Summing-up Schwartz, Manning and Stafford

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Lions’ head coach, Jim Schwartz, is right to disregard the opinions of others outside of the organisation when deciding on his starting quarterback for 2009. Hey, it’s not yours, mine nor Peyton Manning’s head that’s on the line; he’s only worried about losing that rookie interception record of his anyway.

What seems to be a very complex question, in fact boils down to a very simple one. Schwartz simply has to ask himself:

‘Do I feel comfortable that Matt Stafford understands the offensive system sufficiently to manage the game?’

If the answer is ‘Yes’ then he’s the starter; no-brainer. Otherwise, Daunte Culpepper will be under centre come opening day, at least until the answer to that question becomes ‘Yes’.

That’s because Peyton Manning was right about one thing. Stafford won’t learn anything except theory and book talk by not starting. And all the words in all the game plans in all the world won’t prepare him for the speed of that first pass rush on that first down of his regular season debut. Like every quarterback before him, the quality learning will begin and end in the only classroom that matters: game day.

Only in the heat of battle will instinct be honed, nerves tested and allegiances formed. Only there will the decision-making process be developed.

Matt Cassell sat for an eternity behind Tom Brady. He looked woeful in the few preseason starts he got, and was still shaky through the remainder of the game once Brady went down with a season-ending knee-injury. But he won it. And he learned more in those downs than in all the years studying and clipboard cuddling.

Same thing with Peyton’s little brother, Eli, who sat out the start of his rookie season, before coming in to learn more in the final six games of the year than in the preceding 16-weeks of training camp and in-season action.

Unless Stafford has shirked on the study – and indications are contrary to that with Schwartz himself saying he’s ahead of schedule – then the decision is probably already made. Schwartz will know whether Stafford has grasped the new system or hasn’t yet got enough of it to be given the keys to the offence.

Perhaps the shaky performance in last week’s loss to Atlanta put some doubt in the coach’s mind, but by all accounts Stafford has looked impressive in training and needs only to show that he can translate that to game day to seize the starting spot.

The QBs who are sitting and learning are the QBs who are just not as good as the alternatives: physically or mentally. That’s just not the case with Stafford and Culpepper. Stafford has an impressive arm, getting stronger as the game progresses, whereas Culpepper has never come remotely close to repeating his magical 4000+ yard, 38 TD season of 2004.

Sadly injury has robbed him of his athletic advantage and it seems no amount of recuperation can bring that back. He failed to impress last season and before that in Miami too.

Unless Stafford’s smarts have let him down in respect of grasping Schwartz’s new system then there is little to gain by not starting him.

The offensive line has been one of the few good news items to emerge from pre-season, so Stafford is unlikely to be subject to the sort of sack-happy regime that have dogged previous Lions QBs too and Whoever starts the Lions are going nowhere near playoff country this season.

So why settle for struggling to an extra win behind Culpepper? That will only delay the development of the franchise QB. It’s time to build a new future and Culpepper has no part to play in that.

Even if Stafford starts and delivers a Peyton Manning like rookie season, he’ll have stashed a whole lot of learning under the hood for next year.

But that’s just my opinion. Jim, it’s over to you now.