Inside Slant: Matthew Stafford in pocket

In writing this year's Detroit Lions Camp Confidential post, I made an easy choice for the required Reason for Pessimism category. The Lions' offensive line would feature three new starters, and the law of averages suggested the minimal chances that all three would find a smooth transition.

So it's worth noting that, after six games, the Lions rank second in the NFL in percentage of sacks per dropback, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has taken nine sacks in 252 dropbacks for a percentage of 3.6, lower than all NFL teams except the Denver Broncos (2.0 percent via five sacks in 249 dropbacks).

The Lions' offensive line surely deserves some credit, especially considering right tackle Jason Fox's injuries. (Backup Corey Hilliard has made four starts.) But the Lions' position just below the Broncos, powered by quarterback Peyton Manning and his well-known quick release, sparked a worthwhile investigation into the ESPN Stats & Information warehouse.

Part of the Lions' sack total can be attributed to pass protection. But we should also note Stafford's contribution: Based on video analysis of every NFL pass this season, Stafford is averaging the shortest amount of time in the pocket (2.27 seconds) and the second-shortest time before the pass (2.86 seconds) of any starting quarterback.

Manning ranks second in pocket time with 2.36 seconds and first in time before the pass at 2.79 seconds.

I wouldn't say Stafford has ever been the type of quarterback who holds the ball in the pocket or goes to great lengths to keep plays alive. He is not Ben Roethlisberger, who holds the ball an average of 3.66 seconds before passing, or Russell Wilson (4.03 seconds). With that said, he is still spending significantly less time in the pocket and throwing quicker than at any time in the previous two seasons.

Here are the numbers:

  • 2012: 2.6 seconds in the pocket, 3.26 seconds before the throw

  • 2011: 2.54 seconds in the pocket, 3.0 seconds before the throw

Again, I don't want to diminish the work of the Lions' offensive line in the passing game this season. But let's give Stafford some credit for doing his share. There are two ways to keep a quarterback upright: pass blocking and getting rid of the ball quickly. The Lions have done both in their 4-2 start.