Going into Sunday night’s game against the Chicago Bears, things started to feel like they really could be all too comfortable for the Los Angeles Rams in their first home game at SoFi Stadium in front of fans. After watching the rest of the NFC West get relatively comfortable wins on the NFL’s opening Sunday morning of 2021, anything less than domination of an Andy Dalton-led offense by the reigning number one defense and a braggadocios performance by Mr. Twofirstround Picks Plusgoff would have felt underwhelming in comparison.
Nothing about Matthew Stafford’s debut as the starting quarterback and Raheem Morris’s first game as LA’s defensive coordinator felt “underwhelming” during their 34-14 victory over Chicago.
Coming into primetime with a 6-16 career record in late night games over his 12 years with the Detroit Lions, Stafford had an all-time level performance during his debut in a Rams uniform: 20-of-26 for 321 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 156.1 passer rating.
Stafford’s 12.3 yards per pass attempt was a career-high in primetime games, as was his passer rating, and it was only the third time that he threw three touchdowns in an evening game. It was Stafford’s first three touchdown primetime game against any team other than the New Orleans Saints.
Stafford’s most recent three-touchdown game in primetime came in 2015, and the other one came in 2012. It was the second-biggest margin of victory for a Stafford-led team in primetime, and the biggest he’s been a part of since 2014.
Yes, things are different for Matthew Stafford now. Welcome to Matthew Stafford, everybody.
And things are different for Sean McVay’s LA Rams too.
Though the Rams went 4-1 in primetime games in 2020, their highest scoring effort was 27 points. Stafford helped guide the LA offense to 34 points and it still felt like the Rams could have had even more given the passing prowess and deep air ability of the quarterback and his pass catching weapons.
Also, last season, Jared Goff had three of his five primetime performances go for a passer rating under 80, with the other two going for 99.8 and 108.1.
Passer rating is just passer rating and certainly it deserves plenty of the scrutiny that it gets — ALL STATS deserve a critical eye — but the fact that Stafford’s was near perfect on Sunday night is indicative of the type of night he had, both as a quarterback in the pocket and outside of the pocket; as a quarterback throwing short, intermediate, or deep, which was a part of the offense that has finally arrived in Los Angeles alongside Sean McVay and those many stars.
Cooper Kupp was the Rams’ star receiver on the night, catching seven passes for 108 yards and one touchdown, getting 10 targets in Stafford’s debut at quarterback. Kupp’s fourth quarter juck-and-jive for a first down that caused two missed tackles was one of many highlights for LA’s offense on Sunday.
Van Jefferson had another, catching a 67-yard touchdown on Stafford’s second throw as a Ram.
And tight end Tyler Higbee caught five of six targets for 68 yards, proving that Stafford won’t be shy from his tight end just because he’s not working with T.J. Hockenson anymore. Robert Woods only saw four targets, but was a part of the offense by gaining 34 total yards and catching Stafford’s third touchdown pass of the night.
There was less excited to be about in the running game, whether that was in regards to LA’s offense or defense in Week 1.
David Montgomery ended up being the Bears’ true star of the night — not Justin Fields — and he rushed for 108 yards and one touchdown on 16 carries, forcing a good handful of missed tackles against a Rams run defense that has seemed to struggle since the start of training camp.
Despite Chicago facing multiple injuries during the game at left tackle, Montgomery proved to be a tougher competitor than multiple defenders on multiple plays and he impressive in his first game of the year. He had to be, because none of his offensive teammates were, for the most part.
Dalton finished the night completing 27-of-38 passes for 206 yards with no touchdowns, an interception that went to David Long in the end zone, and he was sacked three times. LA’s defense repeated the types of performances it had in 2020 as the NFL’s top ranked defense, allowing just 5.4 yards per attempt. Fields came in for a few plays, finishing 2-of-2 passing for 10 yards and rushing for a three-yard touchdown, but whether it was Dalton or the rookie 11th overall pick at quarterback, the Bears clearly could not do much more than throw the ball left, right, or within eight yards of the line of scrimmage.
Star Chicago receiver Allen Robinson was targeted 11 times, catching six passes for 35 yards. It’s a credit to the type of night had by Jalen Ramsey, the star cornerback who finished with two tackles for a loss and a pass defensed, to go along with seven other tackles. Ramsey seems like a player who wants to be considered for Defensive Player of the Year, and he was a stand out among stand outs.
Aaron Donald finished with one sack, and while he was relatively quiet in that department for most of the game, Dalton was throwing the ball in under two seconds. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for LA because it meant that Dalton had no chances to throw the ball deep or to stretch the defense.
Jordan Fuller, Taylor Rapp, and Kenny Young had double-digit tackle totals, while Justin Hollins came out with eight tackles and two sacks in his first start as the Rams’ clear starter at outside linebacker.
Aaron Donald knocked a house down pic.twitter.com/D3G1Qj0Wc3— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) September 13, 2021
Rookie Robert Rochell also came in late in the game with a key pass defensed, getting his name involved in his very first NFL contest.
On the flip side, Darrell Henderson struggled to find room to run for most of the game, but a late 15-yard run and a touchdown helped move the needle in his favor statistically, finishing with 70 yards on 16 carries. Sony Michel came in for one two-yard run, but you can expect to see a lot more of him as he gets comfortable in the offense.
It clearly didn’t take Matthew Stafford that long to get comfortable.
The Rams are playing the Colts in Indianapolis next Sunday at 10 AM.