Non-Quarterback Driven League: It’s Not Matthew Stafford’s Fault Anymore

Part of being a sports fan from Michigan is having the privilege of partaking in never ending, boozy shouting matches around whether or not Matthew Stafford is good at football, and if the Lions will ever win anything with him as their quarterback. The answer? Hot take alert–it depends…

Fact: The Lions have never saddled Stafford with a running game ranking higher than 17th in the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE in rushing yards per game. Another fact: The best defense Stafford played with was in 2011 in Ndamukong Suh’s final year with Detroit where they ranked 2nd in yards allowed per game, and 3rd in points allowed per game. The point: Without having at least one of these to accompany the right quarterback, it’s highly unlikely that any franchise will win any playoff games—let alone a Super Bowl–no matter how good the quarterback is. In order to prove this to myself, my stupid friends, and because I have no life, I charted out the careers of all the “elite”, “top tier” quarterbacks that are assumed to be ahead of Stafford due to their playoff success as follows:

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2014 2015 2016 2017
Season Result Lost Wildcard Missed Playoffs Lost Wildcard Missed Playoffs
Matthew Stafford QB rating 85.7 97 93.3 99.3
NFL Rushing Rank 28 32 30 32
Rushing Yd/gm 89 83 82 76
NFL Def Yds/gm rank 2 18 18 27
NFL Def Pts/gm rank 3 23 13 21


*All stats via,, and

The question: How many quarterbacks have playoff wins without having 1) an above average running game, and/or 2) an above average defense? For “above average” I’m labeling anything ranking in the top 10 as such. Let’s go one by one to see if winning playoffs games is the right barometer to use when judging Stafford, or anyone else for that matter. We’ll start off with a man that’s a consensus elite…

Butch Dill/Associated Press

Butch Dill/Associated Press

Drew Brees

Now, I love Drew Brees and would never argue that Stafford is on his level. But, guess how many playoff wins he has sans a running game and/or defense–uno. That’s right. One. And that came in 2006 when they slighted Jeff Garcia’s Eagles (yes, I forgot he played for them too) 27-24 at home in the Divisional round before losing the NFC title game in Chicago. Technically, they ranked outside the top 10 in rushing, but did have Deuce McAllister (who ran for 143 yards in that win over Philly) and Reggie Bush in his rookie season who Brees basically used in short the passing game to substitute the run. Needless to say, Brees had plenty of help from his running backs that year.

The next time Brees had any playoff wins, he was flanked with the 6th ranked rushing attack featuring Pierre Thomas, Bush, and Mike Bell in 2009’s Super Bowl winning team. His next two playoff victories… A wildcard round game at home against an intensely shitty Lions team in 2011 when–again–they boasted another 6th ranked, three-headed rushing attack of Thomas, Darren Sproles, and Chris Ivory. Eventually, this team went on to a devastating loss at San Francisco the following week in the NFC Title game courtesy of an Alex “Small Hands” Smith 14 yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis with nine seconds remaining.

got it

Is it sad or awesome that I have an excel? To quote the late great Dean Keaton, “a bit of both”…

Two seasons later in 2013, another wildcard win 26-24–this time off a last second field goal, on the road at Philly against Nick Foles: Part I, when somehow Rob Ryan coached up a top five defense one season after the ridiculous bounty gate suspensions took place. After that, a very Lion-esque three year stretch mired in mediocrity with bad Rob Ryan defenses, an average to below average running game, and whadya know… zero trips to the playoffs. Not that I take QB rating as some crucible of truth, but it’s fairly obvious Brees’s play over this stretch remained at a high level.


Hmm, average running game with bad defenses, and no playoffs–weird…

Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the defense got a career year from defensive end Cameron Jordan, added a stud in first rounder Marshon Lattimore to their secondary, and the offense a had revelation in another rookie Alvin Kamara whose impact rivaled what Leo DiCaprio’s arrival did for Django Unchained, that Brees was able to win again in the post season this past year. Even an undeniable, elite level quarterback like Brees clearly needs help to win anything that matters. But, let’s not stop there. What about another celebrated, Super Bowl winning gunslinger like….

