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Bleacher Report – Vikings

How dangerous is Matthew Stafford for the Vikings’ defense?

By Matthew Coller

Matthew Stafford has mostly put together pedestrian performances against the Minnesota Vikings during Mike Zimmer’s tenure as head coach, even if the Detroit Lions’ franchise quarterback has often come away with wins.

In eight games since Zimmer took over in 2014, Stafford has never cleared 300 yards passing, but has won five contests, including going 2-for-2 at US Bank Stadium.

Both of his wins in the Vikings’ current building, however, required wild swings in the game which were often self-inflicted by Minnesota. In 2016, the Vikings left too much time on the clock when scoring a late go-ahead touchdown, opening the door for a Matt Prater 59-yard game-tying field goal. In overtime, recently-traded receiver Golden Tate front-flipped into the endzone to walk off on the Vikings.

Last year’s contest might have gone differently had Dalvin Cook’s ACL not torn, causing him to fumble in Minnesota territory.

Stafford only posted 87.6 and 81.2 quarterback ratings in those two games.

But as they say in investment commercials, past performance does not always predict future results.

Stafford is capable of putting on a laser show with the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He’s also capable of pulling a no-show. This is no better evidenced by his game-by-game QBR scores. The ESPN-invented stat, which is on a 1-100 scale, scores Stafford a horrendous 10.7 in Week 1 and incredible 92.4 against the Dolphins two weeks ago. His Pro Football Focus scores are similar with two of them in the 90s (out of 100) and last week’s coming in well below average.

Paradoxically Stafford’s wild fluctuations in play have been consistent throughout his career. Last season he managed three straight weeks of sorry QBRs under 35 and then threw up an outrageous 94.3 in a 26-for-33, two-touchdown performance against the Packers.

In the big picture, Stafford’s numbers have evened out from earlier in his career. Each of the last three seasons, he’s put up just over 4,000 yards, a traditional quarterback rating between 93-100, between 24-32 touchdowns and 10-13 interceptions.

“Really over the last probably three years you really see his mobility in the pocket, him having a good grasp of what they are doing offensively,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said. “Understanding situational football, being able to get the ball out of his hands. Understanding protection, what they are doing, how to step up. He’s got great pocket presence. He’s got the arm strength to make all the throws. He is very decisive with what he is going against from week-to-week and where to put the ball. It will definitely be another stiff challenge for us against him. He’s a tough competitor and does a great job, really in the two minutes, really all situational football.”

The situations is where he has sometimes risen to the occasion against the Vikings. In ’16, he fired a 27-yard laser to Andre Roberts with 0:17 left to set up Prater’s field goal. And then on Thanksgiving Day, he hit on passes of 29, 15 and nine yards to tie the game. The Lions ultimately won on a Sam Bradford interception.

“He’s always dangerous,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “He’s been great at fourth-quarter comebacks, I think he’s taking care of the ball pretty well this year. He’s still got a big arm, can throw it anywhere on the field, and his movement in the pocket is still excellent. He scrambles around and ducks, Fran [Tarkenton] would be happy.”

Zimmer has also seen growth from the first time the two went toe-to-toe.

“I think one of the areas he’s gotten better at is the red zone,” Zimmer said. “He had thrown a lot of turnovers in the red zone in the past. He’s taking good care of the football now. As far as arm strength and things like that where you notice with quarterbacks is typically their arm strength doesn’t change that much or athletic ability doesn’t change. There was a corner blitz the other day that he wasn’t looking at and he ended up throwing to sight to the X-receiver against Miami and so those kind of things they tend to see more and react to it quicker.”

Stafford will be without his quick-pass option in Golden Tate as the Lions elected to deal him to Philadelphia this week. While the 30-year-old QB completed 71 percent of his passes toward Tate, his QB rating is higher when targeting Marvin Jones or Kenny Golladay.

“All of those guys have played for them and have been successful for them,” Edwards said.
Also, the use of their backs in the passing game. They’ve done a good job of using them, utilizing them in the passing game, whether it’s been screens or check downs or just the option routes out of the backfield. Tate is who he is. He is a great run after the catch guy, he does a great job of getting open in certain situations. He had a big part for what they did situationally. We will have our test as far as matching up against their receivers this week.”

The Vikings defense comes in having played much stronger football over the past four weeks. They have not allowed a 300-yard passing game since giving up 465 yards to the Los Angeles Rams. Stafford is coming off a rough outing against Seattle, which might not exactly be what the Vikings want considering his ability to bounce back strong.

The post How dangerous is Matthew Stafford for the Vikings’ defense? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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