During his first season as the starting quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams, Matthew Stafford ranked sixth in intended air yards per pass attempt, pushing the ball downfield more times to Cooper Kupp and company than his predecessor Jared Goff. It was probably the most noticeable and significant difference in the Rams’ offense year-over-year: The change at quarterback that allowed Sean McVay’s offense to scare the shit out of defenses by taking off the top.
So why does Matthew Stafford rank 30th in that same category through two games?
Stafford’s intended air yards/attempt was 8.5 in 2021 but it is down to 5.5 through two games in 2022. Only Geno Smith, Kirk Cousins, and Jalen Hurts rank lower, but Cousins and Hurts have yet to play their second games of the 2022 season. That means that Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith, a backup for the past seven years, is the only player ranked below Stafford right now.
Over at NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Stafford currently ranks as the “least aggressive” quarterback in the NFL through two games. The only QB with a lower “aggression rate” than Stafford is Cousins, while Chicago’s Justin Fields doesn’t have enough pass attempts to qualify.
We are not surprised to see Fields, Cousins, or Smith at the bottom of such a list. But Matthew Stafford?
As a matter of fact, Stafford did rank low in aggression rank in 2021: fifth from the bottom. It doesn’t mean he did bad. Patrick Mahomes was dead last in aggression, defined by Next Gen Stats as:
Aggressiveness tracks the amount of passing attempts a quarterback makes that are into tight coverage, where there is a defender within 1 yard or less of the receiver at the time of completion or incompletion. AGG is shown as a % of attempts into tight windows over all passing attempts.
It means that Stafford actually isn’t attempting to throw the ball into tight windows and is maybe playing it “safer” than those who feel they can test 50/50 jumpballs. Quite a conclusion to draw for a quarterback who leads the NFL with seven interceptions. Cooper Kupp gets plenty of separation and Stafford is rarely throwing it to anybody else right now.
But not throwing the deep ball is an interesting turn of events this early in the year and won’t slow down the conversations about Stafford’s elbow, L.A.’s pass catching weapons, and the offensive line. Are the Rams able to support a deep passing attack in 2022 like they were able to in 2021?
Stafford averaged 5.0 intended air yards per attempt in the Rams’ 31-27 win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 2. We only have one other Falcons game to go off of, but Jameis Winston averaged 8.8 intended air yards per attempt against Atlanta in Week 1.
If Stafford isn’t going to take more shots downfield, is he going to start getting more aggressive? If he gets more aggressive, what will that do to his interception rate? Those answers must come soon with road games against the Cardinals and 49ers on deck in the next two weeks and the race to the top of the NFC West getting started early.