Joe Sargent/Getty Images

(Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Ben Roethlisberger

Big Ben’s first five years in the league featured eight playoff wins including both of his Super Bowl rings in 2005, and 2008. You know what else it featured? An elite defense with perennial all-pros like Joey Porter, James Harrison, and Troy Polamalu in their primes. Oh yeah… and a top 10 running game to boot in four of those years. No big deal…

Big Ben..

What the hell happened in 07′?….

Over the next five seasons, Roethlisberger netted just two playoff wins–both coming on the way to their 2010 Super Bowl loss to A-a-ron and the Packers. Once again, that year Big Ben was accompanied by arguably the best defense in football led by AP Defensive Player Of The Year Troy Polamalu, and a ground game that churned out 120 yards per contest due to a career year from Rashard Mendenhall. Yes. Rashard Mendenhall was good for a year.

That’s what makes the 2011 result so frustrating if you’re a Steelers fan looking at how dominant their defense was. I’m not sure what’s worse: losing a wildcard game in overtime on a Tim Tebow 20 yard throw over the middle while having a legit Super Bowl team, or being a Lions fan never having hope to begin with…

The past four seasons, Roethlisberger has managed three playoff wins, and I’d argue only one of those victories came with a very average supporting cast in 2015’s 18-16 wildcard win over the the Ginger’s Bengals that doubled as an MMA event. The other two came the following season via a home wildcard beat down on the high flying, Matt Moore Mami Dolphin led attack, and a road divisional round game in Kansas City where the great Roethlisberger basically did nothing except hand the ball to Le’Veon Bell 30 times that night (he ran for 170 yards in that game, 167 against Miami), or just ran the Antonio Brown play.

The only reason they finished outside the top 10 in rushing that season was because Bell spent the first half of the year getting back to full strength recovering from the torn MCL that caused him to miss the previous season’s playoffs. Once Bell got going in late November he was a monster, and there’s no one with a brain who would argue that Ben wasn’t blessed with one of the best play makers in football coming out of the backfield. So, where does it leave us?… One. One playoff win for the wonderful Big Ben without an above average running game, and/or multiple all-pros flying around on defense.


Big Ben – Running Back – All-Pro Defense = Small Ben

Again, this isn’t to discredit Roethlisberger–I think he is a great quarterback, and clearly better than Stafford. It’s simply to point out how much talent is needed around even the right quarterback to beat good teams, and win in the playoffs. And, that this notion of winning playoffs games being the most significant barometer of how we judge whether or not a quarterback is good, is flawed. The right question to be asked: if provided with an above average-elite rushing attack, and/or above average-elite defense–i.e. the requisite talent–is he good enough? To answer that question, let’s examine our next contestant whose fan base collectively started the real #MeToo movement after seeing the two dimensional symbolic combination of 28, hyphen, three on February 5th, 2017…



Matt Ryan

It took Matty Ice five seasons and four playoff appearances until he earned his first elusive playoff win with a 30-28 victory over rookie Russell Wilson (more on him later) at home in the divisional round in 2012. That season, Ryan did not have much of a running game as Michael Turner’s power that season vanished faster than the High Sparrow’s in the season 6 finale of Game Of Thrones which turned out to be the final seasons of both careers. But, he did have Roddy White in the final year of his prime, breakout year two of Julio, and an all-pro at tight end that season in Tony Gonzalez. The defense ranked fifth in scoring, but, like most my matches on tinder, remained very pedestrian. They ultimately puked away a 17-0 lead at home in the NFC title game to one James Joseph Harbaugh and a future GQ Citizen Of The Year who were in the midst of a three year run I still don’t quite understand. Regardless, if you’re scoring at home, so far that puts Ryan in dead lock tie at a whopping one playoff win without a running game and/or defense. Let’s see if the correlation continues over the rest of Ryan’s career…

Matt Ryan

I’m not explaining the color schemes for the excel…

After 2012, the Mike Smith tenure turned (see the fall off in the rankings below) sour, and eventually led to Dan Quinn taking over after the 2014 season. In year two under Quinn with Ryan, offensive coordinator Kyle Shannahan, running backs Dovonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman all in their second season together the offense took off averaging almost 35 points per game. And, surprise surprise–Matt Ryan all of the sudden was winning playoff games!

We all know how it ended, but the point is Ryan could’ve never made it there without the services of Freeman and Coleman. As they proved that season, like other great offenses before them, when you pair that backfield with Julio Jones you don’t even need a defense to control a game. The offense is so overwhelming by itself that it serves the defense by pressuring opponents to just keep up, and play in a way they most likely aren’t comfortable or capable of playing.

