It wouldn’t be fair to compare Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff’s recent performances without noting their respective coaching staffs, supporting cast, and difficulty of schedule over the last two years.
After all, the Detroit Lions are historically one of the worst franchises in the NFL and has done approximately the least to support its quarterbacks of any team. Going back over the last two seasons, Stafford was playing for head coach Matt Patricia, who was fired last year with a 13-29-1 record. Number one receiver Kenny Golladay missed 11 games in 2020. Number two receiver Marvin Jones caught nine touchdowns in each of the last two years, but should never be serving as a quarterback’s first option; Golladay had six drops in 2019 and Jones at least matched him in that category with six of his own in 2020.
Tight end T.J. Hockenson is high on a lot of people’s lists as a future all-pro at the position, but Stafford won’t see much of those rewards. Hockenson missed four games and still had a lot to learn as a rookie. He was a Pro Bowl tight end in 2020, but still had seven drops and plenty to learn and similar to Jones, not ready to be a team’s first option.
From 2019-2020, Detroit’s most-targeted players were:
- Marvin Jones, 206
- Danny Amendola, 166
- T.J. Hockenson, 160
- Kenny Golladay, 148
It’s important to note that Stafford missed eight games in 2019 (though he entered the NFL with injury woes, Stafford didn’t miss a single start from 2011-2018) and these are his target totals from that season for those players:
- Golladay, 62
- Jones, 57
- Amendola, 44
- Hockenson, 38
So if people point to Stafford’s supporting cast and say that “Golladay, Jones, and Hockenson are a solid 1-2-3” remember to point out that 35-year-old Danny Amendola was targeted more times in the last two years than Golladay; you can’t spell “Amendola” without amending that statement.
Stafford targeted Golladay 94 times over the last two years, compared to 104 for Amendola, 129 for Hockenson, and 163 for Jones.
The two biggest advantages that Stafford enjoyed recently was having a very veteran offensive coordinator in Darrell Bevell, whose 14 years of being an NFL OC hasn’t resulted in him becoming a head coach but he’s managed good years with great talent, and Detroit’s average-to-above-average offensive line.
How do these circumstances compare to the ones surrounding Jared Goff in the two years since the Rams went to the Super Bowl?
One thing is that Goff went into 2019 with a new contract and the knowledge that Sean McVay’s Rams just went to the Super Bowl. With him! But over the last two seasons, the most obvious sore thumb on the roster was not Todd Gurley or Brandin Cooks, but the dramatic shift in value at quarterback.
Though this point is now more up for debate than it used to be, McVay represents for many one of the great offensive minds and coaching mentors in the game today. The offensive line was arguably the best unit in the league from 2017-2018 but then fell apart in 2019 before rebounding in 2020.
But the Rams’ points per game over the last four seasons has gone from 1st to 2nd to 11th to 22nd.
LA’s most targeted players from 2019-2020:
- Robert Woods, 268
- Cooper Kupp, 258
- Tyler Higbee, 149
- Josh Reynolds, 124
- Gerald Everett, 122
Goff had 519 pass attempts to Woods and Kupp alone over the last two seasons (Woods got seven targets from John Wolford) which is almost exactly as many as the 520 pass attempts to Jones, Amendola, and Golladay over the last two seasons in Detroit. I would tend to believe that Woods and Kupp are much more valuable than a lot of Marvin Jones, some Amendola and some Golladay.
Even the receiver accoutrement should benefit Goff, as his remaining targets were dispersed to players like Cooks and Reynolds and Everett. Stafford’s were going to Quintez Cephus, Marvin Hall, J.D. McKissic, and so on.
I think the point is fairly well established now that Matthew Stafford needs to be graded on a curve that he was playing for one of the worst franchises in the NFC, while Jared Goff was playing for one of the most successful in the latter half of the tens. Their strength of schedule may have been moderately comparable, as FootballOutsiders has the Rams’ offense as having the 5th and 7th most difficult schedule of defenses in the last two years, as compared to 12th and 9th for the Lions.
Despite these different challenges and advantages for each person though, Matthew Stafford has been the much, much, very, very much better quarterback on paper.
Stafford: 187-of-291, 64.3%, 2,499 yards, 19 TD, 5 INT, 8.6 Y/A, 18 sacks
Goff: 394-of-626, 62.9%, 4,638 yards, 22 TD, 16 INT, 7.4 Y/A, 22 sacks
Stafford: 339 of 528, 64.2%, 4,084 yards, 26 TD, 10 INT, 7.7 Y/A, 38 sacks
Goff: 370 of 552, 67%, 3,952 yards, 20 TD, 13 INT, 7.2 Y/A, 23 sacks
Stafford: 526-of-819, 64.2%, 6,583 yards, 45 TD, 15 INT, 8 Y/A, 56 sacks
Goff: 764-of-1,178, 64.9%, 8,590 yards, 42 TD, 29 INT, 7.3 Y/A, 45 sacks
Over the last two seasons, only Matt Ryan and Tom Brady have thrown more pass attempts than Jared Goff and yet he is 18th in touchdown passes in that time. His 42 touchdowns on 1,178 attempts is 31 fewer than Aaron Rodgers on 1,095 attempts. It is only three fewer than Stafford, but Stafford played in seven fewer games.
