Stafford's durability, not toughness, the problem

Posted Nov. 08, 2010 @ 3:17 p.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

Lions QB Matthew Stafford suffered another injury to his right shoulder in Sunday's loss to the Jets. It's the same shoulder that was injured right before halftime in Week One against the Bears, which caused Stafford to miss the five games that followed.

Stafford left the game Sunday with 5:19 remaining and the Lions leading 20-10. Backup Drew Stanton came in but was unable to help the Lions maintain the lead. Because Shaun Hill (forearm) might not be able to return, Stanton might have to start against the Bills in Week 10.

The PFW spin

Don't even try to utter a question to Lions head coach Jim Schwartz about Stafford's toughness; he won't let you. And besides, it's not really the issue at play. Stafford showed Schwartz — and much of the football-watching nation — last season just how tough he was playing through a painful shoulder in a win over the Browns.

But we're beginning to see a trend, fair or not, with the second-year QB. He has had three shoulder injuries and a knee injury that have caused him to miss 11 games. Suggesting he's fragile might be taking it too far, but saying Stafford is injury-prone isn't out of reason.

The Lions have to be concerned that this is not just a series of fluke occurrences. Stafford doesn't play recklessly, and he appears to be in decent shape. But some players, as NFL history has proven, just have a knack for incurring injury.

The effect can be more than just physical, too. For one, the Lions must know they have a quarterback who is capable of leading them week in and week out. It's difficult to get any kind of rhythm offensively when a team makes QB changes weekly. And two, Stafford could get to the point where frustration boils over at his own inability to stay healthy. We're probably at least a year or two from that point, but the team's eyes are cast that far down the road in one respect because there is a nucleus of talent in this locker room that makes you think the Lions could be real contenders in 2011.

It's no secret, too, that the Lions are paying Stafford a lot of money. His $72 million deal pays him more than many elite quarterbacks. Part of earning such a lofty contract is playing through injuries. But separated shoulders and badly sprained knees are not the kinds of things a QB can do much with. They are part bad luck, but sometimes athletes are just built a certain way that they suffer more injuries than others. Stafford just might be one of those players.

We saw Sunday when Stafford tried to grab his helmet and get back into the game that he is a tough kid. He wants to play and win. He was beating the Jets in what might have been the franchise's best win in the past decade. And Stafford was a big part of Sunday's performance plus the Week Eight win over the Redskins, making several strong and gutsy throws.

The Lions just have to be worried that he won't be out on the field enough through his career to make those kinds of plays. It could be the difference between this team taking the next step and falling just short of that goal.