What a wild Year 1 for Matthew Stafford playing with the Rams. Ups and downs, twists and turns and a magical, dramatic ending, so fitting for Stafford with yet another late comeback in the 4th quarter to win the Super Bowl.
What can Stafford and the Rams do for an encore? Can they be even better in 2022 compared to last season? These are my 5 goals for Stafford for the upcoming season:
1. Win another Super Bowl.
Short, sweet, easy, directly to the point. Most important goal, all the others only lead back to this main goal. Rams got it done (barely) last year. Reload and chase the title once again.
2. Give Stafford Quality Pass Blocking
One of the goals I set for 2021 was for Stafford to have the lowest sack rate of his career. It didn't happen. It was way better than it had been for much of his career in Detroit, but there were still some rough moments, including when Stafford got snowed under by the Niners. Sometimes, I thought McVay's play calling didn't do enough to protect his QB. Other plays maybe Stafford held the ball too long and contributed to his own pressures, but other plays he had no chance and the rush was on him too fast.
Over the course of 7 seasons with the Detroit Lions from 2014 through 2020, Stafford had a 6.73% sack rate. The Rams gave him far better protection in 2021 and he had a 4.75% sack rate, nearly 2% lower. While that's a substantial improvement, Stafford actually had a lower sack rate early in his career in Detroit from 2010 through 2013. He had a 3.8% rate in 2012 and 3.5% rate in 2013.
The retirement of Andrew Whitworth likely will make it difficult for the Rams to achieve a career lowest sack rate for Stafford in 2022. We don't know yet who the starting 5 for the Rams will be, let alone how Noteboom will perform as a full time starting tackle.
I don't want to be overly aggressive in setting the goal, so let's set the target for the Rams to achieve a sack rate for Stafford at lower than 4.5%, which would be an improvement compared to 2021.
3. Stay Healthy
This goal is indirectly related to the previous goal, because if your QB keeps getting hit and sacked, the odds of injury increase. Stafford started every game in the regular season and the playoffs in 2021. Success. There were some injury concerns even in preseason and it appeared that Stafford was playing through nagging injuries during the season that possibly impacted his accuracy. Towards the end of the season he struggled to throw the ball deep.
Stafford is a tough guy who will play hurt, but we don't want him to have to play hurt, we'd prefer that he'd be close to 100%.
Start every game in 2022, don't end up on IR, don't be the 2021 version of Baker Mayfield, that's my goal for Stafford this year.
4. Don't throw so many interceptions
A pick six is one of the most exciting plays in football. It is great when your team gets one. I'd be okay with slightly less "negative" excitement from Stafford in 2022.
Stafford was tied with Trevor Lawrence for the most INTs in the NFL last year with 17. His 2.8% INT rate was the highest for any season of his career since his miserable rookie year, when he had 20 INTs and only 13 TDs.
If you add up all the INTs and fumbles Stafford has had over his last year and half worth of games, playoffs included (I believe it is 19 starts or something like that) the total is exactly the same as the number of INTs and fumbles that Goff has had over the same stretch of games.
Some of the INTs don't bother me. When you throw for a ton of yards and TDs and are aggressive, those will happen. Other Stafford INTs are what I'd characterize as "unforced errors" type of INTs, like a tennis player who has a clear shot and flubs it into the net or air mails it way past the baseline. Same thing with turnovers in basketball, some are okay if you're making an aggressive move to the basket, others are just sloppy and undisciplined. I'd like to see Stafford cut down on some of the looser throws he makes and if he does that I can live with the other INTs.
5. Be more efficient
Stafford didn't get to 5,000 passing yards last season and I don't want him to try to hit 5,000 yards this season either. Just win football games, individual stats aren't as important.
Matthew Stafford's passer rating and QBR both ranked relatively high in 2021, but this is misleading. The group of QBs overall was a bit down due to a variety of factors, including Drew Brees retiring. If you compare Stafford's stats to the 2020 and 2019 season, he slots in just behind Derek Carr of the Raiders.
Carr had the 11th best QBR in 2020. Stafford's 2021 season would have come in just behind Carr at 12th place (barely ahead of the 13th ranked QB). Carr had the 10th best QBR in 2019. Stafford's 2021 season would have been just behind that in 11th place.
In a sense, you could say that what the Rams achieved at QB in the trade was they got a QB who's the same as Derek Carr. There's nothing wrong with that, I kind of like Carr, he's not a bad QB by any objective measurement. On the other hand, Carr is one of those QBs who is right on the boundary where it is fun to debate whether he is or is not an elite QB. Sometimes, Carr looks really good, other times he isn't so hot and that up and down roller coaster is similar to what we experienced with Stafford in 2021. The good version of Stafford literally won the Super Bowl. The bad version of Stafford made Rams fans seriously question in the middle of the season whether the Rams actually could win the Super Bowl.
This is just a variation on the idea I raised before about whether the Tampa Bay Bucs still would have won the Super Bowl if they had Derek Carr at QB instead of Tom Brady. Stafford and Brady went toe to toe in the playoffs last year and the Rams pulled out a narrow victory. Carr and the Raiders lost a close playoff game to Burrow and the Bengals when a last gasp drive by the Raiders came up just short of scoring a TD to tie the game.
What Carr was able to do last year is underrated. The Raiders had a bad offensive line. They ranked 31st in run block win rate, they were 27th in rushing yards per carry, they ranked 28th in PFF's offensive line rankings. Darren Waller got hurt and didn't play the entire season. They lost Henry Ruggs due to that terrible car accident. Their leading WR was Hunter Renfro. Gruden got canned in the middle of the season and their was turmoil with the team's leadership. Given such a challenging hand with his supporting cast, Carr's season as an individual player is arguably better than Stafford's season. Stafford just looked better, because he was on a stronger team with a superior support structure. It is interesting, because just a couple of years ago, there was talk about the Raiders needing to move on from Carr and replace him and even quite a few Raiders fans had given up on him. Now, there is a fair argument that Carr is one of the better players on their roster.
Part of the issue is that Stafford is over reliant on Cooper Kupp. Kupp had a gaudy 10.2 yards per target and a 75.9% catch rate. When Stafford threw the ball to any other intended receiver other than Kupp, he only had a 63.2% completion rate and 7.17 yards per target. If we did the same comparison for the Rams in 2020, intended passes to players other than Kupp had a 68.5% completion rate for 7.33 yards per target.
Effectively, Kupp was much more effective playing with Stafford, but the other plays were actually slightly less effective playing with Stafford compared with catching balls from Wolford and Goff.
Losing the continuity with Robert Woods could present a challenge in this department. Whether it is incorporating Atwell into the offense, getting Robinson up to speed or seeing players like Van Jefferson or Hopkins take a leap forward, the Rams need to diversify their attack beyond just Cooper Kupp.
If Stafford and the Rams can accomplish each of the last 4 goals, they should have a good opportunity to contend for the number one goal. Next year's Super Bowl is in Arizona. Just double checking in case the Rams intend to make reservations.