Pump up the volume (USAT)
It's the differences that make our country great, be it in real life or fake football. With that in mind, let's put Brandon Funston and Scott Pianowski into the ring and see who wins the quarterback cage match: Matthew Stafford vs. Matt Ryan. Who's your Tier 2 quarterback target?
Funston to Open: Last season, Matt Stafford threw the ball 727 times. No QB in the history of the NFL has ever chucked it more in a season. Unfortunately, only 20 of those Stafford tosses found their way into the end zone. Considering that he threw 41 TD passes (in fewer attempts) the previous season, and has the most uncoverable receiver in the league (Calvin Johnson) at his disposal, netting just 20 TD passes in '12 was an extreme stroke of bad luck.
With head coach Jim Schwartz still in the fold, you can count on Stafford airing it out once again. The Lions have ranked in the top six in pass attempts in each of Schwartz's four seasons with the team, including ranking first each of the past two seasons. The addition of, arguably, the league's top receiving running back, Reggie Bush, this offseason only furthers the team's commitment to the pass – OC Scott Linehan has stated that Bush's role will be "substantial."
With Mega-Tron, Bush and tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who has dedicated his offseason to avoiding the drops that plagued him a year ago, Stafford has three players capable of catching 80-plus balls, each from different areas of the field. Bush should be especially valuable in that he's a versatile, explosive weapon that opposing defenses will absolutely have to pay attention to, rather than putting all the focus on Johnson.
I have no beef with Matt Ryan, an excellent QB with a dynamic supporting cast. But Stafford is going to beat him out for sheer volume of pass attempts – by about 100 throws if we want to base it off the past two seasons. And that puts a higher ceiling on the Stafford side. In '11, that vaulted ceiling consisted of 5,038 yards and 41 TD passes, which was 300-plus yards and 9 TDs more than Ryan has ever posted in a single-season.
I'd take Stafford straight up over Ryan, but the reality is that I won't have to, as Stafford has come off the board, on average, 13 picks after Ryan in early Yahoo! Live drafts. In a loaded 2013 QB class, Stafford is the one QB with top 5 upside for which you can hold out the longest.
Atlanta iceman (USAT)
Atlanta iceman (USAT)
Ryan's red zone play was superb in 2012: a 102.0 rating, 25 touchdowns, just two picks. Stafford's results paled in comparison: 75.7 rating, 15 scores, four interceptions. If we grade the QBs from the 10-yard line and in, Ryan's case gets even stronger. The Falcon threw 17 scores to one pick from that part of the field (55.6 percent completions, 91.2 rating), while Stafford struggled mightily (39.1 percent completions, 59.6 rating, 10 TDs, three picks).
You probably wonder how Stafford chucked the ball 727 times and wound up with just 20 touchdowns, and I'm giving you the answer - he struggles to find secondary receivers when the space disappears. That's what happens when you have one elite option (Johnson) and a bunch of ordinary ones. Bush will help the passing game, sure, but he's unlikely to score a lot of receiving touchdowns. If you don't prefer the Atlanta passing triplets (White, Jones and Gonzalez) over Detroit's group, you're in denial. (Pettigrew dropped 4-5 passes as you were reading this paragraph).
Maybe Johnson and Stafford can get the deep ball working to completion this season: Johnson had seven scores outside the red zone in 2011, just three last year. Megatron also had just one touchdown inside the 10-yard line in 2012, a silly-low number for someone as talented as he is. The short ball wasn't a concern in 2011, but perhaps defenses have finally accepted that against Detroit you drape everyone all over No. 81 and force someone else to make a play.
There's no easy way to defend the diverse Falcons. That's why Matty Ice is the right pick here. Meet me at the Georgia Dome, let's count our money.
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