Last season, the Los Angeles Rams lost three consecutive games in the middle of the year, falling to the Titans, 49ers, and Packers by scores that were relatively not-close. In that span, Matthew Stafford completed 61% of his passes, was sacked nine times, threw five interceptions against only five touchdowns, and lost one fumble.
The Rams then went on a five-game winning streak, including wins over the Cardinals, Seahawks, Vikings, and Ravens.
Stafford still had seven turnovers in those contests, but completed 69% of his passes and threw 11 touchdowns. In the playoffs, Stafford did the all-important task of getting the job done late in the fourth quarter as the Rams beat the Bucs, 49ers, and Bengals in thrilling fashion to win the Super Bowl.
So what any of us worry?
The Rams are coming off of a 31-27 win over the Atlanta Falcons that L.A. once held a 28-3 lead in. That’s mostly good. The bad?
Stafford has thrown five interceptions in the first two games and that makes for a total of 16 interceptions of his last 10 starts, including playoffs. He has also been sacked 25 times in those 10 games. People who say “This is just typical Matthew Stafford,” I have to disagree.
Stafford’s 2.8% interception rate in 2021 is the second-highest rate of his career, not including his 10-game rookie campaign. He had a 1.9% rate in his final season with the Lions and a career rate of 2.3% in Detroit. However, Stafford’s “good” has been “great” under Sean McVay, for the most part and he posted career-highs in completion percentage and touchdowns, with career-highs in Y/A and passer rating for any season with more than eight starts.
But concerns about his elbow were raised in the offseason, then John Wolford took more reps with the starters in training camp then usual, leading to preseason action to get Wolford ready “just in case” and holding onto three quarterbacks on the roster for the second season in a row. Despite a four-year contract extension signed by Stafford to eventually retire with the Rams, we should at least be cognizant of the possibility that the 34-year-old is feeling every ounce of his 21-game season.
Accounting for 741 pass attempts.
The last time that Stafford threw near that many pass attempts, he had 727 throws in the 2012 campaign. The next year, Stafford had a career-high 3% interception rate with 29 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. The Lions then stopped testing Stafford with more than 600 attempts and his interception rate went down considerably.
With 77 throws on his resume this season, of course Stafford’s interception rate is going to be high (6.5%) and it will come down by a lot. However, is it too early to address Stafford’s first two games and whether or not the conversation around Stafford’s arm in the offseason is still worth talking about?
I raised the question to the Turf Show Times writing staff. Here are their answers, starting with my own.
“Question: Are you concerned at all about Matthew Stafford and the passing offense?”
Am I concerned “at all”? Sure, I will give it a modicum of consideration. We shouldn’t forget that a lot of great quarterbacks had seasons throughout their career with high interceptions, including Brett Favre and Peyton Manning. Stafford’s 22 interceptions since the start of 2021 is four more than any other player. I’m not CONCERNED at all, but I’ll probably be more focused on how the Rams plan to score more touchdowns than they have through two games than how Stafford can avoid interceptions. Find the end zone—and players besides Cooper Kupp-more often.
Venie Randy Soares:
Short answer— no. Stafford is that high risk/reward type of player who is going to throw some bad interceptions. Something I find interesting is that McVay wanted to evolve his offense from the shorter traditional West Coast scheme to a vertical deep attack. Now that the NFL defense’s are trending to more deeper shell-type secondary coverages, the Rams may be forced back to a mid/short range gameplan.
I’m not worried about the passing offense as a whole. I only worry about Stafford’s obsession to look for Kupp consecutively. Vintage Stafford games were against TB (Week 3 of 2021 and @ TB in Divisional). He let all those throws come naturally.
Stafford threw an interception in 11 games last year and had 2+ in five of those. The low net yards is heavily weighted by the Week 1 game against Buffalo. Stafford ranked seventh in air yards against the Falcons and his adjusted yards per attempt were up to 6.72 up from 3.05 in the opener. I do think the passing game starts to look better once Van Jefferson returns and hopefully when Odell Beckham re-joins the team in November. These next couple of weeks will say a lot.
Yes. The Rams went on a very magical playoff run last year and a lot of that had to do with Stafford really not throwing interceptions. The Rams can win games with Stafford throwing picks but it becomes harder and they will lose to better teams. If they really want to win the division and make a deep playoff run then Stafford and the offense will need to cut down on the interceptions and turnovers.
Stafford reached a new level of performance during the playoffs last year, and you could probably conclude confidently it was the best football of his career. Instead of seeing that trajectory continue, he’s reverted back to what he was for most of the 2021 regular season and for most of his 13-year career. He’s a borderline top-10 QB that is capable of spectacular plays but he will make head-scratching mistakes just as often. At this point it doesn’t seem Sean McVay can coach those mistakes out of Stafford.