A look at Matthew Stafford's career in Detroit: pic.twitter.com/IBH38Nmms5— Detroit Lions PR (@LionsPR) March 18, 2021
The other, more obvious issue, is that Goff’s 29 interceptions are tied for the third-most with Baker Mayfield, behind Philip Rivers at 31 and Jameis Winston’s 30 (all of which occurred in 2019). Rivers was playing out the end of his career. Mayfield showed major improvement under Kevin Stefanski in 2020, going from 21 interceptions and a 3.9 interception rate the previous year to eight and 1.6%.
So Goff, playing with much of the same offensive personnel and coaching that helped him reach the Super Bowl in 2018, was 28th in touchdown percentage (tied with Kyle Allen) and 10th in interception rate (the only quarterback with a worse rate than Goff who is guaranteed to start next season is Mayfield) among quarterbacks with at least 500 attempts over the last two years.
Stafford’s interception rate over the last two years is tied with Deshaun Watson and Dak Prescott. His touchdown rate is tied for ninth with Josh Allen and Jimmy Garoppolo, and the only reason for Garoppolo being there is that the Niners don’t trust him to throw the ball that much and they’ve carefully crafted his opportunities with well-assembled weapons and peak offensive line play.
Stafford’s touchdown and interception rates in the last two years: 5.5% and 1.8%
Goff’s: 3.6% and 2.5%
Part of what helps Stafford’s touchdown rate is that he doesn’t have to look at the receivers:
Matthew Stafford'dan "No Look" pas pic.twitter.com/LeVr1HDxys— NF Football (@NFFootballTR) March 21, 2021
Part of what goes into their difference in statistics, beyond coaching and supporting cast and schedule, is the way in which these two quarterbacks attempt to move down the field. The difference for Goff over the last two years is that he can’t move the football down the field nearly as far as he was able to in 2018: Goff’s intended air yards per attempt (the average number of yards that the ball travels in the air from the line of scrimmage to the expected point of the catch) has dipped from 8.7 during the Super Bowl season to 7.7 in 2019 and 6.2 in 2020.
Only two quarterbacks had a lower iay/a than Goff’s 6.2 last season: 41-year-old Drew Brees and 36-year-old Alex Smith. Goff’s 2020 iay/a ranked below Teddy Bridgewater, Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Dwayne Haskins, and Nick Mullens, in that order.
Over the last two seasons, Stafford’s iay/a has been 10.6 and 8.7, respectively. Though he did miss half of the year, Stafford led the NFL in iay/a in 2019 and was slightly better than second-place Winston. The difference being that Winston’s deep pass risks rarely paid off, but Stafford led the league in air yards/attempt while only throwing five interceptions. Then in 2020, he finished fifth in iay/a, 28 spots ahead of Goff.
Stafford also didn’t let his supporting cast discourage him from taking those risks despite Detroit’s 6.4% drop rate being the second-highest in the NFL in 2020 behind the Steelers. LA’s 5% drop rate ranked 13th.
It will also be interesting to see how much play action the Rams run next season and what the results will be as compared to last season. LA rank the most play action in the NFL, gaining 1,387 yards on 185 attempts. The Lions were 22nd in play action attempts (113) but 13th in play action yards (1,057) and that means that while LA gained 7.5 yards per play action attempt, Detroit picked up 9.35 yards per attempt.
Stafford also averaged 9.1 yards per play action attempt in 2019, so should we expect the Rams’ play action offense to get even better next year?
Even if that is the case, don’t expect Stafford’s non-play action moments to be worse than Goff’s. As NFL analyst Matt Bowen recently point out, Stafford is also better when the pocket breaks down or when he has to use his mobility inside and outside of the pocket:
“And that’s important in today’s NFL,” Bowen said. “I think you have to have those movement traits, that ability to use that arm talent from multiple platforms, and Stafford has that. He’ll be able to run boot in Sean McVay’s system. But more importantly, he’ll be able to – I use the term escape and extend, when things go south, which happens a lot of times in the NFL, when that pocket starts to get muddy, when that pocket starts to break down, Matthew Stafford has that ability to get out of trouble and still make the throw. He brings much more second-reaction ability to the Rams offense. The ability to play outside of structure and create as a thrower when necessary.”
In other words, Matthew Stafford can do this:
If we were to identify the quarterback who had the most advantages in the last two years, between these two it would be Goff.
If we were to identify the quarterback who had the most disadvantages, I believe it would be Stafford.
If we had to compare their statistical performances in that period of time, Stafford would still come out well ahead of Goff, whether it was something as traditional as yards per pass attempt, or as in-depth as measuring how far the ball travels down the field when they throw it.
And we haven’t even started to talk about how the two players look different on film, but in the few clips and plays that I’ve shared in this article we’ve seen that most quarterbacks — Goff or otherwise — struggle to compare to what Stafford can do on the field.
When I say that the Rams won’t look much different on offense next season because they might only change out one starter, I mean it. When I say that they will play much different on offense next season because they changed out only one starter, I also mean it.