Matthew Stafford has been one of the most aggressive quarterbacks in the NFL throughout his career, almost to a fault. It’s gotten him into some tight spots and caused him to be criticized for being reckless at times, but it’s also what makes Stafford a terrific player.
There’s been a shift in how he’s attacked the field this season, however. Gone are the deep passes, the aggressive downfield shots and the bombs to Cooper Kupp. This season, Stafford has turned into someone who takes underneath passes and doesn’t force the issue to create a big play.
In a way, that’s not a bad thing, but it’s also turned the Rams’ offense into one of the worst and least explosive in the NFL. Stafford ranks last among all qualified quarterbacks in average depth of target, throwing it just 6.4 yards downfield per attempt.
That’s nothing like the Stafford we’re used to.
Stafford is 44th out of 44 qualifying QBs (w/ min 25 dropbacks) in Average Depth of Target (6.4 yards)
— Josh Cohen (@JCohen_NFL) October 31, 2022
According to Next Gen Stats, Stafford ranks last in intended air yards, averaging 6.1 yards downfield per throw. His 4.2 average completed air yards also puts him third-lowest in the league, so not only is he not attempting downfield passes, but most of his completions have been near the line of scrimmage.
If you compare those numbers to 2021, there’s a huge difference. He was eighth in the NFL in intended air yards (8.5) a season ago and third in completed air yards (6.7). He was sixth in IAY and 11th in CAY in 2020, too, according to Next Gen Stats. Stafford led the NFL in IAY and CAY in 2019 while with the Lions.
So this season has been a stark contrast from what we’ve typically seen from Stafford. There are a few reasons for this.
The biggest part has been the offensive line, which hasn’t given him much time in the pocket to throw the ball downfield. Plays can’t develop if Stafford is forced to get rid of it in 2 seconds every time he drops back.
Then there’s the absence of a deep threat. Van Jefferson missed the first six games of the season and wasn’t targeted in Week 8. He was Stafford’s primary deep threat last season, along with Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr.
Defenses are also making a concerted effort to take away deep throws against the Rams by playing two-deep shells and keeping everything in front of them. It’s working, obviously, and it probably will continue to until the Rams can make them pay with a consistent running game.
There’s no easy fix for this offense, but hopefully some more big plays come in the second half of the season.