Allen Park — Matthew Stafford may have the strongest arm of any quarterback in the NFL, but it’s the knowledge of when to take something off a throw that can separate a good passer from a great one.
As TJ Jones sliced across the field during a preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts a little more than a week ago, Stafford stepped up in the pocket to avoid pressure and lofted a gentle throw over the outstretched arm of a penetrating defensive lineman, hitting Jones in stride 20 yards down the field for a 22-yard gain.
“I think it’s just something he’s worked on as a quarterback in general, just learning how to put touch over defenders,” Jones said last week. “Certain defenders are getting smarter now with certain routes, so it requires a little more touch.
“I know that’s something he definitely focused on, one of the many things he’s focused on this off-season. But, as you guys see, it’s starting to pay off and he’s starting to really get a feel for the different types of balls in tough spots that quarterbacks make in this league.”
Stafford initially tried to downplay this evolution in his game, but when pressed, acknowledged he’s working on correcting missed opportunities he identified while studying last season’s film, including better placement and pacing on his passes.
“I think I got the fastballs down, pretty good at those, made a living doing those for a long time,” Stafford said, making a self-deprecating poke at his tendency to put too much on a pass at times.
Studying tape, Stafford saw opportunities to make certain throws differently that could potentially result in bigger gains.
“Hey there’s a big play to be had there if you could just throw it over this guy and throw it around this guys, whatever it is,” he said. “That’s kind of some of the stuff that I’m working on.”
For the first time in his career, Stafford also worked with a quarterback guru this offseason. He’s declined to offer any specifics, but noted he’s been implementing the knowledge he gained from those workouts into his practice routine.
This coming off a season where he completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 4,327 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also orchestrated eight fourth-quarter comebacks, a single-season record.
Before suffering a broken finger in Week 13, Stafford was in the MVP mix, completing 67.2 percent with a 21-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell wasn’t particularly impressed with Stafford’s throw to Jones. Caldwell has always believed the quarterback is capable of making every throw. But the coach appreciates Stafford’s drive to improve.
“I’ve never seen any deficiency, in any of those areas, to be honest with you, through the years we’ve been here,” Caldwell said. “He’s trying to get better and that’s the mark of a true champion. Just in terms of how he goes about working, how he tries to improve upon every little detail, and he’s performing well right now.”