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Rams may be taking new approach with Matthew Stafford after bye week

Are Rams attempting to manage Stafford’s thumb injury, or have they made a schematic pivot?

Los Angeles Rams v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

With a win over the Arizona Cardinals last week the Los Angeles Rams have now strung together consecutive wins for the first time in the 2023 season. They current sit at a 5-6 record with a chance to move back to .500 and into the NFC playoff picture this weekend when they host the Cleveland Browns.

Is there a key behind the Rams earning back-to-back wins and looking much more capable on the offensive side of the ball, especially considering on the other end of this winning steak is the inept offensive performance we saw from Brett Rypien while Matthew Stafford was recovering from a thumb injury?

Whether Sean McVay and the Rams are managing Stafford’s thumb injury and he could still be recovering back to full health or whether Los Angeles performed some self scouting over their Week 10 bye and determined they were being too aggressive in the passing game, Stafford’s average depth of target (ADOT) has notably decreased since he re-took the signal caller duties from Rypien according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). In LA’s second win of the season over the Seattle Seahawks, Stafford’s ADOT was 6.1 yards. Last week against the Cardinals this metric was 6.0 yards.

These measurements from both games are Stafford’s lowest ADOT on the season—his next closest being 6.8 yards (nearly a full yard longer) in the Week 2 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers. In the first game against the Seahawks in the season opener, Stafford’s average target was 11.3 yards down the field. Currently the NFL leaders in ADOT according to PFF are Green Bay’s Jordan Love and the Houston Texans’ CJ Stroud at 9.6. Stafford is currently tied for 10th with the Atlanta Falcons’ Desmond Ridder and Seattle’s Geno Smith at 8.4 yards.

So what difference has this made in the Rams offense? Well, the more conservative approach in the passing game has significantly aided Stafford’s adjusted completion rate, which is a metric that takes raw completion percentage but carves out dropped passes, unaimed throws, and incompletions that aren’t the QB’s fault.

Prior to LA’s bye week, Stafford was among the least accurate quarterbacks in the NFL in terms of adjusted completion percentage. He was the fifth-lowest in the NFL in this key stat just a few weeks ago and was behind the likes of Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, and Desmond Ridder.

While Stafford’s average depth of target has been at its lowest over the last two weeks, he’s put together two of his stronger outings in terms of adjusted completion rate—and it’s normal for these measures to have an inverse relationship. The further a pass travels down the field, the more difficult it is to complete generally. Last week against the Cardinals was Stafford’s second-most accurate performance with an adjusted completion rate of 83.9%. This ranks only behind the first game he played against Arizona where he was on target for 84.2% of his throws. In the Week 11 win over Seattle Stafford was at 70.4% which is positive considering he has four sub-70 outings so far this season.

It’s worth keeping an eye on this metric to see if the Rams grow more aggressive in the passing game as Stafford’s thumb nurses back to full health, or if this change is a conscious effort by Los Angeles to be more efficient through the air. Either way, it’s been working for the Rams and it probably makes sense for them to continue with approach while they are still finding success offensively and winning games.

Can they pick up their third-straight win this weekend against the Browns?