It was a disappointing season opener for the Los Angeles Rams - they were handily defeated by the Buffalo Bills 31-10. While the defense forced three turnovers in the first half and kept the game at a 10-point tie, quarterback Matthew Stafford and the offense could not sustain much momentum.
The Los Angeles offensive line struggled in pass protection for most of the game. Left tackle Joseph Noteboom enters the 2022 season as the full-time starter for the first time in his career, though he was bested by his former teammate Von Miller. David Edwards had the overall worst performance along the OL - and he’s been an up-and-down player over the course of his Rams career.
Bills DT Jordan Phillips was a force against the Rams. Beautiful spin move past Rams guard David Edwards to get to Matthew Stafford for one of his two sacks on the night. #BillsMafia pic.twitter.com/d0z29gQakK— Jarrett Bailey (@JBaileyNFL) September 10, 2022
These struggles resulted in Stafford being under pressure on 19 of his 50 drop backs (38%), per tracking by Pro Football Focus (PFF). Performance under pressure is very volatile for NFL quarterbacks - and for most passers it is immensely detrimental relative to their play in a clean pocket. Pressure rates between 40-50% of drop backs or greater create an environment where it’s next to impossible for the quarterback to be successful.
Take Kyler Murray’s performance in the 2021 wildcard game for example. He was pressured on 15 of 37 drop backs (40.5%), which resulted in his third-worst game of the season in the playoffs when it mattered the most. The pressure by Aaron Donald, Von Miller, and others become too much for Murray to overcome - and it forced him in to bad decisions throughout that game.
It’s not overly surprising that Stafford threw three interceptions while under pressure on more than 1 out of every 3 drop backs, though it is surprising that he took sacks (7 total) on 36.8% of these pressures - the fourth-worst mark among all QB’s in Week 1 behind the likes of Mac Jones (50%), Derek Carr (45.5%), Cooper Rush (40%) and tied with Joe Burrow according to PFF.
While pressures are a OL-driven statistic, sacks mostly fall on the quarterback. Today’s passers are so adept at maneuvering the pocket and either finding ways to dump the ball off quickly or using their mobility to extend plays. Two of the best young signal callers in the NFL are on the opposite end of the “percentage of pressures turned into sacks” spectrum - Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert were pressured 17 and 15 times, respectively, but weren’t sacked a single time.
If Stafford knew his offensive line was outmatched versus an aggressive Bills defensive line, why did he not strive to get the ball out as quickly as possible? His “time to throw” mark in this game was roughly the same as his season average from a year ago - 2.52 seconds vs. 2.66. Why did Sean McVay not scheme up screens to the running backs or get Stafford out of the pocket on designed rollouts?
It’s understandable that the Rams would want to head into this game with the expectation their offensive line could handle Buffalo’s pass rush straight up - but the lack of adjustments once they were overwhelmed prevented the offense from being successful in Week 1.
The offensive line is not the only unit to blame for the 7 sacks taken by Matthew Stafford in Week 1 - LA’s signal caller seemed unprepared to handle the pressure by the Buffalo defense.