By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFL Writer
The Los Angeles Rams Coach Sean McVay looked at hours of film on Matthew Stafford before finally making a trade for the 33-year-old quarterback last March.
One loophole jumped off the screen in Stafford’s 12 seasons with the Lions: the veteran shooter wasn’t always sure when to say “uncle.”
Ten months after this successful deal, it’s fair to say that resolving this issue is still a work in progress for McVay.
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“Sometimes the best thing is to live to fight another play and bring (the punter) Johnny Hekker out on the grass and let him hit him,” McVay lamented after a triple-figure performance from Stafford at the Rams’ victory in Baltimore last time around. the week.
While Stafford posted impressive numbers and performed well in clutch situations for the 12-4 Rams (who could win NFC West with a win over the visiting 49ers on Sunday), the Texas native is still struggling. with the gifts, very much liked Jared discarded. Goff a season ago.
Stafford has returned the ball six times in the last two games (five interceptions and one fumble). He’s been in five games with at least two turnovers this season, and the Rams are 2-3 in those competitions.
Four of Stafford’s 15 interceptions have been fired for scores this season, the most in the NFL and tied for most of all seasons in his 13-year NFL career. That’s the same number Goff threw in his five seasons with the Rams.
Stafford’s 15 interceptions are the most he has made in a full season since 2013 (19 interceptions).
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Does this sound familiar to you? It should.
From 2017 to 2020, only Jameis Winston (70) recorded more turnover than Goff’s 65. That’s, along with Goff’s inconsistent decision-making under duress, why the Rams traded the Cal product, with two first-round picks and a third-round pick in Detroit for Stafford.
Stafford’s hemorrhagic reversals are troubling, as he admitted earlier this season.
“I have to do a better job of making sure that every possession we have ends with a kick, whether it’s a punt, a basket or an extra point,” Stafford said. “It’s something that I’ll be really careful about as long as I’m playing this game.”
On a five-game winning streak, the Rams are in a position to make a playoff run.
Receiver Cooper Kupp is in the MVP conversation, on track to become the first point guard to receive three crowns since Steve Smith of Carolina in 2005, leading the NFL in receptions (138), touchdowns (15) and receiving yards ( 1829).
The Rams have a stingy defense, punctuated by frontline players like Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd.
And the special teams game has been better this year. Kicker Matthew Gay made the Pro Bowl, and LA received a jerk in the rematch with the addition of Brandon Powell mid-season.
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The table is set, and it’s up to Stafford to deliver.
For the first half of the season, Stafford has done just that. In the first eight games, Stafford completed 69% of his passes for 2,477 yards, with 22 touchdowns and just four interceptions. The Rams have gone 7-1 in those games.
But in the last eight games, Stafford has completed 66% of his passes for 2,171 yards, with 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The Rams are 5-3 in those games.
Much like Stafford, McVay continues to say all the right things.
“This guy is a great competitor, he’s unfazed,” McVay said of Stafford’s ability to overcome adversity in a game. “Sometimes these (turnovers) are occupational hazards. We want to avoid them when we can, but not to the point where we don’t continue to compete.”
Stafford’s problems dealing with football point to another QB with that gunslinger mentality: Philip Rivers.
The longtime former Chargers quarterback had his own issues late in his career moving the ball away from the other team.
Rivers threw 74 interceptions, a league record, from 2016 to his final NFL season with the Colts in 2020. He led the NFL in interceptions for touchdowns in 2015 (five) and 2016 (three) .
Rivers is seventh all-time in the NFL with 25 pick-sixes. Stafford is tied for fourth at 27.
However, just like Stafford, Rivers usually played on the clutch when the play mattered the most. Stafford is No. 3 among active leaders with 34 fourth quarter returns. Rivers is tied for 10th all-time at 29.
Stafford has a league-high 126.8 passer rating with 11 TDs and no interceptions in the fourth quarter this season.
Both players struggled in the playoffs as well. The Rivers-led teams finished 5-7 in the playoffs. Rivers reached the AFC title game once, playing with an ACL tear and right knee meniscus, losing the road to the New England Patriots in the 2008 AFC Championship.
Stafford is yet to win a playoff game, going 0-3 in his 12 seasons with the Lions.
So is Stafford just Rivers with more strength in his arms? The Rams will soon find the answer to this question in the coming weeks. McVay’s reasoning for securing Stafford is his ability to play in moments of clutch, hoping he could bring them back to the Super Bowl – a home game in Los Angeles at SoFi Stadium in February.
Stafford showed what he can do in clutch situations last week against Baltimore, rebounding from a turnover-prone first half as he completed his 14 passes down the stretch and led the offense. from LA on a winning race for an impressive road victory.
Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians is famous for coining the phrase “No risk, no cookie.” But how willing is McVay to lean on the risk / reward of leaning on Stafford to get the critical parts of the playoff game played?
Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell has said Stafford’s performance in the second half of his team’s win over the Ravens could be the model for his offense as they head into the playoffs – take what the defense gives you and choose your spots to shoot down. domain.
Rivers had a similar credo later in his career – don’t be bored with easy completions.
“Just the value of the completions, the power of the completions and our choice of places where we can maybe be more aggressive on the court, more aggressive with the situation,” O’Connell said.
“Realizing that in the end the most important thing is the value of football possession.”
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for over a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on twitter @eric_d_williams.
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