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Matthew Stafford played best football of his career in 2021. Can he take another step forward?

The pairing of Stafford and Sean McVay brought the best out of the QB

NFL: NFC Wild Card Playoffs-Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams pushed all their chips to the center of the table when they made the quarterback swap from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford in early 2021 - LA had once again leveraged a hefty amount of draft capital in order to add a top tier talent.

The marriage of McVay and Stafford resulted in a Super Bowl victory in just it’s first year, and it’s fair to wonder if this is just the beginning for the duo.

After an already strong performance in 2021, can Stafford take another step forward in 2022?

2021 was his best football so far

Last season’s Rams team went as Stafford went - and over the first eight games he was largely the same player that he’d been the past 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions. During his time with the Lions, the QB averaged a PFF grade of 74.3. Over the first half of the season Stafford averaged a grade of 74.0 - right on mark for the rest of his career and good enough to lead LA to a 7-1 record at the midpoint.

But then came a mid-season slump for both Stafford and the Rams.

The team signed receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. and traded for Von Miller within the span of one week - and then shortly after lost veteran pass catcher Robert Woods to injury for the remainder of the season. This caused a state of sudden change, and it took Los Angeles several weeks in order to right the ship.

Over the three-game losing streak to the Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers, and Green Bay Packers, Stafford recorded PFF grades of 52.1, 62.4, and 58.8, respectively. These marks were well below the standard he had set for himself during his career, but the significant transition on offense gave him a viable excuse.

The Rams won five of their last six games to close out the regular season - and the team’s Week 18 overtime loss to San Francisco could have gone either way. During this stretch Stafford recorded single-game performances of 80.3 (Jaguars), 90.1 (Cardinals), 76.7 (Seahawks), and 81.0 (49ers).

In hindsight, his strong finish to the regular season was a sign of things to come for the playoffs - where the veteran quarterback took his game to another level.

Stafford earned his best PFF grade of the 2021 season in the wildcard game against the Arizona Cardinals - a mark of 90.3. The veteran signal caller earned a cumulative playoff grade of 89.5, which was the second highest mark for all quarterbacks that participated in the playoffs. Josh Allen earned the top mark, 95.8, but he had only 69 drop backs compared to Stafford’s 153.

Looking at the 2021 season in totality, including playoffs, Stafford finished with an overall grade of 86.1 - which was the 7th best mark in the NFL.

Out of his 13 NFL seasons, Stafford has only finished in the top 10 four times - in 2013 (8), 2017 (10), 2019 (8), and 2021 (7).

Where is there room for improvement?

In addition to finishing in the top 10 for PFF offensive grade, Stafford also finished in the bottom 10 for turnover worthy play percentage at 3.7. A turnover worthy play is measured as throws that are could have been intercepted regardless of whether or not they were caught and the metric also includes fumbles within the pocket that may or may not have been recovered by the quarterback or his team.

The only other quarterback graded in the top 10 for offensive grade that also finished in the bottom 10 for turnover worthy play percentage was Ryan Tannehill of the Tennessee Titans, who had an up-and-down season a year ago.

Stafford finished with 17 interceptions and 5 fumbles lost in 2021, though his 29 turnover worthy plays, per PFF, suggest he had some slight turnover luck last year. The veteran had two performances with four turnover worthy plays each - against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 16 and the 49ers in Week 10. Stafford threw three and two interceptions in these games, respectively. In other words, the actual outcomes could have been worse.

You could chalk up the frequency of the turnovers to unfamiliarity with the McVay system, but perhaps the offense also asked Stafford to take more chances and be more aggressive. This resulted in frequent explosive plays, but defenses will get their share of wins at times too.

Will we see the playoff version of Stafford in 2022?

Stafford took his game to another level in the playoffs - and it’s one of the biggest reasons why the Rams were able to emerge as world champions. The veteran lowered his regular season turnover worthy play percentage from 3.7 to 2.5, which is a significant decrease.

This is a sizeable silver lining to take into next season, and it could a sign of the signal caller feeling comfortable with and taking ownership of the McVay offensive scheme. With a full year under his belt, could Stafford maintain the level of performance he flashed in the post-season?

If so, Matthew Stafford could be at the center of the MVP conversation towards the end of 2022.

NFL: Super Bowl LVI-Los Angeles Rams at Cincinnati Bengals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports