It’s been one hell of a career for former Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. Now, in his first season away from Detroit, the critics don’t believe he is an upgrade to the Rams offense.

Matthew Stafford spent his first twelve NFL seasons with the Detroit Lions. The first overall selection from Georgia in the 2009 NFL Draft, Stafford has developed into one of the more consistent NFL quarterbacks. With almost no support from the run game his entire career, the Lions’ offense has relied heavily on Stafford to throw them to victory. In fact, in 2012, he set an NFL record with 727 passing attempts in a single season. He’s been there, too – missing only eight games in the last decade.

The Los Angeles Rams sent their former first overall quarterback, Jared Goff, to the Detroit Lions with some change for Stafford. The move, heralded by Rams faithful, has been mostly criticized in the national media ranks. Most analysts who are critical believe that the upgrade from Goff to Stafford isn’t substantial enough to raise the level of the Rams offense.

I’d like to have a word with these critics. I believe that they are very wrong.

Matthew Stafford is better than average

One of the key points that stood out in Stafford’s game when he was drafted was his cannon of an arm. Stafford has always been able to push the football deep down the field. When he had Calvin Johnson to throw to, he did so often and successfully. Over the last five years, since Next Gen Stats was formed, Stafford’s passing charts have been remarkable.

The one thing to really note is how consistently he’s been able to throw well into the intermediate to deeper levels of the field. This is with a receiving corps that, outside of 2019, hasn’t been a stellar unit in the NFL. He’s compiled a passer rating of 100 or more in the zones over 20 yards 7 times over the last 5 seasons – truly an impressive number.

Comparing advanced data to Jared Goff

Passing zones can only tell us so much about a quarterback. There are so many other factors that play into the game. Next-Gen Stats does an excellent job of providing more insight than just charts. I want to take a minute to compare Stafford’s five seasons of data to the career of Jared Goff.

Year Time to ThrowAverage Intended Air YardsAggressiveness%Longest Completed Air DistanceExpected Completion% (+/-)Passer Rate
20162.548.020.658.861.5 (+3.7)92.7
20172.658.019.657.164.7 (+0.7)99.3
20182.647.016.053.466.6 (-0.4)89.9
20192.6910.723.458.560.9 (+3.4)106.0
20202.659.016.761.865.3 (-1.1)101.4
Matthew Stafford Next Gen Stats

The first point that I want to compare the data is by observing the Time to Throw stats. The two seasons that Goff compiled a passer rating of 100 or better were the two seasons that the Rams were able to protect him very well, averaging just under three seconds per play. By NFL standards, this is an eternity. When you look at Stafford’s time to throw, he’s never been given more than 2.7 seconds to throw in Detroit. Nevertheless, he’s compiled 100 or better passer ratings in the last two seasons.

Our conclusion? Matthew Stafford makes better decisions faster than Jared Goff.

Year Time to ThrowAverage Intended Air YardsAggressiveness%Longest Completed Air DistanceExpected Completion% (+/-) Passer Rate
20162.547.525.951.460.0 (-5.3)63.6
20172.938.114.361.865.1 (-3.0)100.5
20182.958.813.262.764.3 (+0.6)101.1
20192.807.812.860.566.5 (-3.5)86.6
20202.766.512.756.766.6 (+0.4)90.0
Jared Goff Next Gen Stats (Italics indicate season under Head Coach Jeff Fisher)

The next point that I want to make is the aggressiveness percentage from Goff to Stafford. Outside of his single season under Jeff Fisher, a trainwreck of a situation, Goff has been among the least aggressive quarterbacks in the NFL. This has been a gripe and criticism on the Rams’ offense, as Goff is too hesitant to take the shot plays when they open up.

Stafford, on the other hand, has been noticeably more aggressive throughout his career. Even with a weaker receiver corps, he has taken shots and gone down the field. When you look at the passing charts, it’s clear that he has successfully done so.

How the Rams offensive system works

Sean McVay’s system is designed to attack a defense horizontally to spread them thin in the middle. When they adjust to the style to defend the perimeters, McVay wants to attack them over the top. This requires some patience from a quarterback and someone who can make adjustments to an offense pre-snap at the line of scrimmage.

In the last couple of seasons, Goff’s pre-snap effectiveness has dwindled. Many people around the Rams organization said that Goff couldn’t mentally handle the offense. After a rough stretch in 2020, McVay blasted Goff in a post-game presser, saying:

Each play, like I’ve talked about, is its own individual situation. But it might be keeping two hands on the ball or it might be understanding that if somebody is swimming around you that you can’t just throw it away when you don’t see where you’re going, being able to trust your guys to be able to separate.

Sean McVay on Jared Goff, November 30th, 2020.

Goff struggled to handle the pressure. He wanted a form response to each play and struggled to make good, quick decisions. That’s what McVay was saying about each play being “its own individual situation.”

The Rams add Matthew Stafford, who set the NFL record for the most single-season fourth-quarter comebacks (8) in 2016. He makes good, quick decisions. All of the data and the tape support that.

Why you shouldn’t sell on Stafford

Here’s another point to consider as well. The Rams weren’t the only team who moved to try and acquire Matthew Stafford this season. The San Francisco 49ers and Kyle Shanahan, a noted quarterback guru, wanted Stafford there too. The 49ers ultimately couldn’t outbid the Rams and were forced to trade up in the 2021 NFL Draft for Trey Lance.

This offense is the perfect fit for Matthew Stafford. As Louis Riddick of ESPN noted, it’s not just a scheme fit – it’s a culture fit for Stafford as well. McVay is the perfect positive compliment to Stafford. Both men will lift each other if they need to – they’ve both been around this game long enough.

Matthew Stafford is the final piece that the Rams offense needs

Let’s take all the factors that we have discussed in this article and put them all together:

  • Stafford has been consistent his entire career, and at times has lifted his team to make playoff runs and appearances – a gold standard in Detroit.
  • He makes better decisions with less time than Jared Goff could.
  • The Rams need someone who will pull the trigger when things open up downfield. That is something Stafford has done his entire career.
  • Stafford’s experience makes him capable of commanding the offense from the line of scrimmage pre-snap.
  • It’s not only the perfect scheme fit for Stafford, but also the perfect culture fit.

This is the final piece that the Rams needed to put together to take this offense to the next level. With Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Van Jefferson in the lineup, a solid offensive line, and a deep running back group (even while missing Cam Akers), the Rams are contending for the Super Bowl this season. As Riddick said, “It’s Super Bowl or bust.”

The last time I pointed out that the Rams were Super Bowl contenders was 2018 while writing for the Last Word On Sports. Interesting when you consider how that turned out…

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By John Vogel

NFL Draft Analyst. Dad.

One thought on “Why Do People Believe Matthew Stafford Isn’t Good?”

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