Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams put the NFL world on notice with their resounding Week 1 upset over the Seattle Seahawks. Stafford had one of his best individual performances as a Ram in that game—even without his star WR Cooper Kupp. LA’s franchise quarterback tossed five big-time throws according to Pro Football Focus (PFF) without putting the ball in harm’s way. It was also the world’s introduction to rookie phenom Puka Nacua, who is now close to 900 yards on the season and could soon eclipse the impressive 1,000-yard barrier.
We’ve seen Stafford play at a high level and take over games with his cannon of an arm before, but what was new this time around is that he seemed to sustain it for a six-week stretch.
In its simplest terms, a big-time throw is on the highest end of both difficulty and value. While the value is easy to see statistically, the difficulty has more to do with passes that have a lower completion percentage the further the ball is thrown down the field. Therefore, the big-time throw is best described as a pass with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further down the field and/or into a tighter window.
The idea of the tight window can often bog people down as they ask, “Why do you want your quarterback to make riskier throws?” But it’s less about taking a risk and more about executing a pass that perhaps makes up for a deficiency on the offense. If a receiver can only create a tiny window of separation and the quarterback can put the ball in an optimum spot, he’s now created a big-play opportunity despite the receiver, not because of him. “Throwing receivers open” is a necessary skill at the NFL level, and big-time throws are just one way to capture it statistically.
The veteran made another nine big-time throws over his next four games to move to 14 total on the season. He had another shining performance in Week 6 against the Arizona Cardinals where he tossed four big-time throws at a clip of 16.0% of his passing attempts (his rate against the Seahawks earlier in the year was 12.5% even though he finished with five big-time throws).
Rams QB Matthew Stafford ranks No. 1 through five games with 14 “big time throws” according to the PFF metric, which measures frequency of throws that combine degree of difficulty with highest production value on the play. Simple stats aren’t really telling his story so far.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) October 11, 2023
Stafford’s impressive performance over the first six games helped LA get out to a 3-3 record to start the season. While that doesn’t seem impressive on the surface, it’s important to keep in mind how low expectations were entering the year for a team that spent the offseason shedding high cost veterans such as Jalen Ramsey, Bobby Wagner, Leonard Floyd, etc.
Unfortunately for LA, they would lose their next three games leading up to the bye week and move to 3-6. Stafford’s performance has seemingly fallen off a cliff since, and his big-time throw rate has dropped drastically.
In Week 7 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Rams offense only mustered 17 points as Kenny Pickett came alive in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. Stafford threw an interception early in the third quarter that set up a Steelers scoring drive and helped contribute to their momentum. The veteran quarterback finished this game with a single big-time throw and a turnover-worthy play. This was objectively Stafford’s worst individual performance on the season so far.
DaRon Bland pick-6— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 29, 2023
Cowboys 17, Rams 3 pic.twitter.com/VYTlMQ2w77
Things didn’t get much better for LA’s franchise QB against the Dallas Cowboys, but it’s worth mentioning that Dallas has one of the NFL’s top defenses and pass rush units this season. Still, Stafford threw an inexplicable pick-six to DaRon Bland that helped the Cowboys build what become an insurmountable lead. The Rams never really had much of a chance after the pick. This was the first game of the season where Stafford did not have a big-time throw, and he was strangely not credited with a turnover-worthy play for the interception. His adjusted completion percentage, which accounts for incompletions on dropped passes or unaimed throws, was the lowest on the year at 61.9%.
LA’s signal caller injured his thumb in the loss against the Cowboys and missed the following week versus the Green Bay Packers. The Rams offense seemed inept with Brett Rypien at the helm, and he was released shortly after the game and replaced by NFL journeyman Carson Wentz.
But after taking the bye week to heal up, Stafford didn’t return to form this past weekend in the second game against the Seahawks. After decimating Pete Carroll’s defense in Week 1, the Los Angeles offense seemed disjointed in the rematch. Stafford missed open downfield throws to Kupp and running back Darrell Henderson, and generally he was inaccurate in the red zone when the throwing windows became more compressed. He finished with one big-time throw and one turnover-worthy play, which was likely the strange reverse-pass intended downfield for Austin Trammell that was picked off by Riq Woolen.
Matthew Stafford to Cooper Kupp sheesh pic.twitter.com/sS7spM6bpr— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 20, 2023
Stafford might've missed a 91 yard TD to Darrell Henderson— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) November 19, 2023
wide open. Would have been a foot race
Over the last three games Stafford has only two big-time throws and the same number of turnover-worthy plays. His play has taken a dip and you can see the impact of the offense in real-time.
The lack of big-time throws isn’t the only aspect of his play hampering the Los Angeles offense—his adjusted completion rate of 71.2% ranks 25th of 27 signal callers with at least 260 drop backs. Only Kenny Pickett (69.9%) and Jordan Love (69.7%) are worse, two QB’s whose teams beat the Rams. Even in front of Stafford in adjusted completion, which is the one of the strongest measures of passing accuracy, are the likes of Zach Wilson (72.1%), Mac Jones (72.1%), and Desmond Ridder (73.0%).
The Rams need their franchise quarterback to perform better than he’s played over the last few games, and if he can return to his early--season levels Los Angeles may be able to get back into the thick of the playoff hunt.
Stafford’s big-time throws versus turnover-worthy plays in 2023:
Week 1 at Seattle Seahawks: 5 BTT’s, 0 TWP’s
Week 2 vs San Francisco 49ers: 3 BTT’s, 2 TWP’s
Week 3 at Cincinnati Bengals: 3 BTT”s, 1 TWP
Week 4 at Indianapolis Colts: 2 BTT”s, 1 TWP
Week 5 vs Philadelphia Eagles: 2 BTT’s, 1 TWP
Week 6 vs Arizona Cardinals: 4 BTT’s, 0 TWP’s
Week 7 vs Pittsburgh Steelers: 1 BTT, 1 TWP
Week 8 at Dallas Cowboys: 0 BTT’s, 0 TWP’s
Week 11 vs Seattle Seahawks: 1 BTT, 1 TWP