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Matthew Stafford proved doubters wrong in Rams debut, what does he do for an encore?

After one game, Stafford already looking like clear upgrade over Goff

Chicago Bears v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

“Overrated and overpaid.”

“Can’t win against a quality opponent.”

“0-3 in the playoffs.”

“Stat Padford.”

The take that Matthew Stafford is “overrated” has been around for years. ESPN’s Max Kellerman had no qualms about sharing his thoughts on the matter a couple of years ago:

Tedy Bruschi took it personally after finding out that Stafford refused to be traded to New England:

“He’s just not tough enough. I don’t think he’s tough enough to be coached hard.” Bruschi said via NBC Sports. “Do you realize the mental toughness that Tom Brady had to have for 20 years to deal with Bill Belichick and that type of coaching? I mean, constant pressure every single day. Does Stafford sort of grab you as a guy who could handle that? I just don’t think so.”

Noted instigator Rob Parker wrote about Stafford’s “stat padding” at Deadspin:

“Nobody — and we mean nobody — is better at padding his stats than Stafford.” said Rob Parker of Deadspin. “You know, putting up yards and late touchdowns in games basically out of reach. The resulting final scores make the games look closer, competitive. From afar, you marvel at Stafford’s stat lines and chubby career numbers.”

And just prior to Matthew Stafford’s award-winning debut as a member of the LA Rams on Sunday night, a 34-14 drubbing of the Chicago Bears, even ESPN’s Bill Barnwell opted to stick a Stafford opinion in the fray by tweeting that he once played with Calvin Johnson, in case you forgot. (Nobody forgot.)

Of course, teams are made up of more than just “one QB” and “one Hall of Fame WR” and it was the lack of talent at most of the other nine offensive positions that held back the Lions and eventually led to a divorce with Stafford, and in first game outside of Detroit, Stafford turned out to be brilliant.

Now that we are one game — but only one game — into the next era of LA quarterbacking, let’s make it clear that Matthew Stafford was an upgrade over Jared Goff in two significant areas: passing deep and ability under pressure.

And therefore, he’s underpaid, underrated, and he’s just plain ole’ Matt Stafford.

Go deep, young fella

For God’s sake, the Texans won a game so literally anything can happen, but Stafford’s debut was exciting. The addition of Matthew Stafford in a McVay offense truly opens up the playbook.

Sean McVay alluded to it himself, perhaps throwing a bit of shade at Goff in the process.

“It was great job by him being able to flip his hips and make an unbelievable throw,” McVay said via NBC Sports. “I think that’s kind of one of those things, he’s gifted, he’s got a great ability to be able to change his arm slot and make all types of throws, whether it be short, intermediate or down the field, but he’s — you’re not limited in anything you can do with him in the pass game.”

Stafford has made it a career of being able to throw deep, and I’m not just talking his abilities to chuck a banana and a roll of toilet paper as far as he can. Seriously, there’s a video of him doing this which is the most oddly satisfying thing you’ve never realized your life needed. Anyways, comparing Goff and Stafford’s abilities to throw the deep ball in 2020 isn’t a fair comparison.

While this chart looks like a Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino threw up on your computer screen, it details how accurate all qualified signal callers were last season. The Deep Ball Project measures accuracy percentages of all passes that travel in the air at least 21 yards or more downfield. They can be complete or incomplete, as long as they’re traveling over 21 yards.

Stafford was number nine on the list, attempting deep passes at a rate of 56-percent accuracy. Goff on the other hand was near the bottom of the list at number 30, attempting deep passes at an accuracy rate of just over 34-percent.

The main takeaway from this chart is that Stafford was fearless in throwing the ball downfield. Six of these attempts went for touchdowns and nine of his deep incompletions were on the money, with only one inaccurate such throw.

Goff was very timid on these types of throws and was dead last (3-of-19) in accuracy on tight-window throws of 21-plus yards. He had half the touchdowns Stafford had on these passes and his accurate and inaccurate incompletions were a mixed bag at three apiece. Essentially, Stafford was far more aggressive than Goff in pushing the ball downfield, even if he wasn’t always successful.

This is a clear reason as to why the Rams totaled just six passing plays of 40-plus yards in 2020, eighth-worst in the NFL. None of this is new for the former Rams quarterback, as he’s always had these difficulties during in his best years.

“However, in Goff’s statistically-best campaign in 2018, he threw the deep ball on 11.6 percent of his throws. Still, that figure is a relatively low amount when compared to the league average.” (via Sports Illustrated)

Below is a perfect example of the struggles Goff had, which Stafford didn’t:

Stafford looked so seamless in his transition to the offense on Sunday because he played in a West Coast offensive system last season which emphasizes play-action, a McVay special.

(What exactly is in a McVay special, and does anyone know if it’s filled with cheese?)

For one, there is quite the abundance of play-action, which Stafford excelled at in his last year with the Lions. Matthew completed 88-of-131 passes (67-percent) for five touchdowns and no interceptions on play-actions passes last season, posting a 108.7 passer rating.

