I feel that Matthew Stafford’s stats are lying to us.
When he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 2021, Stafford joined a roster that fell short in the playoffs the previous year and missed the playoffs the year before that. The Rams made the Super Bowl and lost it in 2018 but it wasn’t the last for Sean McVay and L.A. ended up winning the big game in Stafford’s first season.
Stafford was everything the Rams needed him to be that year.
Last season was a rough one as the team dealt with injuries all over the offensive line and it affected Stafford’s time to throw, which led to his play going downhill. Has it gotten any better in 2023? I guess it depends what you are looking for with statistics.
Stafford is a top-10 quarterback graded by Pro Football Focus, he is top five in big-time throws and has fewer turnover-worthy plays than most of the league’s quarterbacks. With that said, Stafford only has nine passing touchdowns and the lowest completion percentage of his career since 2013.
We’ve already beaten Lamar (#3) and Purdy #13) but over the next 5 weeks; the #Browns will face four of the Top 14 highest grades QBs in the #NFL per PFF.— CLEology (@_CLEology) November 21, 2023
Lawrence - #8
Stroud - #9
Stafford - #10
Wilson - #14
Our elite D will be tested #DawgPound
So, what’s the deal? Is Stafford declining. While the numbers might not look great, here’s his nine game run this year versus the first two years of his Rams tenure.
68.2 Completion percentage
23 Touchdowns, 6 Interceptions
111.0 Passer Rating
16 Big-Time Throws
9 Turnover-Worthy Plays
8.5 Average Depth of Target
16 Receiver Drops
12 Times Sacked
68.0 Completion percentage
10 Touchdowns, 8 Interceptions
87.4 Passer Rating
15 Big-Time Throws
12 Turnover-Worthy Plays
7.0 Average Depth of Target
9 Receiver Drops
29 Times Sacked
59.2 Completion percentage
9 Touchdowns, 8 Interceptions
80.8 Passer Rating
20 Big-Time Throws
7 Turnover-Worthy Plays
8.6 Average Depth of Target
17 Receiver Drops
20 Times Sacked
What’s the verdict?
There are some variables to consider before you write him off and just chalk it up to age. First off, he’s been banged up, he suffered a sprained UCL of his thumb, he hurt his hip and he’s been playing through pain. Second, Stafford has more big-time throws and fewer turnover-worthy plays than any season he’s been with the Rams. He also has more drops and has a higher depth of target than 2021.
Matthew Stafford to Cooper Kupp sheesh pic.twitter.com/sS7spM6bpr— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 20, 2023
I believe that Sean McVay has decided to revert back to a similar style passing attack as 2021.
Last year was brutal, Stafford had no time to throw due to all the injuries on the offensive line and I think this year McVay and Stafford want to let it rip. The only problem is running a similar offense as 2021 without several key players, including Andrew Whitworth at left tackle or Robert Woods, and missing Cooper Kupp for a lot of time.
It’s not to say Puka Nacua, Kupp and Tutu Atwell can’t be something or that they haven’t contributed when called on. It’s more so when comparing the first nine games of each of the last three years for Stafford, you see that 2021 was more of a well-oiled machine than this inconsistent supporting cast.
One that has also replaced Kevin O’Connell, now a leading candidate for Coach of the Year, with Liam Coen for 2022 and Mike LaFleur in 2023.
Stafford gets a lot of the blame and maybe he deserves some of it. However, it’s right there in black and white, he has more big-time throws and fewer turnover-worthy plays while throwing further downfield than he did ever before with the Rams. Is that a decline? Or is that an elevation with lesser talent? I do think this team is desperately missing Tyler Higbee of old. I don’t know if it’s the injuries or if this is who Higbee is now in 2023.
What I do know is that the Rams need a quality tight end if they want to run their offense to their expectations. I also know that this offensive line is not going to magically turn into the 2021 offensive line, so asking them to hold protection for these long developing passing plays Stafford ran in 2021 is not conducive to a success offense or winning football.
Right now, there’s an inconsistency.
McVay’s play-calling has been good at times but has struggled far too often. Stafford needs to be given more personnel groupings, more options and easier assignments than what he is currently dealing with. Trotting Stafford out there without check down options and having three-to-four receivers 20-plus yards downfield as the edge pressure is closing in on his sides is a recipe for disaster. The hope is with Kyren Williams returning, the Rams will utilize the run game more which in turn will open up the play-action game and hopefully we will see an increased usage of the short passing game in the second half of the season.
Calling long-developing plays with an average offensive line is asking a lot and it’s not sustainable for a 35-year old quarterback who has a laundry list of injuries on his resume.
I understand the concern over Stafford but in reality, I think he’s playing some of the best football you could ask of him right now. His fourth quarter comeback on Sunday was impressive. There will be an interception every so often where you scratch your head but make no mistake this quarterback is still one of the very select few that can make any throw at any given time on the field.
My advice is enjoy him while he’s around and do not take Stafford for granted. You will regret it.