Matt or Matthew?...

Matt or Matthew?…

It also answered the right question I posed earlier about quarterbacks in regards to Mr. Ryan. Yes, he’s good enough to win a Super Bowl if provided the requisite talent around him. Which gets me back to Stafford… Do I believe he is as good as Ryan? Yeah, I do. Do I know why we insist on referring to one of them as Matt, and the other as Matthew for their entire careers? No. But, I do know that Ryan and the Falcons are the best example of what’s possible with Stafford and the Lions if they can get him help in the running game, and/or on defense. My preference would be to overload the offensive side, but who am I? Or, you could be like our next quarterback and just have geez… I don’t know… Only the best running game AND defense in the NATIONAL! FOOTBALL! LEAGUE!!!…

Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

(Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images)

Russell Wilson

I love this man, and would never dare mention him and Matthew in the same breath, but Wilson is just starting to taste what life in the NFL is like without all those delicious side dishes to play with. Similar to Roethlisberger, Wilson came into a situation where he was the only missing ingredient on a team with what will likely go down as the best defense of this decade, and Marshawn Lynch in his prime perennially among the top rushers in the league. It’s no coincidence adding Wilson to that mix produced seven playoff wins across his first four seasons including coming within one asinine play call of winning back-back Super Bowls. It’s also no coincidence that once Lynch was out of the equation, and the defense started to age and lose players to injury, all the playoff success started disappearing with them.

(Courtesy: My iPhone)

(Courtesy: My iPhone)

After beating another amazingly mediocre Lions team wildcard weekend in 2016, Wilson watched Atlanta expose Seattle’s aging defense the following round in a game that was over in the third quarter. This past season, the defense completely fell off a cliff, guys named J.D. McKissic and Mike Davis were in the backfield, and how about that… Finish the season 9-7, and no playoffs for the first time in Wilson’s career. Is Wilson to blame? His play was pretty much the same. Some numbers were up, others down, but there isn’t anyone watching who can say that Wilson’s performance the last couple of years is the reason behind their window slamming shut.

All of these guys have gotten to, or won a/multiple Super Bowl(s), but when they’re surrounded by mediocre talent their records themselves become exactly that. In fact, just going by that specific criteria of having a running game and/or defense ranking in the top 10–according to my magically charted spreadsheet–between Brees, Roethlisberger, Ryan, Wilson, Phillip Rivers, Tony Romo, Carson Palmer, and Cam Newton there is five total playoff wins without having at least one or the other. Even quarterback royalty isn’t completely immune to the disease of inadequate scenery…

TB12: "and then I was like, do you know who I am?!... AR12: "haha I know man, sometimes you just gotta let'em know...

TB12: “…and then I was like, do you know who I am?!… AR12: “haha I know man, sometimes you just gotta drop it on’em…” (Photo credit: @traceymanner)

The Modern Era Goats

A-a-ron didn’t have one playoff win until his Super Bowl run in 2010 where he was bestowed upon a top five defense led by three all-pros Charles Woodson, Nick Collins, and a young healthy Clay Matthews. Beyond that, let’s examine Rodger’s playoff success versus his level of surrounding talent:

2011 2012 2013
Season Result Lost Divisional Round Lost Divisional Round Lost Wildcard
Aaron Rodgers QB rating 123 108 105
Rushing Rank 27 20 7
Rushing Yd/gm 97 106 134
Def Yds/gm rank 32 11 25
Def Pts/gm rank 19 11 24


One playoff win from 2011-2013. But, should a home wildcard win in 2012 over Joe Webb really count? Either way, this very average Pack outfit went on to get blown out the next round by the aforementioned dynamic Harbaugh/Kaepernick duo who also ended Roger’s season the following year wildcard weekend in Green Bay.

2014 2015 2016
Season Result Lost NFC Title Game Lost Divisional Round Lost NFC Title Game
Aaron Rodgers QB rating 112 93 104
Rushing Rank 11 12 20
Rushing Yd/gm 120 116 106
Def Yds/gm rank 15 15 22
Def Pts/gm rank 13 12 21


The 2014 season should have been Roger’s career masterpiece, and second Super Bowl appearance in a dream match-up with TB12, but turned out to be one–somewhat controversial–home playoff win followed by something worse than the Steelers getting Tebowed to end their 2011 season. Debatable on whether or not Rogers had much help that year. The defense ranked out pretty average, and it was Eddie Lacy’s most productive season before proceeding to gradually eat himself out of the league.

