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Madden NFL simulation: If only Matthew Stafford had a running game…

July 13th, 2017 at 9:02 AM
Aggregated By Sports Media 101

It was painful enough to watch Matthew Stafford get paraded around the league in an effort to win his first playoff game. From his failures in Green Bay to his Super Bowl celebration with the Patriots, I wanted to be happy for virtual Stafford. I really did.

But I couldn’t.

Sports fandom is inherently selfish. How else could you possibly explain why we feel so attached to these teams and players? We root for players that belong to our team, usually reside in our home state, and wildly swing our pendulum of emotions so greatly to and from?

“Treat yourself” is the mantra we live by, so this time, we’re keeping Stafford at the helm in Detroit. This time, we’re bringing the talent to him.

The Experiment

Ever since Stafford made his way to Detroit in 2009, the Lions offense has been primarily built on an attack through the air. Why wouldn’t it be when you have his arm and one of the greatest receivers ever in Calvin Johnson?

After Stafford shook the “injury-prone” label, he’s led the league is passing attempts twice, in the 2011 and 2012 seasons, and he’s finished in the top 10 in passing yards every year since 2011.

A lot of the offensive workload has been shouldered by No. 9 for good reason. One glaring hole in Detroit’s offense that’s been absent since the Lions added Staffordâ??hell, the one part of their depth chart that’s been severely lacking since Barry Sanders never made it to training camp in 1999? A running game.

Here is how the Lions rushing offense has ranked according to Football Outsiders team offense DVOA statistic, and some raw rushing statistics, since Stafford arrived in Detroit:

Lions Rushing Offense during Stafford Era

YearRushing Offense (DVOA)Rushing RankRushing YardsYards per Attempt
YearRushing Offense (DVOA)Rushing RankRushing YardsYards per Attempt

Stats courtesy of and

With this Madden experiment, we’re importing talent into Detroit’s backfield to see if a potent rushing attack to balance the offense would help the Lions win football games. And, of course, we’re using the highest grade of scientific researching methods to conduct this experiment: Madden NFL 17â??our trusty tool to see this thing through.

I took the top 10 running backs according to Pro Football Focus, swapped out Ameer Abdullah for the incoming talent, and then placed them atop the depth chart in the Lions backfield.

Here’s what happened…

The Simulations

Devonta Freeman

Record: 8-8

Difference: -1

Freeman’s stats: 295 carries, 1,293 rushing yards, 4.4 yards per attempt, 15 rushing touchdowns. 24 receptions, 355 receiving yards, 3 receiving touchdowns.

Stafford’s stats: 385 of 558, 4,605 passing yards, 41 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 106.5 passer rating.

What happened: There’s literally nothing else Stafford or Freeman could have done to make this team better. Detroit finished with the seventh-most yards gained on offense and the sixth-most points scored on offense per game (30.4).

Stafford’s 106.5 passer rating would be a career high, and his 41 touchdown passes would tie the career mark he set in 2011.

Freeman, on the other hand, was a pretty efficient runner. He gained 4.4 yards per carry, and, y’know, SCORED 18 FREAKING TOUCHDOWNS. Just for a second, think about what it takes to score a touchdown. Think about all of the hard work required just to put yourself into a position to even have a chance to score a touchdown. His artificial self did it 18 times in four virtual-ass months. I’ve never accomplished something 18 times in four months that’s as difficult as scoring a touchdown in all my life, and probably never will.

How did this not work? What could have possibly happened for this team to end up with a .500 record and third in the NFC North? Oh, yeah, that’s right, I didn’t do anything to the defense:

This defense remains why the Lions aren’t allowed to have nice things.

DeMarco Murray

Record: 7-9

Difference: -2

Murray’s stats: 276 carries, 1,147 rushing yards, 4.1 yards per attempt, 8 rushing touchdowns. 30 receptions, 383 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns.

Stafford’s stats: 366 of 552, 4,851 passing yards, 33 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 108.5 passer rating.

What happened: Even though the Lions were slightly less atrocious on defenseâ??they only gave up the fifth-most points in the league (472) this time aroundâ??it wasn’t enough to help out an MVP-caliber season from Stafford.

As for Murray, his season in Detroit was lackluster. He probably would have had a better showing in the Name Bracket tournament than the numbers he put up in this simulation, but that’s only because I would have stuffed the ever-loving hell out of the ballot box. Big fan of capitalizing the third letter in a name. Huge fan.

Bilal Powell


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