Closing the Book on Stafford's Season

I'm going to call it early and consider Stafford's season to be completed. Maybe he'll get shut down and won't play in any more games this year. Even if the Rams do allow him to play, I don't know what you can reasonably expect him to do without Cooper Kupp and behind such a bad OL, so I don't think it will matter for purposes of this post. Prior to the season, I set 5 goals for Stafford's season and I think we are in a position to close the book and grade how things have gone. As you can imagine, it has been a dismal and absolute disaster.

1. Win another Super Bowl

Considered to be one of the top SB contenders entering this season, instead the Rams are contention to have the worst record in the NFL this year. All that is left is for Ryan Reynolds to make a cheeky ad poking fun at Stafford's commercial where he trades in his cell phone. The 2022 Rams are on the verge of making history for all the wrong reasons. This is the type of season NFL Films could make a documentary about 15 years from now. Maybe every year from now on, reporters will constantly ask the defending Super Bowl Champs how they can avoid "pulling a Ram".

Obviously, most of the collective failure had very little to do with Stafford as an individual player. He was on a sinking ship with everyone else. Still, if there's an example of how the idea that a star QB or a great coach can't pull a magic trick and make the rest of the team better, the 2022 Rams would be it.

Grade: F minus

2. Have a sack rate lower than 4.5%

When the Rams traded for Stafford, my idea for having a goal like this was that McVay's play action heavy system would help protect Stafford and result in far fewer sacks than he saw up in Detroit. The Rams would be able to run the ball, then bootleg Stafford out for easy throws. We didn't even come close to that in 2022. The Rams struggled to get anything going on runs, especially on early downs and they didn't use as many play action bootlegs.

Behind a makeshift OL that at times was starting guys who came from the practice squad or who had been signed off the street, Stafford had a sack rate this year of 8.7%, by far the highest of his career. Stafford also had 5 fumbles, on pace for 9 if he had played a full season.

Grade: F minus

3. Stay Healthy

The only reason I'm not giving out an even lower grade here is Stafford has started 9 games, so technically over half of the regular season. Otherwise, not surprisingly since goal number 2 was such a disaster, Stafford has gotten hit too often and beat up.

Grade: D minus

4. Throw fewer interceptions

In a sense you could argue this goal was reached, because Stafford had a 2.8% INT rate in 2021, and has a 2.6% INT rate in 2022. After throwing many INTs early in the season, Stafford didn't throw any picks his last 3 games.

Still, I'm not considering this a success, because the INT rate was virtually the same and unlike 2021 there weren't enough positive things to balance out the turnovers.

Grade: C minus

5. Be more efficient, especially when not throwing to Cooper Kupp

In terms of adjusted net yards per attempt, 2022 was the worst season of Stafford's career other than his rookie year, when he completed only 53% of his passes and had 20 INTs with only 13 TDs. Stafford's passer rating and QBR also were among the worst of his career, especially when you factor in that NFL passing has statistically gotten progressively easier in recent years compared to when Stafford first entered the league.

Stafford had nearly as many INTs (8) as TDs (10). He had an 87.4 passer rating, a 50.7 QBR, a miserable 5.18 adjusted net yards per attempt and an 87 ANY/A index score (the worst of his career other than his rookie season.)

To put into perspective how terrible some of those numbers are, Jared Goff in 2021 playing on a horrible Lions offense had a 5.64 ANY/A and a 93 ANY/A index score. Goff's mediocre 2019 season, when the Rams had the 31st ranked OL in the NFL, is statistically very similar to Stafford's 2022 season.

Stafford was still very efficient when targeting Cooper Kupp, but on all his other throws not going in Kupp's direction, it was a different story.

2020 not to Kupp: 68.5% completions, 7.33 yards per target

2021 not to Kupp: 63.2% completions, 7.17 YPT

2022 not to Kupp: 63.9% completions, 6.22 YPT

The OL struggles this season was certainly the single biggest factor in why Stafford had such a poor year, but I'm not going to excuse the rest of the supporting cast (Robinson, Atwell, Higbee, Akers, Hendo, Hopkins, etc.) or Stafford himself from their part in the mess. Stafford at times did an excellent job manufacturing plays and making very difficult throws even when under heavy pressure, but there were also many plays where he had a WR other than Kupp wide open and either never looked at them or he messed up an easy throw and didn't complete it. This wasn't a problem that came out of nowhere in 2022, it was an issue even in 2021 when the Rams had a better OL.

Per SIS stats, Stafford was 24th in the NFL in deep passing IQR (minimum 15 attempts). He was 14th in that category last season and 7th in 2020 playing for the Lions. Stafford only had 7 deep completions in 9 games, a rate of 0.78 per game. Last year, he had 29 deep completions, a rate of 1.71 per game. You might remember from a fanpost I did a couple years ago before the trade for Stafford about deep ball passing, where I discussed how the difference of only 1 deep completion per game makes a huge difference over the course of a full season in a QB's passing stats. The Rams need to figure out how to unlock the deep passing attack if they want to generate more big plays and better production from Stafford in 2023.

Heading into the offseason, most of the attention of fans will be aimed at upgrading the OL, but I feel this misses a deeper problem with the offense. The Rams have failed to diversify the attack beyond throwing the ball to Cooper Kupp. There isn't enough balance and it shows up in a variety of contexts. It is part of why the Rams are bad on early downs, why they haven't hit deep passes this year, why they struggle in the red zone (the Rams are currently 22nd in red zone scoring rate) and why the opponent can focus their attention on stopping CK without having to worry about getting punished by a different offensive weapon.

The Rams don't just have an OL problem, they have an offense problem.

Grade: D