Matthew Stafford is going to the Super Bowl, and despite him playing for the Los Angeles Rams now, it is the biggest story in Detroit sports right now. What Stafford managed to do in his first year in LA is something he never even came close to accomplishing with the Detroit Lions.
Some fans are taking this information and blaming the Lions for squandering a dozen years with Stafford at the helm. Others are frustrated at Stafford for never managing to build that winner in Detroit. There are valid arguments to both sides, but I’m not here to settle that debate or tell people who or what they should be rooting for.
But the one thing I’m not going to tolerate after Stafford’s biggest professional accomplishment of his career is those trying to minimize what he just accomplished. Predictably, it happened throughout the entire regular season, then into the playoffs, and now it’s time to stop with that notion.
Through the first three weeks of the postseason, Matthew Stafford ranks third in passer rating (115.6), third in QBR (68.4), third in yards per attempt. He had the fifth-best completion percentage above expectation in the Wild Card round and had the best mark in both the Divisional and Conference Championship rounds. That’s all after finishing the regular season sixth in passer rating, fourth in QBR, third in yards per attempt, and second in passing touchdowns.
Yet, some are still trying to minimize Stafford’s influence on the Rams’ success this year.
The “Super Team”
At the crux of most of these arguments is that Stafford has a Hall of Fame-worthy supporting cast this year. On the surface, that seems to be a fair point. On defense, Aaron Donald has already punched his ticket to Canton and Von Miller probably isn’t far behind. Jalen Ramsey has a good argument as the best cornerback in the game today. On offense, the Rams grabbed Odell Beckham Jr. even before Robert Woods suffered a season-ending injury. Put it all together, and the Rams finished the regular season fifth in Football Outsiders’ all-encompassing DVOA metric: eighth on offense and fifth on defense. They’re a damn good team, no doubt.
But sometimes having a well-rounded team isn’t enough. Ask the Dallas Cowboys, who finished atop the league in DVOA with a top-six offense and a top-two defense. Ask Tom Brady and his “Super Team” how it worked out of them this year. Or San Francisco, or New England, or Buffalo. Six teams in the NFL finished in the top in DVOA on both offense and defense. Only one of them still has a game left to play.
You know another franchise that had a “Super Team” and failed to get to the Super Bowl? The 2020 Los Angeles Rams. By all means, Jared Goff had a better supporting cast in just about every facet than Matthew Stafford did this year. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look:
Rams defensive splits
Note: DVOA numbers are better on defense if they’re in the negative, better on offense in the positive
2020: 18.5 points per game allowed, 4th in DVOA (-17.0%)
2021: 21.9 points per game allowed, 5th in DVOA (-8.3%)
Rams running game
2020: 4.3 yards per carry, 4h in DVOA (3.5%)
2021: 4.0 yards per carry, 12th in DVOA (-1.4%)
The only significant difference in Stafford’s favor is protection, which some argue is dependent on the quarterback just as much the offensive line. Still, Goff’s offensive line didn’t really fail him last year, either. Check it out
2020: 70.8 team PFF pass-blocking grade (10th), 19.9% pressure percentage
2021: 81.6 team PFF pass-blocking grade (first), 16.3% pressure percentage
So Jared Goff had a top-10 offensive line, a top-four running game, and a top-four defense last year. The Rams went 10-6, won a playoff game, and produced... the 22nd-ranked offense by points scored.
Matthew Stafford has a similar—arguably worse—supporting cast, goes 12-5, wins the division, wins the NFC, and produced the seventh-best offense by points scored.
And then there’s their performance in the postseason.
Matthew Stafford vs. Jared Goff in their Rams playoff careers.— The Athletic NFL (@TheAthleticNFL) January 31, 2022
Goff: 3-3 record, 57.4 completion %, 4 TDs, 2 INTs
Stafford: 3-0 record, 72.0 completion %, 8 TDs, 1 INT pic.twitter.com/eHRvbRwTG5
But his receivers!!!
Some have shifted the narrative from Stafford to his ridiculous set of receiving options. Again, there is some validity to this argument. Cooper Kupp is the real deal, and Odell Beckham has been a key fixture in the playoffs.
But when are we going to acknowledge the pattern of receivers suddenly playing out of their mind when Stafford is their quarterback? Let’s go down a quick road, shall we?
Marvin Jones’ 2 seasons before Stafford: 116 catches, 1,528 yards, 14 TDs
Marvin Jones’ first 2 seasons with Stafford: 116 catches, 2,031 yards, 13 TDs
Golden Tate’s 2 seasons before Stafford: 109 catches, 1,586 yards, 12 TDs
Golden Tate’s first 2 seasons with Stafford: 189 catches, 2,144 yards, 10 TDs
Cooper Kupp’s 2 seasons before Stafford: 186 catches, 2,135 yards, 13 TDs
Cooper Kupp IN JUST ONE SEASON with Stafford: 145 catches, 1,947 yards, 16 TDs
Kenny Golladay in his last full season with Stafford (2019): 65 catches, 1190 yards, 11 TDs
Kenny Golladay in his first year without Stafford (2021): 37 catches, 521 yards, 0 TDs
At some point, we have to see the forest through the trees. Matthew Stafford makes his receivers better. Kupp’s production doubled in a year. Beckham, whose career was considered over after the Browns cut him, suddenly is an elite player again. And just about every receiver that no longer plays for Stafford is worse for it.
It’s time to give Matthew Stafford some damn credit.