For his second performance as the quarterback of the LA Rams, Matthew Stafford will not win NFC Offensive Player of the Week. That’s something I can confidently say. But after watching Stafford through two games, I’ve never been more confident that the Rams made the right decision when they paid two first round picks for the right to make a change at quarterback.
And I was already extremely sure that it was the right move before Sunday’s 27-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts to improve the Rams to 2-0.
Stafford went 19-of-30 for 278 yards with two touchdowns, one interception, and one sack against the Colts, and he was only a fingertip shy and a couple of dropped passes away from having an even better stat line than that. It may not be the statistical performance that Stafford enjoyed in Week 1 against the Chicago Bears (Stafford is still averaging 10.7 yards per attempt on the season with five touchdowns and one pick, and a completion percentage just shy of 70%) but he again showed remarkable confidence and poise within the pocket, making reads, and executing near-perfect throws on a high percentage of his attempts.
Also make note that the same Bears defense that was picked apart by Stafford in Week 1 just intercepted Joe Burrow three times and sacked him four times in a Chicago win on Sunday.
But the true bearer of blame for Stafford’s lack of success with the Detroit Lions was his lack of a quality supporting cast and so it wouldn’t be fair to anoint him as the savior without crediting those who have helped lift him up. And nobody has done more to levitate Stafford’s status through two weeks more than Cooper Kupp.
The Stafford-to-Kupp connection has been one of the most dominant in the NFL through two weeks. On Sunday, Kupp was targeted 11 times, catching nine passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns; Kupp’s three touchdowns in two games is as many as he had in 15 games in 2020 and his two games with over 100 yards is only one shy of his total from last season.
Kupp’s 163-yard total against the Colts is the second-highest single-game total of his career.
Stafford was also helped by an offensive line that only allowed DeForest Buckner and company to sack the quarterback one time (Andrew Whitworth is the last person you’d expect to allow it, but that’s what happened and shouldn’t be a regular occurrence) and that kept the pocket relatively clean, allowing three QB hits total. Darrell Henderson and Sony Michel combined for 99 yards on 23 carries, and generally seemed to be having an easier time on the ground than in Week 1.
This is the kind of meltdown that drives fans absolutely insane. pic.twitter.com/B8c9l0pRk3— SB Nation (@SBNation) September 19, 2021
Unfortunately, Michel’s presence was only requested after a Henderson injury in the second half, the severity of which is not yet known. The Rams did find out the extent of an injury to backup linebacker Justin Lawler, a member of the practice squad, as he suffered a broken hand in the game and could be out for a while.
The defense may need as much help as it can get but the bend-don’t-break performance against the Colts on Sunday was maybe better than it got credit for during the game.
Indianapolis didn’t have a drive longer than 50 yards until midway through the third quarter, and even then it rarely felt like LA was giving up first downs or chunks of yardage because they were outmatched or untalented. Colts quarterback Carson Wentz had a 42-yard completion to Michael Pittman in the first half, for example, but the ball seemed to thrown for “anyone” more so than a specific Colts receiver.
Carson Wentz throws a heave and finds Michael Pittman Jr.— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) September 19, 2021
While the Rams did allow the Colts to get inside LA’s 10-yard line on each of the first two Indy drives, they still allowed zero points. Another Wentz “for anybody” type decision was intercepted by Troy Reeder.
Rams have spent 7 defensive plays inside their own 10-yard line. 0 points allowed, 2 turnovers, 1 INT— TurfShowTimes (@TurfShowTimes) September 19, 2021
THANK YOU CARSON WENTZ
En total, the Colts ran 65 plays for 344 yards, an average of 5.3 yards per play. That sort of mark would tend to fall in the bottom-ten in the NFL in yards per play.
Facing a running back in Jonathan Taylor, a player who could soon be counted among the top-five at his position, the Rams held him to 51 yards on 15 carries and to one catch for two yards; Taylor had 116 total yards in Week 1.
Running back Nyheim Hines finished with one carry for five yards and one catch for 17 yards; Hines had 82 total yards in Week 1.
The Rams also had to change personnel in the second half when Kenny Young was ejected for arguing or making contact with an official.
Colts Eric Fisher plays Knight in shining armor to official, Brian Neal, when Rams Kenny Young made contact with his hat. Oh no, Fisher was just trolling to make sure Young was penalized. pic.twitter.com/7kSVh0ndnU— Los Real Polyamorous Tantric Sex Guru (@LosRealAli) September 19, 2021
LA combined for 11 QB hits against the combination of Carson Wentz and Jacob Eason, who replaced Wentz late in the fourth quarter after the starter suffered an ankle injury. Eason then delivered a gift to cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who sealed the victory with an interception, his third in a Rams uniform.
All part of the plan for Ramsey to win Defensive Player of the Year over his teammate.
Sunday was Sean McVay’s fifth career opportunity to start a season 2-0, and he’s now 4-1 in those games. The Rams are 3-1 in Week 3 and a victory over the Buccaneers at SoFi Stadium next Sunday would give McVay his third 3-0 start in five seasons.
For Stafford, it would be just the second time in 13 years that he’s started a season 3-0. The Detroit Lions started the 2011 season with a 5-0 record before losing five of the next seven games and ending the year at 10-6 with a wild card berth.
Now it’s 10 years later and Stafford has an even better cast of talent around him than he did with Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh. And a better coach with Sean McVay than he had in Jim Schwartz.
What will he do with it while navigating through the most insanely difficult division in the NFL and the reigning champions coming to town in a week?
McVay will always take a great game from Stafford when he can get one. But he’ll also take a “good enough” game form the Rams when he needs to and Week 2’s win over a quality team on the road was certainly good enough.