Goff started out 2020 with a bang off play-action, connecting on 69.2 percent of these passes over the first eight games, throwing six touchdowns to no picks while having a 115.7 passer rating. In the following three games, Goff completed just 63.3 percent of play-action passes, throwing no touchdowns and having three interceptions, posting a 44.7 passer rating. It’s not about how you start, and Jared wasn’t able to finish strong enough to match Stafford’s consistency.

McVay is known to call play-action passes with receivers running in-breaking, over routes which force the linebackers to focus on bottling up the run which allows his quarterback to find the holes in the middle of a defense. The hope is that they’ll create big plays, much like Stafford had on his first Hollywood touchdown:

This call forced the defense to play to the right half of the field while monitoring the movements of running back Darrell Henderson. The linebackers bit on Henderson and Stafford was able to roll out to his left completely alone and throw down the middle of the field to a wide-open Van Jefferson. Most importantly, the big play opened up a new dynamic for the offense, which is no longer limited by a quarterback who’s gun-shy about throwing deep. Sorry Goff, but when your old team posts this stat in their first game with a new signal caller, you can’t help but see that you were a big part of the problem:

Under Pressure (Doo buh dum ba beh beh)

Another other clear issue with Goff that I wanted to address was his ability to perform under pressure. Who knows, Goff might be good at performing “Under Pressure”. I don’t know, I’ve never heard him sing karaoke before, but he sure looked like a deer in headlights when truly performing under pressure.

In Super Bowl LIII, better known as the game that broke Jared Goff, the Patriots had a strategy to throw the youngster badly off his game. Just to paraphrase, New England defenders believed Goff would make a boom-boom in his pants if he saw the kind of pressure they were showing other quarterbacks. He ended up proving them right in a game we clearly don’t have to get into. That game sucked but didn’t ruin the taste of my sub sandwich any.

“The deep ball threat completely goes away when Goff is under pressure. Some of that is certainly schematic and by design, but he still went 0-of-9 on deep throws under pressure. Only the Saints QBs (primarily Drew Brees) were worse.” (via USA Today Sports)

Goff has actually had a higher passer rating than Stafford in three of the past four years when not under pressure. His 105.6 “clean” rating bested Stafford’s 97.6 rating last season. However, this section is about performing under pressure and that’s where Goff performed as poorly as a rancid Taco Bell tortilla shell.

In 2020, Stafford’s 91.8 passer rating under pressure was among the best in the NFL. Goff was among the worst as he struggled with a 45.9 passer rating while under pressure, with the seven interceptions to only four touchdowns I had previously mentioned above. Only the Broncos Drew Lock threw more interceptions under pressure last season.

When re-watching clips from the game, the best one I saw of Stafford performing well under pressure was on his third touchdown pass to Robert Woods:

Stafford looked nothing like the deer-in-headlights we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing. After the ball’s snapped, Stafford doesn’t watch the pass rush, despite All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack barreling down on him. Matthew kept his eyes downfield by avoiding the waiting grasp of Mack and steps up into the pocket and into his throw to Woods in the back of the end zone.

Chicago Bears v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

After sharing all this information with you Turf Show Family, I’ve never understood the notion as to why we blame certain franchise players for the lack of a team that they have around them. Supposedly, it was the lack of weapons that held Brady back in New England, prompting his departure for Tampa. So how is it that Brady is excused for iffy play due to lack of weapons while Stafford was penalized for not making the most of what little was around him?

At one point during the NBC broadcast, a graphic was put up about the defenses Stafford had around him in Detroit. According to them, Stafford’s teams had the second-worst defense in the league during his Lions career. Wait, so you’re telling me Calvin Johnson didn’t play defense either? But Bill made it seem like that was all he needed in Detroit.

Barnwell claims that the average Stafford defense was basically league average, but what he fails to mention is that if the Lions really had the number one defense in 2014, then obviously that brings up the average of the other nine seasons considerably.

During Stafford’s 12 seasons in Detroit, the Lions had one top-12 scoring defense in that entire time: 2014. The Lions ranked 32nd in points allowed and 32nd in yards allowed in 2020, and they were 31st in yards allowed in 2019, but this is something that Barnwell opted not to mention.

Stafford also often had a severe lack of offensive help.

And coaching help.

And great football minds running the show.

While Stafford was stuck in neutral in the Motor City, he had a 100-yard rusher in only 11 of 166 games played; and since his rookie season in 2009, Lions receivers led the NFL in drops with 350.

Is it a team sport or isn’t it?

The media refuses to acknowledge the “football is a team sport” mantra. They’ll cast aside blame for guys like Stafford for not making the most of a bad situation but excuse those “winners” in a similar situation.

Stafford is now in a setting where he has a coach who knows how to win and maximize his skillset, leading LA to the Super Bowl just three years ago. He’s paired with Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, two pass-catchers who’ve had 1,000-yard seasons at some point in their careers. Most of all, he has a defense led by Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, which ranked first in the league last year.

I hope Stafford can finally silence his critics, even if it means its because he has less responsibility to carry a team. He more than deserves it after all the adversity he faced throughout his career.

Luckily, we have seen that Stafford is already a pro at handling pressure.

Up next: A preview of the Indianapolis Colts in Week 2; how is the Colts defense going to be for Stafford to face?

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