The Los Angeles Rams were consistently held back in recent seasons by the play of a certain former quarterback, which is why it made perfect sense for LA to part with two first round draft selections in order to acquire Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions this past offseason.
It was time to say goodbye to the start-and-stop offense. The backbreaking and heart-stopping turnovers had to go.
The Sean McVay offense schemes up wide open receivers that any reasonable starting quarterback in the NFL could make, but Los Angeles needed a guy to step up when the easy play is not there.
By trading for Stafford the Rams went from good to great at the quarterback position. The veteran passer is capable of creating plays on his own, which the previous guy was unable to do at a dependable frequency.
When the offensive line fails to hold up, Stafford can buy time to find the open man. When the run game isn’t working, Stafford can shoulder the load. When defenses start keying on the underneath throws, Stafford can send the ball sailing over their heads.
Los Angeles brought in the star quarterback to win a championship, and the aggressive move brings with it incredibly lofty expectations. Moving to LA puts the passer under a microscope, and the criticism will be much tougher than it was most of the time in Detroit.
But all those concerns went by the wayside when Stafford started the 2021 season on a tear - and his performance through the first three weeks was everything the Rams could have dreamed of when they decided to make the trade.
After taking down the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles was anointed as the best team in the NFL. The McVay-Stafford marriage was off to a beautiful start, like white sandy beaches on a Cabo honeymoon.
Then - the Arizona Cardinals came to town and beat the Rams in all three phases of an important divisional matchup.
This was a total team loss, and coaching deserves as much blame as the poor defensive performance. The offense also did not carry its own weight, but they rightfully received a pass after starting the season on such a high note.
But then, on Thursday night the offense failed to show up again in the first half against the Seattle Seahawks, scoring only three points.
Stafford’s struggles from Week 4 continued into Week 5, and his passes sailed over the heads of his open receivers. Many of the plays that we’ve seen made on a routine basis in recent years were no longer automatic. It wasn’t a catastrophic performance by any means, but the offense should have been working much better based on the individual play of the other 10 Rams on the field. Stafford was holding the offense back.
The veteran’s most significant error was a red zone interception by his former Lions teammate Quandre Diggs. It is never a good sign when you cannot discern the quarterback’s intent on a given play, but it did appear that Stafford was trying to throw the ball out of bounds and trying to live to fight another down.
But the reaction to this play just doesn’t sit well with me.
Why should Stafford get be pardoned for this costly error in the most important area of the field, when fans would have been up in arms if the last Rams quarterback made that mistake? Should we not be holding Stafford to an even higher standard, if, after all, he is supposed to be the leader of a team contending for a Super Bowl?
Los Angeles upgraded at quarterback to have a better shot against the best teams in the NFL and win playoff games; however, if Stafford performs in a wild card playoff game at the level he showed against the Cardinals and Seahawks, the Rams could very likely be one-and-done.
With that said, Stafford does deserve the benefit of the doubt after performing at such a high level in the first three games of the season. After facing four teams that were in the 2020 playoffs out of five games, the schedule does get lighter over the next several weeks. Realistically speaking, LA could be 8-1 after facing the likes of the New York Giants, the Lions, the Houston Texans, and the Tennessee Titans within the next month.
There is a very real chance that it takes time to McVay, Stafford, and the Rams offense to gel - and the next four games allow the team to refine what they’ve done so far.
At the end of the day the trade for Stafford will be judged based on playoff wins and whether or not it manifests a championship. A Super Bowl victory is entirely within reach if the good Stafford shows up at the right time, but the bottom line is that the Rams need Matthew Stafford to be better.