Mayhew: We’d win championship with 22 Matthew Staffords

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Chandler’s Cross, England — Circumstances out of his control have limited how well Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford could be playing in 2015.

And even though the signal caller has been far from perfect in his seventh NFL season, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew offered abundant praise of Stafford Friday.

“If we had 22 Matthew Staffords,” he said, “we’d win a championship every single year — and the same thing with Calvin Johnson.”

Mayhew addressed Detroit area reporters and members of the team website Friday morning at The Grove, the luxury resort northeast of London where the team is preparing for Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

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With a couple strong statistical games, Stafford’s numbers in 2015 are starting to reverse the regression trend of the past few seasons, but he still doesn’t measure up statistically to the top quarterbacks in the NFL. Still, Mayhew said Stafford, like Johnson, has "Hall of Fame potential."

The team’s struggling offensive line — the Lions allowed seven sacks to the Vikings last Sunday — and nonexistent rushing game — ranking last in the NFL — have contributed to Stafford’s unimpressive performance. Mayhew said his confidence in Stafford comes from “watching him play football.”

“If you know what you’re looking at, you see a really talented guy playing,” he said. “If we had 11 of him (on offense), we’d be winning a lot of games. We don’t have 11 of him. We haven’t had 11 of him — or 22 of him. We need better players around him and that’s my responsibility to make that happen.”

The Lions are 1-6, and as the losses have piled this season, Stafford has come under increased fire. While other young quarterbacks — Stafford is 27 — continue their upward trend, the Lions’ man has yet to perform consistently in ways that resemble his stellar 2011 performance with 5,038 passing yards and 41 touchdowns.

While some fans and analysts have suggested the Lions look to move on from Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in 2009, Mayhew wholeheartedly disagreed.

“I think that’s comical, really,” he said. “This guy is a phenomenal talent. you can go look at his production over the course of his career in some tough situations — having missed most of the first two seasons of his career — and his numbers are up there with the top guys who have ever played the game.

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“Obviously, we need to win more football games. That’s where the primary focus is, but when you have a franchise quarterback like Matthew Stafford, you keep that guy.”

The Lions fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi Monday after he spent just 23 regular-season games with the team. Although Stafford was more productive under Scott Linehan, the offensive coordinator from 2009-13, Mayhew said the scheme in which the quarterback plays shouldn’t matter much.

“Matthew’s an outstanding football player, and I think he certainly has the capability to win football games for us without regard to what system that we end up playing,” he said. “I have great confidence in him, and he’s going to be a great player for us for a long time.”

As Stafford’s teammates and coaches have done this year, Mayhew praised Stafford’s toughness, noting the quarterback looked like he’d just been in a car accident after the first game against the Vikings in Week 2 when he dealt with a myriad of injuries. Mayhew also mentioned last year’s comeback against the Falcons in London as an example of his “amazing” ability to finish games.

“I’ve seen him do some things in games that show sort of a moxie, a grittiness and a toughness that you don’t find,” Mayhew said. “It’s very rare.”