It’s been a weird start to the year for the Los Angeles Rams offense in terms of red zone production.
While I’m often critical of Matthew Stafford, I think we can all agree that he’s been much better than his box score touchdown to interception ratio of 3:5. At least one of those interceptions deserves an asterisk because it came on a well-thrown ball that bounced off the hands of RB Kyren Williams and into the waiting arms of a San Francisco 49ers defensive back. The Rams have also run the ball in the red zone often and well, which probably compresses Stafford’s touchdown figure.
Stafford has thrown two red zone touchdowns through four games in 2023, and I think the offense’s performance in this area of the field is something to monitor moving forward—especially with WR Cooper Kupp expected back in the fold starting this week against the Philadelphia Eagles. The first of those touchdowns was a screen to Williams in Week 2 against the 49ers. The second came in garbage time to Tutu Atwell against the Bengals when LA was down 9-19 with a minute left on the clock.
One bettor at @BetRivers wagered $124,000 on Rams +3.5 (-123) on #MNF.— Ben Fawkes (@BFawkes22) September 26, 2023
He cashes thanks to this 1-yard Tutu Atwell TD catch with 1:03 remaining.
Final score: Bengals 19, Rams 16 ✅pic.twitter.com/9Z1w1dde92
The biggest beneficiary of the lack of passing touchdowns inside the 20-yard line has been Williams, who has five rushing scores in addition to his aforementioned receiving TD.
How much do we read into the rushing touchdowns well outnumbering the passing scores? Does this reflect a trust in Williams to get the job done at the goal line, or does the Rams’ receiving corps lack a certain skillset needed to threaten defenses in the short area of the field? Is this just a weird stat line that is due for regression, meaning that Stafford is primed to throw more touchdowns in the coming weeks?
I’m personally inclined to think that the receivers may not be suited for success in the red zone.
Matthew Stafford to Kyren Williams Passing TD (1/1) pic.twitter.com/SqGi9jb9l8— NFL TD Videos (@NFLTDVideos2023) September 17, 2023
While Atwell has the group’s only touchdown inside the 20-yard line (Puka Nacua’s touchdown came outside of the red zone), we’ve seen him be affected by contact and his lack of size can be an issue when the throwing lanes become more compressed. Nacua has the body type that you’d expect to thrive in the end zone, but most of his production comes against zone coverage and defenses are going to run more man coverage as you get closer to the goal line. The explanation is probably not that straight-forward, but I think it’s still fair and worth mentioning. Van Jefferson has also been mostly a non-factor this season and should be a distant fourth option starting this week. You’d expect TE Tyler Higbee to get looks, but he can be very streaky and sometimes disappear from the passing offense.
To me, this is underscores why Kupp’s return is so important. The former receiving triple crown winner has both the size and skillset needed to win in the red zone, and defenses will key in on him and that will create opportunities for the younger targets. When you need a play, there’s one one better or more dependable than Kupp—and that’s evident from his MVP performance in Super Bowl LVI.
I think Stafford was already primed for regression (or progression) in his passing touchdown number and Kupp’s return only strengthens that idea. On the flip side, we could see Williams get less carries and opportunities at the goal line.
All that matters is that the Rams find a way to get the ball into the end zone, and that will be important this weekend against a dynamic Eagles offense led by Jalen Hurts. If LA is going to keep pace with the 49ers and Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West race, they are going to need more passing touchdowns from their franchise quarterback.