Ex-critic Warner warms up to more conservative Stafford

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Phoenix — Kurt Warner, who likely will be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday, has been one of Matthew Stafford's harshest critics in the past, but on Tuesday, the current NFL Network analyst said Stafford showed some growth in 2014.

The Lions quarterback remains an enigma among his peers. In Stafford's first three full seasons as a starter, he had incredible statistics, but the team only made the playoffs once (2011). In 2014, Stafford's numbers declined, but the team went 11-5 to make its second playoff appearance since 1999.

During the 2013 season, Stafford threw 19 interceptions, and Warner called him "by far the most undisciplined quarterback" in the league because of his erratic technique and confidence that he could make any throw at any time.

In 2014, Stafford threw just 12 interceptions, his lowest mark in a full season.

At Super Bowl media day Tuesday, Warner said Stafford has "tremendous athletic ability," and with fewer mistakes last season, Warner is optimistic about his future.

"You didn't get to see as much of the upside with the physical part of it, but you got to see a guy that was able to manage games and step back from making those bad decisions, which to me excited me because it tells me that he can do that," Warner said at U.S. Airways Center. "So now, we have to continue to kind of push the envelope with getting all the talent out there with the good decisions, and the sky's the limit for him, especially when you have a defense that allows you the opportunity to not have to do everything with your right arm.

"He makes some incredible plays even with his arm in different positions, but the consistency is not there that you need at the position to be one of the top quarterbacks in the league. And I think that's where cleaning up the technique will help."

Warner thinks some of Stafford's limited aggression in 2014 was a byproduct of the new offense under coordinator Joe Lombardi and a result of the Lions having the No. 2 defense. Now, Stafford must find the balance between playing smart and using what Warner called his "special" arm talent.

In order for Stafford to take the next step to becoming consistent, Warner said the onus lies on the quarterback.

"That's up to him," Warner said. "I think he's got the talent. I think he's shown us that he can have the mindset, but consistency's a whole different thing in the National Football League. And like I said, I think it starts with technique and being able to do the same thing every time, mentally and physically, and I think that's what we have to see from him."