No one needs to remind me that the numbers for Matthew Stafford haven’t been good so far this season, but anyone who has watched the L.A. Rams four games this year knows that he’s still got more arm talent than any quarterback in the NFC. Stafford is averaging less than one touchdown and more than one interception per game and there are only three QBs in the conference with a lower passer rating than 78.1—nobody will accuse him of being Stat Padford this time—but there isn’t a single quarterback in the NFC who I would pick in a throwing contest or a two-minute drill over him.
Statistics lie. Film doesn’t. And Kirk Cousins leads the NFL in touchdown passes but the Vikings are 1-3 with their sole win coming against a team that has no victories this season.
Matthew Stafford is playing just as well this season as he did during the Rams’ Super Bowl run in 2021, but L.A. has not had Cooper Kupp, the team had to endure abysmal left tackle play during a critical time vs. the Bengals, and he’s basically had Kyren Williams as a touchdown vulture for some scores that could be credited to him.
How far could Stafford take this Rams team? Probably further than any quarterback in the NFC could. Nobody else in the conference is making throws like this:
a QB throwing stuff like this is unguardable pic.twitter.com/rBRio44hwM— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) October 3, 2023
While I think that Brock Purdy has probably not gotten enough credit for his development between his rookie season and the first four games, likely doing more to help the 49ers be 4-0 than most accept, he would have a much higher level of difficulty if he was playing in Los Angeles right now.
Purdy leads the NFL with a passer rating of 115.1, completing 72.3% of his passes with five touchdowns and no interceptions and a Y/A of 9.1. By passer rating, he’s followed in the NFC by Kirk Cousins, Baker Mayfield, Josh Dobbs, Jared Goff, Geno Smith, and Dak Prescott.
Give me Stafford over any of those six—one of them was a literal 1:1 transaction that cost the Rams two first round picks to finalize—and if Geno is the closest right now, fans clearly witnessed a separation of talent during the second half of L.A.’s 30-13 win in Week 1. Stafford is arguably the only quarterback in the NFL who makes this throw based on how certain others have played in 2023:
Not even Patrick Mahomes seems to be on his “I make that throw” vibe yet this season.
And Mahomes credits watching Stafford for his arm angle throws that have helped make him so highly-regarded as the NFL’s best quarterback.
With a fairly mediocre rushing attack that ranks 23rd in yards per carry and lacks a true top-15 talent at the position, an offensive line that was cobbled together on the cheap, and a single hamstring preventing L.A.’s best receiver from playing yet this season, it doesn’t take a specialist to see that Matthew Stafford is doing more with less. And he still has the second-most passing first downs in the NFL because somebody has to do it.
QB Matthew Stafford is ranked second in the NFL in passing yards (1,229) and second in passing first downs (62). According to @PFF, he has the 5th-best passing grade (79.0) and the 7th-best offensive grade for quarterbacks (80.0). #RamsHouse pic.twitter.com/RjfB8QeFLx— Los Angeles Rams PR (@TheLARamsPR) October 4, 2023
I’m not coming down on Puka Nacua, so please spare me the cries of “You weren’t nice ENOUGH to the Rams” in an article about elite quarterbacking, but it is no less true that Stafford has also dealt with the second-most drops in the NFL. The 11 drops by Rams receivers is only one behind Mahomes’ 12 dropped passes, and five of those have been blamed on Puka. I’m not really criticizing Puka—the fact that he’s been targeted as many times as he has and the reality that he more than makes up for it by coming through on almost everything that goes his way is what matters—but it is no less true about the drops.
In Week 2, the Rams totaled six drops on 55 attempts, surely contributing to L.A.’s worst loss of the season but even that was only 30-23 and within reach.
We also saw a Tutu Atwell touchdown catch called back because the refs said he stepped out of bounds, and whether he actually did or didn’t, that scratched a touchdown off Stafford’s stat sheet that he maybe deserved. Just as a Kyren Williams drop added an interception to his resume that he didn’t.
Nobody has had more on their plate than Stafford, the NFL’s leader in pass attempts at 166, averaging over 40 per game. Per PFF, he leads the NFL with 12 “big time throws”, a mark that Josh Allen led last season to much more fanfare.
Nothing to see here...— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) October 4, 2023
Just another sidearm throw from Matthew Stafford with a defender draped over his back. McVay mentioned on the Coach McVay Show how instrumental Kyren Williams was on this drive in overtime. pic.twitter.com/foq0j18Ce3
What would L.A.’s record be if they had to turn this season over to Bryce Young, Desmond Ridder, Justin Fields, or Mayfield, a player who could have even stayed on the Rams if he wanted to? The Rams are 2-2 and they had a really great opportunity to be 3-1 if not for small differences against the Bengals in Week 3, but the team has the bones of potentially being 0-4 with bad or even average quarterback play.
What’s around Stafford has been much better than most anticipated, including and maybe especially me. I am a longtime Stafford defender, noting after the Goff trade that this was the trade that made the Rams the 2021 Super Bowl favorites. I have to admit how wrong I was about the supporting cast on both sides of the ball.
However, the Rams escaped Indianapolis and 1-3 by the skin of their teeth and next face an Eagles team that will be as talented in the trenches as San Francisco. If the Rams beat Philadelphia on Sunday and improve to 3-2, we’ll know for sure that Los Angeles is not to be underestimated again. Going as far as they did in 2021 would be exponentially more surprising than it was two years ago when there were many more veterans, stars, and former first round picks on the roster.
But one player on offense who hasn’t changed at all since then is the quarterback and though Stafford’s stats are worse, what he’s managed to accomplish so far this season has been better.