What’s Wrong with Matthew Stafford?

The Rams have had Super Bowl aspirations since they acquired Matthew Stafford last offseason. A 7-1 start did nothing to quell the excitement. 3 straight losses where the Rams were never really within striking distance, all against playoff-caliber teams, have created legitimate cause for concern, however.

The defense has been bad, the offensive line has been questionable, and the injury to Robert Woods was devastating. But it’s Matthew Stafford’s struggles that have been the most eye-opening. He’s missing throws physically – throws he normally makes easily. Those misfires were on display all afternoon against the Packers in Week 12:

Below, he wasn’t able to connect despite a clean pocket and a wide-open receiver:

That’s one of those passes that needs to be thrown with firm touch, placed just over the underneath defender but not thrown so hard it sails over everyone. It’s these types of incompletions that make me wonder if everything is okay with Stafford physically. He seemed to have no feel on that throw or many others throughout the afternoon against Green Bay.

Here’s one more for good measure:

These uncharacteristically inaccurate passes aren’t the only issues with Stafford’s game right now. His decision making has been bad of late as well.

On the below 3rd-and-3, the Rams came out in a 3×1 set and would have running back Darrell Henderson motion to the 3-receiver side:

2021Wk12GBDLARO_1
Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Notice those two safeties, though. On previous 3rd downs to this point in the game, Green Bay had used their safeties to provide double-teams inside on Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham, Jr. It was not a huge stretch to imagine that the safety to the 1-receiver side here was waiting to pounce on anything Beckham would run over the middle:

2021Wk12GBDLARO_2
Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

It looked like the Rams were trying to attack the anticipated inside leverage of these safeties by utilizing a corner route to the outside with Kupp. The route combination to the right was designed to hold those DB’s near the first-down marker, keeping them from undercutting Kupp:

2021Wk12GBDLARO_3
Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

But Stafford didn’t give the play a chance. Instead, he tried to force a throw quickly to Beckham between two defenders whose presence in the area was not a surprise pre-snap:

It seemed like Stafford didn’t trust that he’d have time to work the matchup to the other side, so he chose to squeeze one in to Beckham. The Rams settled for a field goal.

So do Stafford’s problems stem from the anticipation of pressure? After all, Stafford has been under more duress in recent weeks (7 sacks in 2 games entering Week 12). And he was sacked early in the first quarter against Green Bay after some pretty quick pressure off the edge to his blindside:

It’s easy to become unsettled after a play like that. Stafford certainly seemed to anticipate pressure on this play later in the second quarter:

Stafford’s feet fell apart for absolutely no reason there. Again, he looked unsettled. A good throw likely leads to a first down. Instead, the Rams faced a 3rd-and-2 on the next play and would fail to convert.

Whether it was due to pressure, perceived pressure, or something else, Stafford continued to misfire and make plenty of questionable decisions throughout the afternoon.

This was a 3rd-and-3 in the 4th quarter. Stafford had a trips bunch to the left and Beckham isolated to the backside. He chose to force the ball to Beckham on a low-percentage downfield pass instead of finding Kupp for an easy chain-moving completion against soft coverage:

Pre-snap, the trips side looked pretty inviting. I’m not sure why Stafford didn’t look that way. You could even see a frustrated Sean McVay come up to Stafford to talk after that play as he was coming off the field, probably wondering the same thing we all were: “Why’d you make that decision?”

On their next drive, Stafford again failed to take an open receiver underneath, this time on first down:

He even peaked to his left where his open receiver was right after the snap. Again, the coverage was soft and inviting. But Stafford chose the other side where Green Bay had the numbers advantage. Later in the 4th quarter, Stafford did take similar underneath throws, so you can’t make the argument that he had to force the ball downfield due to the urgency of the situation here. There were still 7 minutes left and the Rams only trailed by two scores.

Two plays later, the Rams faced a 3rd-and-10. It was probably 4-down territory if the 4th down was manageable. It would not be:

Stafford appeared to have some open options underneath late in the play there. Options that could have given the Rams the opportunity to go for it on 4th down. However, he waited and waited and waited for something to open downfield. It didn’t.

I can’t tell you exactly why Stafford isn’t seeing the field, or moving through his reads quickly enough, or making good decisions. It could be a perception of pressure. Or it could be that there is an underlying injury impacting his game.

Injuries that impact a quarterback’s ability to throw can also affect decision-making. A quarterback playing through injury might not have the ability to quickly react to what he’s processing on the field. Knowing that, the quarterback then starts to predetermine throws, which might explain the sudden inexplicable missed throws and poor decisions by Stafford. This is admittedly pure speculation, though.

On the bright side, despite not being sharp at all, the Rams did score 28 points against a Packers defense that’s playing pretty well right now. It’s not too late for L.A. to get their season back on the rails. Whatever the issue is, though, Stafford and the Rams need to correct it soon before things start to spiral out of control.

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