The next two seasons, however, were all Rogers. After losing his best weapon for the year in the 2015 preseason, Rogers led the Pack to a 10-6 record with a defense that included zero all-pros, and an average-at-best Lacy/James Starks rushing attack. In that post season, Rogers collected a road wildcard victory at Washington before almost pulling off a miracle win in the divisional round at Arizona the following week. It’s worth noting, he almost did this in Arizona without Jordy, Davante Adams, and Randall Cobb who were all lost to injury either before, or early on in that game.

The next season, after another 10-6 regular season, Rogers added two more notches to his playoff belt. The first was a home wildcard blowout win over the Giants in which Rogers added another routine hail mary (maybe all these are the karmic football response to what happened in the 2014 NFC title game) touchdown to his resume. Somehow, he one upped that the following week at Dallas with the preposterous throw and catch below to setup the game winning field goal in the divisional round which also excluded Jordy due to injury. Ultimately, the house money ran out, and even AR12 himself couldn’t manage to overcome a very mediocre team around him getting blown out one week later in the NFC title game.

If you’re still playing at home, that’s five (four if you exclude the Joe Webb Bowl) total playoff wins, and zero Super Bowl appearances for Rogers without having the luxury of a running game and/or defense to lean on. And, two of those four teams that did manage to win playoff games finished their seasons by having their asses handed to them. He has proved great, elite level quarterback play can overcome an average canvas to consistently get into the playoffs. But, even arguably the greatest of all-time like AR12 needs help to win big once he’s there. What about my hero TB12? I thought you’d never ask…

2001 2002 2003
Season Result Won Super Bowl Missed Playoffs Won Super Bowl
Tom Brady QB rating 87 86 86
Rushing Rank 13 28 27
Rushing Yd/gm 112 94 100
Def Yds/gm rank 24 23 7
Def Pts/gm rank 6 17 1


My man...

Deflate this bitch…

2004 2005 2006
Season Result Won Super Bowl Lost Divisional Round Lost AFC Title Game
Tom Brady QB rating 93 92 88
Rushing Rank 7 24 12
Rushing Yd/gm 133 95 123
Def Yds/gm rank 9 26 6
Def Pts/gm rank 2 17 2


Three!!! Three total playoff wins when TB12 hasn’t been endowed with a top 10 ranked running game and/or defense. Not to mention, two of those came in 2011 over the previously mentioned Tebow led Broncos team that probably shouldn’t have been there, followed up by a 23-20 win against the pesky Ravens courtesy of Lee Evans, and a Billy Cundiff 45 yard missed field goal. Before that, you need to go back to 2005 to find a Brady team that cleary ranked out average-below average in both rushing and defense where the Pats had the other playoff win wildcard weekend 28-3 over the Jaguars. That’s it. Three playoff wins within the criteria. Three!!! FUCKING THREE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

2007 2008* 2009
Season Result Lost Super Bowl Missed Playoffs Lost Wildcard
Tom Brady QB rating 117 96
Rushing Rank 13 12
Rushing Yd/gm 116 120
Def Yds/gm rank 4 11
Def Pts/gm rank 4 5

*Brady missed season with injury

2010 2011 2012
Season Result Lost Divisional Round Lost Super Bowl Lost AFC Title Game
Tom Brady QB rating 111 106 99
Rushing Rank 9 20 7
Rushing Yd/gm 123 110 137
Def Yds/gm rank 25 31 25
Def Pts/gm rank 8 15 9


2013 2014 2015
Season Result Lost AFC Title Game Won Super Bowl Lost AFC Title Game
Tom Brady QB rating 87 97 102
Rushing Rank 9 18 30
Rushing Yd/gm 129 108 88
Def Yds/gm rank 26 13 9
Def Pts/gm rank 10 8 10


Well… Kind of three. It depends how you would characterize the 2014 Super Bowl winning team which was fairly average in terms of their running backs and defensive roster. And, also needed a 14 point second half comeback that included a Julian Edelman 51 yard touchdown pass just to escape a divisional round upset at the hands of those frisky Ravens. If you include that team, it would bring Brady’s total to six playoff wins without either an above average running game or defense. Notice, I haven’t even mentioned coaching in this equation where I think we can all agree Brady has been the beneficiary more than any of his peers throughout his career. Regardless, whether you want to put Brady down for three or six wins within this criteria, it’s clear–even the very best, the creme de la creme–generally aren’t winning anything of note without the necessary talent in at least one of the other two phases of the game.

