Going into the season, it seemed there was little in common between quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Kenny Pickett other than maybe the fact that both needed to play a lot better than they did in 2022 in order for their respective teams to have success. Well, after Week 7’s showdown between the two players, they have a lot in common and what’s encouraging for Pickett is equally concerning for Stafford.
Now the Los Angeles Rams must decide if they can do more to help Stafford be better or if it’s Stafford who is making them worse.
Only a few weeks ago, I wrote that Stafford was playing as good as he did during the Rams Super Bowl season and writers like Nate Tice have been praising him as still being a 1-of-1 quarterback in terms of pure, unadulterated raw arm talent, even at 35.
Matthew Stafford casually flicking this bomb against the Cardinals walk around defense is the QB version of Indiana Jones shooting the guy with the sword pic.twitter.com/buVc7KO2eM— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) October 19, 2023
But let’s not fall for the trap of confusing talent for value because the Rams are not going to win many more games this season if they continue to have a bottom-10 passing offense.
Through seven games, Stafford has thrown a touchdown on 2.7% of his attempts (tied with Pickett for 25th in the league), thrown an interception on 2.3% (a little worse than Pickett and Bryce Young for 15th in the league), is completing 59.8% of his throws (below Pickett and Zach Wilson for 30th), and his passer rating of 82.3 ranks 22nd, one point ahead of Pickett:
Matthew Stafford - 59.8%, 7 TD, 6 INT, 272.6 Y/G, 7.5 Y/A, 82.3 rating
Kenny Pickett - 60.9%, 5 TD, 4 INT, 209.5 Y/G, 6.8 Y/G, 81.3 rating
That close and yet the narratives around these two quarterbacks seem dramatically different. Pickett being the one “the team must upgrade next year, if not at the trade deadline”, whereas Stafford is just “not getting enough help”.
In the fourth quarter of Pickett’s win over the Rams, the Steelers scored 14 points with Pickett completing passes of 39, 31, 21, 18, 11, and 11 yards.
In the fourth quarter of L.A.’s loss to Pittsburgh, Stafford went 0-for-4 with another incompletion waved off because of illegal contact.
For as long as he is the quarterback, it will probably be a question of how much more the Rams would need to do to help Stafford in order to get back to consistently winning football games. If the answer is that the Rams need five quality starting offensive linemen who never get hurt, well that’s not likely ever going to happen and doesn’t happen for most teams.
L.A. didn’t have that in 2022 and they probably won’t have it in 2023, but Sunday’s game featured five starting offensive linemen that pretty much every fan has asked for all year: A.J. Jackson, Steve Avila, Coleman Shelton, Kevin Dotson, Rob Havenstein.
Do you honestly believe the line is going to get better than that this season?
Do you believe that any team could ask for more at receiver than Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua? And forget whether they were added off of the street this month—the Rams rushed 30 times for 127 yards with Darrell Henderson and Royce Freeman.
That’s not good enough?
Since the start of last season, Matthew Stafford has started 16 games and the Rams are 6-10 in those contests. His stats:
359/559 (64%), 3,995 yards, 17 TD, 14 INT, 7.1 Y/A, 85.1 rating, 47 sacks.
It’s hard to compare this to any season that Stafford has had in his entire career, except maybe 2012 when he average a little more than one touchdown and one interception per game as the Lions went 4-12. What’s important is that no team will consistently win in the modern era by scoring one passing touchdown per game.
Is it Sean McVay?
The Rams have lost a lot of offensive coaching assistants over the years, including Kevin O’Connell, Thomas Brown, Zac Taylor, Matt LaFleur, Shane Waldron, and it’s at least worth asking if they took any secrets or exceptional study habits/weekly findings with them. It’s rare that McVay would hire/fire a coach as quickly as he did Liam Coen and what’s the ultimate career expectancy of Mike LaFleur if L.A. continues their second half struggles with no signs of halftime adjustments?
It seems like every single team the Rams face now comes out of halftime saying, “Well, they want to do that, so let them do that. We don’t care if they can successfully do that all day because they won’t score enough points or stop us from doing this.”
Puka Nacua is on pace to shatter the rookie receiving yardage record and yet the Rams are 3-4 and Puka has only scored two touchdowns. That could be on McVay, Stafford, or Puka, and a combination of all factors. Blame is not as important as problem solving and the problem is that good teams will let L.A. get explosive plays because they know that when the clock reads 00:00, they’ll still have more points.
The Rams have lost 24-17 to the Steelers, 23-14 to the Eagles, 19-16 to the Bengals, and 30-23 to the 49ers. Many of the stats seem close, but good teams play the Rams with the confidence to know that they can win the fourth quarter by being the more physical team and wear down L.A. in the second half. Other teams aren’t scoring a lot of points, they’re just scoring more points than the Rams because the Rams have failed to score over 20 in any of their four losses*.
*The Rams technically score 23 against the 49ers, but kicked a meaningless field goal as time expired
Can the Rams ever be a consistent scoring team in the Matthew Stafford era again, like they were in 2021, or is the problem rooted in the player at the center of focus?
If the Rams decide they can fix the offense this season, and they’re wrong, the second half of 2023 will be as painful as the second half of 2022. If they’re right, the Rams will make the playoffs in a wide open NFC picture.
But before they can do right, they need to answer what’s wrong:
Matthew Stafford...or Matthew’s staff?