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The striking similarities between Matthew Stafford’s start and Peyton Manning in 2009

Stafford is the least sacked quarterback in the NFL this season

NFL Honors And Pepsi Rookie Of The Year Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Pepsi

I won’t call it panic, but there was general discomfort among Rams faithful with regards to how the organization is building the offensive line. Or more accurately, what the team isn’t doing to build it. However, Les Snead and Sean McVay knew that they didn’t need the best offensive line in the NFL.

They just needed the best offensive line that they could build for Matthew Stafford and through five weeks, Stafford is the least-sacked quarterback in the NFL.

Though there is still a Monday night game to play between the Colts and Ravens, it won’t matter as far as this category. Indianapolis quarterback Carson Wentz has been sacked 10 times and Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson has been sacked 11 times.

Matthew Stafford has been sacked four times, completing 117-of-172 passes.

The NFL’s most-sacked quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, has gone down behind the line of scrimmage 20 times for losses totaling 150 yards, and he has completed 110-of-173 attempts. Virtually the same number of attempts as Stafford, but Tannehill’s lack of protection combined with his own decision management has been an issue for the Titans in a way that LA has not had to be concerned with in regards to Stafford.

This is not to say that Stafford has been perfect, a bar that is by no means reasonable. Especially for a franchise that is extremely fortunate to be playing this season with Stafford as the quarterback so soon after paying another player to be in that role.

There are already 24 quarterbacks who have been sacked at least nine times, but the Rams have teamed with Stafford to only allow four sacks over five games. In fact, it is rare to see any quarterback combine this amount of production as a passer with such a low amount of sacks.

There may have only been one player who ever mastered that combination in the last 30 years of football and that is in large part due to the probability that he helped create modern football.

During 13 season with the Colts, Peyton Manning was sacked only 231 times in 208 starts. It wasn’t until Manning’s final season with the Broncos that he started to get sacked as often as the average QB. Manning led the NFL in sack rate (times sacked/dropbacks) five times throughout his career, but of course he also led the league in passing yards three times, touchdowns four times, net yards per pass attempt four times, and interceptions one time.

Though that 28-pick season came during Manning’s rookie campaign, he was never really the type to play “mistake-free football” either and only once did he throw single-digit interceptions. That may be a part of his game that we forget now that it is commonplace to see quarterbacks throw single-digit picks over the course of an entire season, something that was rare in Manning’s heyday, and because we want to iconize Manning in retirement and ignore the same criticisms currently being lobbed at Stafford following a bad throw.

Yet both former high school prodigies, number one recruits, college stars, generational talents who went first overall, both show up on this short list of quarterbacks who have flourished without getting sacked.

Over the last 50 years, there have been only 40 instances of a quarterback throwing at least 90 passes in his team’s first five games, scoring at least 10 touchdowns, but getting sacked five or fewer times. Out of those 40 seasons, Peyton Manning shows up seven times.

The next-closest quarterback in terms of number of seasons like this is a tie between Dan Fouts and Peyton’s brother Eli Manning. That means that 25-percent of these seasons belong to the Manning family and you can guarantee that Arch is going to play similar to that in about five years time.

You can cut down the list even further by looking only at quarterbacks who also only threw three or fewer interceptions. Then only 17 QB seasons remain, including four by Peyton Manning and Stafford’s 2021.

A step further, looking only at the QBs who also averaged at least 9 yards per attempt and only three seasons remain:

Peyton Manning’s historic 2013 season with the Broncos.

Dan Marino’s history 1984 season with the Miami Dolphins.

Matthew Stafford’s present season with the Rams.

But Manning’s best season at avoiding sacks — one of the best sack rate seasons of all-time — came in 2009. That was also the year that Indianapolis went 14-2 and lost in the Super Bowl to the Saints.

Through five games in 2009, Peyton Manning had only been sacked two times on 131-of-181 passing. He had 12 touchdowns and four interceptions with a passer rating of 114.1, averaging 9.09 yards per attempt.

Nearly the same exact numbers as Stafford’s first five starts with the LA Rams.

These are other ways in which the QBs are similar:

  • Peyton Manning was 33 in 2009; Matthew Stafford is 33 this year
  • Manning was playing for the Colts; Stafford wanted to play for the Colts and they rebuffed him
  • Pat McAfee was a 22-year-old punter on the Colts that year; Pat McAfee thinks Stafford is a “bad MF-er” this year
  • Manning was the top recruit in the nation and he helped Tennessee ranked 22nd in the nation as a freshman, then 3rd as a sophomore, then 9th as a junior; Stafford was the top recruit in the nation and he helped Georgia rank 23rd as a freshman, then 2nd as a sophomore, then 13th as a junior.
  • Peyton Manning and Matthew Stafford were both the number one pick
  • They both had a younger brother who was also the number one pick, but nobody ever talks about Rod Stafford.
  • In the first five games of 2009, Manning beat a Dolphins team that included Todd Bowles as asst. head coach and secondary coach; Stafford beat the Bucs this year, the team Bowles is defensive coordinator for currently
  • Manning also beat the 2009 Titans in that stretch, a team coached by Jeff Fisher, helping eventually set off a butterfly wing for Stafford to arrive in LA
  • Both ‘09 Manning and ‘21 Stafford beat the Seahawks in the first five games.

Matthew Stafford has a ways to go before he could ever really compare himself to Peyton Manning, and that would begin with reaching a Super Bowl, at least. Not avoiding sacks. But avoiding sacks still shouldn’t be discounted and given that Stafford has also been one of the best passers in the NFL this season, it’s another reason why Snead and McVay should never have to panic about the rest of the team.