orlovsky has begun to pull away from the pack in the backup quarterback competition. If Stafford were to suffer a major injury and miss time, the Lions would likely turn to Orlovsky under center. Doing so would put a quarterback with a lifetime starting record of 2-10, a career average of 122.1 passing yards and a 14:12 touchdown-to-interception ratio at the helm – a far cry from the 286.2 yards per game and the nearly 3:2 TD-INT ratio that Stafford has accumulated in his five years. Orlovsky also ranks below-average in just about every advanced quarterback metric, including sack percentage index, interception percentage index and touchdown percentage index, according to Pro Football Reference. Stafford hasn’t exactly put up Peyton Manning-like numbers in those metrics, but he has ranked average to above-average in most categories throughout his five seasons.
If the Lions went with Moore instead, they would be inserting a guy who has never played a snap in an NFL regular season game. The biggest knock on Moore is that his size does not lend itself to very good arm strength, however, Moore does make up for that with above-average accuracy with his throws. Another factor working against Moore is the style of offense that he ran in college. Moore excelled under Chris Petersen’s offense at Boise State in part because it focused on exploiting defensive weaknesses and maximizing offensive output in lieu of five-star talent. In the NFL, Moore would be facing better, faster and smarter defenses than those he faced in the Western Athletic Conference, where finesse and deception were able to thrive. Throwing him into a game against the likes of Jared Allen, Julius Peppers and Mario Williams would be far different than facing Fresno State, Hawaii and New Mexico State.
The bottom line is that if Stafford goes down for an extended period of time, the Lions’ offense will be in trouble. Orlovsky and Moore may be able to eke out a few wins between them, but don’t expect either quarterback to pull a Kurt Warner. Orlovsky has been around long enough and has played enough games in the NFL for opposing coordinators and defenses to know his strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, Moore has the same inexperience going for him just like Warner did, but does not look to have the tools that Warner had upon taking over the Rams’ starting job. In the event of a long-term injury to their star quarterback, odds are that even with the tools that the Lions’ offense contains, the team may start looking toward 2015.
Detroit’s offense has been designed for Stafford to succeed and lead this team to victory -- not Orlovsky or Moore. With that said, no one gave Warner much of a chance in St. Louis and he responded by winning a Super Bowl ring. So clearly, nothing is out of the realm of possibility.
If you’re a Lions fan, though, pray the 2014 season doesn’t have to come down to a miracle season from a backup quarterback.