Matthew Stafford Makes the Rams a Super Bowl Favorite

There is no question that Matthew Stafford is an upgrade over Jared Goff in terms of physical traits. More significant for the Rams is that Stafford offers an element to the passing game that was largely missing with Goff. That is, the ability to consistently complete passes when the design of the play doesn’t go exactly as planned.

Sean McVay’s offense leans heavily on schemed throws like play-action passes and screens. What does that mean? Lots of simple and defined reads for the quarterback. Lots of plays where the first receiver or two are open in large windows due to the run action moving defenders. It means lots of max protection and throws in safe situations on the perimeter off of bootlegs.

Jared Goff has done a nice job of executing McVay’s offense. The Rams went to the Super Bowl with him at the helm just two seasons ago. He is not a bum by any means. However, he has struggled to consistently perform in those circumstances and situations when the success of the offense is more dependent on the quarterback than the design of the system (non-play-action drop backs and 3rd downs for example). He has struggled to consistently execute when conditions around him aren’t ideal, like when the protection isn’t great or free rushers are bearing down on him off of blitzes.

In 2018, the Rams Offense was operating on all cylinders, largely based off of the dynamic running ability of Todd Gurley. With that element lacking over the last two seasons, Goff’s deficiencies have become more pronounced. During that time (and really throughout his entire career), Stafford has been better than Goff in the situations mentioned above where the success of the play is more dependent on the quarterback:

Stafford vs. Goff

These numbers are over a span of two seasons where Stafford dealt with a ridiculous assortment of injuries (2019, 2020). Stafford has been better than Goff in these areas both by the numbers and by the eye test. Some examples from last season of Stafford’s ability to create completions in ways Goff didn’t do so consistently are below.

On this first play, watch Stafford hold the deep middle safety to the right before firing a pass back to the skinny post on his left.

2020_StaffordG_vsMIN_HoldSafetyTD_SL

The void in coverage was created by Stafford’s eyes. His arm strength and downfield accuracy did the rest. That’s what we mean by “creating completions.” The end zone angle provides an even better illustration of this.

MatthewStaffordRams
Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

2020_StaffordG_vsMIN_HoldSafetyTD_EZ

The below play against the Cardinals wasn’t open by design. The quarters safety to Stafford’s left started creeping inside to jump the targeted route. But Stafford saw that and adjusted by putting the ball on his receiver’s back shoulder.

2020_StaffordG_vsARI_ThrowtoBeatCoverage_SL

Consistently making the right throw to beat the coverage is something Stafford has been very proficient at throughout his career.

He also handles pressure well. On this play against the Bears below, watch him navigate the pass rush from within the pocket and still find a way to fit the ball into a tight window downfield.

2020_StaffordG_vsCHI_Movement3rdandLong_EZ

That was a 3rd-and-17 Stafford converted because he didn’t let an unclean pocket derail the play.

This touchdown against the Texans came against a blitz with pass rushers closing on him fast. Stafford waited until the last possible moment to get rid of this ball, still had to release it earlier than he wanted to, and made a perfect throw.

2020_StaffordG_vsHOU_BlitzTD_SL

2020_StaffordG_vsHOU_BlitzTD_EZ

Coverage recognition and the willingness to sit in the pocket to get the ball downfield are two areas where the Rams should see significant improvement at the quarterback position in 2021.

Arm strength has always been Stafford’s signature, as you could see on some of the throws above. However, he’s a very polished quarterback as well. He doesn’t always get a ton of credit for this because of Detroit’s lack of success over the last decade. But Stafford is hardly to blame for that.

30, 21, 23, 32, 30, 32, 28, 17, 23, 29, 23, 24…Those are the rankings of the Lions’ rushing attack from each year of Stafford’s career, in case you were wondering. Their defense was almost as bad. They finished in the top 10 in scoring just once during Stafford’s time in Detroit. They finished in the bottom 10 in half of his 12 seasons with the Lions.

Do not dismiss the lack of help Stafford has had around him. As we’ve said many times before, football is not a 1-on-1 pick-up basketball game between quarterbacks. It is the quintessential team sport. It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is, he isn’t winning playoff games or Super Bowls with a bad team around him. And that’s exactly what Stafford has had to deal with throughout his career.

Make no mistake about it, the Rams are trading in a good quarterback in Goff for a great quarterback in Stafford. It will be fun to see what Stafford can do when he finally has a good defense and rushing attack around him. It will also be fun to see what Sean McVay can do with a quarterback who elevates the passing game. The Super Bowl is coming to L.A. this season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Rams hosting it.

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