2016 2017
Season Result Won Super Bowl Lost Super Bowl
Tom Brady QB rating 112 103
Rushing Rank 7 10
Rushing Yd/gm 117 118
Def Yds/gm rank 8 29
Def Pts/gm rank 1 5


Quarterback is still the most important job in sports. The level of play at that position has the ability to lift teams beyond their station and vice versa. In other words, it wouldn’t have mattered how dominating Seattle’s defense, or Marshawn Lynch was from 2012-2016, they weren’t going to win any Super Bowls with Tarvaris Jackson pulling the trigger. But still, even in this quarterback driven era with penalties for touching them too hard, and defensive backs basically having to play with their hands tied behind their back, the numbers bear out–I don’t care if I sound like “get off my lawn” guy–running and defense still wins championships.

Defense does win championships you little shit!!!

Defense does win championships you little shits!!!…

Just ask yourself, how were the Eagles able to maintain their Super Bowl aspirations after losing MVP caliber play at quarterback once Carson Wentz was lost to injury. Was Nick Foles simply just as good? Or, was it the fact that they already had, both, a top five running game and defense that allowed the coaches to bring Foles along steadily, and tailor game plans (seemingly running RPOs 70% of the time which no one figured out how to stop) to his strengths ? I’ll take the latter which brings me back to my inspiration behind all this… The Detroit Lions and one John Matthew Stafford

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The Lions no longer have a quarterback problem. They have a Lions problem. It wasn’t too long ago that Stafford appeared to be broken, and no matter what the Lions put around him that he would ultimately be their undoing. But, after an offensive coordinator switch, and Stafford no longer having the Calvin Johnson tunnel vision option in the game plan, he’s progressed as player. In the last two and half seasons, every relevant quarterback metric has significantly increased compared to his career levels, and are more in line with what the elite level quarterbacks’ numbers typically are. And in general, for whatever reason, he looks more comfortable running the offense than in past seasons. He’s still not elite, and still has inexcusable performances like his five turnover gem in New Orleans last season. But. He’s good enough.

He’s good enough to get plugged into Fole’s situation last season and win a Super Bowl. He’s good enough to win with what Matt Ryan has around him right now. He’s good enough to be in Kirk Cousin’s and/or Blake Bortle’s position heading into next year and win in the playoffs. And, until he has some semblance of what those guys all have around them I’m not expecting much in terms of winning out of Stafford, or any other quarterback playing for immensely shitty organizations that have little to no track record of building anything close to a winning product. Simply put, you are who you hang with. If the NFL is high school, Stafford has spent his freshman through junior years eating lunch everyday with Fred O’Bannion, Jeff Spicoli, John Bender and this guy…


He hasn’t even had one running back that has rushed for 100 yards in a game in over four years! It has it’s own google search for Christ’s sake! Basically, he’s been quarterbacking somewhere between the Browns and the Redskins for nine years. Last time I checked, neither of those franchises have been cranking out playoff wins over the last decade. If that company around the lunch table doesn’t change under GM Bob Quinn and new head coach Matt Patricia, I’m not expecting Stafford all of the sudden to be dating the prom queen during his senior year.

I mean, without Frenchy and Stacks Edwards, Jimmy Conway couldn’t have pulled off the lufthansa heist. Shit, even Bhagwan himself needed dynamic foot soldiers like Sheela and Niren in order to sack the town of Antelope, Oregon in the 1980s, and bring his spiritual vision of having sex all day to fruition. Like Conway and Bhagwan, Stafford is the right quarterback. And, the right quarterback is still the main ingredient in any championship stew. But, no matter how flavorful that quarterback is, he has, and always will, need the broth of a defense or spice of a running game to deliver a winning main course.

Follow me on twitter @RealBobbyAdcock

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