Detroit Lions: The different directions of Matthew and Megatron

In his first two games this season, Matthew Stafford has completed over 70 percent of his passes in both games. It can be traced back to Calvin Johnson's retirement.

This is about the new Matthew Stafford that I see coming. So, let RealSport get the message out before the others figure it out. When Calvin Johnson retired it was the best thing that could have ever happened to Matthew Stafford. As a quarterback, Stafford has matured without his go-to receiver. Without Megatron, we’re seeing a more assertive leader in Matthew Stafford.

Jim Bob Cooter

On-the-job training means you’re going to make mistakes and management are just going to have to deal with it. That’s pretty much what happened last year. Cooter was in his first full season as an offensive coordinator in the NFL last year and, in fact, that was his first job ever as an OC at any level of his football career.

Jim Bob Cooter was a career backup QB at the University of Tennessee. Famed Volunteers head coach Phil Fulmer kept Cooter as a graduate assistant for two years and then called Tony Dungy, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, and offered Cooter as one of the bright young minds in the game.

At Indy, Cooter teamed up with another QB guru, Jim Caldwell, who had already coached two NFL QBs to Super Bowl wins. Together, Caldwell and Cooter melded their intellects and each has since been the recipients of Peyton Manning’s accolades. In fact, Manning thought so much of Cooter he stole him away and took him to Denver when the Colts went with Andrew Luck at QB.

Once Jim Caldwell became the Lions head coach, he stole Jim Bob back, which reportedly upset Peyton Manning. Cooter had become his sounding board each week preparing for his next game. In Detroit, once Joe Lombardi was fired as OC, the 31-year-old Cooter found himself as Caldwell’s new offensive coordinator and he had five days to get ready for the Kansas City Chiefs in London. That was a disaster. Since then, Cooter and Stafford have become a like mind and developed an offense that is more diversified since the retirement of Calvin Johnson.

Jim Caldwell

To be fair to Megatron, he didn’t see the growth in either Matthew Stafford nor the Lions front office. There was a great upheaval in the Lions organization in the fall of 2015 and Calvin Johnson had seen enough. He soon announced his retirement which created an opportunity for Stafford to grow as a QB. Johnson didn’t want to start over. Neither did the Lions, so they kept Jim Caldwell as head coach, who had two years left on his contract.

Stability is a key component to winning consistently in the NFL. The great dynasties of the NFL saw one head coach at the helm. The most revered was Vince Lombardi, but others were Don Shula of the Dolphins, Tom Landry of the Cowboys, and Chuck Noll of the Steelers to name a few. I am in no way implying Jim Caldwell is going to create a dynasty, but the Detroit Lions have averaged a new head coach every three years since their last championship in 1957.

Matthew Stafford

When Calvin Johnson first retired, many experts around the NFL thought Matthew Stafford would struggle. In part, there was some sound reasoning to that because Stafford had relied so heavily on his star receiver to that point in his career. In fact, Stafford had been called a “gunslinger” because of his unorthodox throwing angles. It seemed as if the Lions QB relished the idea of being a gunslinger, a factor not lost on Calvin Johnson.

Since Johnson’s departure, Stafford has had to grow as a QB. This past offseason, for the first time in his career, Matthew Stafford sought the advice of an outside QB coach and this season we’re seeing him throw a touch pass. Considering his high school teammate, MLB star pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, has now become one of Stafford’s pre-snap signal calls it’s fair to say that Matthew Stafford has learned to pitch instead of just throwing fastballs. It’s part of that maturation process as he comes into the prime of his career.

However, the greatest development he has shown is the trust he has in all of his receivers. Something he didn’t have in the first half of his career. It’s this part of his game that has made Stafford an elite QB. In the past, NFL defenses gameplanned to take away Calvin Johnson. Do that and you beat Matthew Stafford. Now these same NFL defenses don’t have a clue who Stafford is going to throw too. In his first two games this season, the Lions QB has completed over 70 percent of his passes in both games.

The Detroit Lions in the Super Bowl?

Shhh! You’ll jinx it. Look, there is no guarantee any QB will win or play in a Super Bowl and to even suggest such a thing regarding the Detroit Lions is almost sacrilegious. Stafford proved he sees the Lions future by signing a mega-million dollar contract. And yet, when you look across the NFC the old guard is fading away and a new generation of QBs is emerging and Matthew Stafford is one of them. Seattle’s Russell Wilson is one, so is Matt Ryan of the Falcons. There are others who may prove themselves but Matthew Stafford is in the right place at the right time to make his own mark in NFL history. Time will tell.

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Chris Decker