Matthew Stafford has Los Angeles Rams believing he can take them from good to great

Mike Jones

As the Los Angeles Rams officially turned the page from one-time face of the franchise Jared Goff and introduced their new starting quarterback Matthew Stafford late last week, coach Sean McVay did his best to keep the focus on the present and the future rather than the recent past.

But because NFL rules had prevented the Rams from commenting on January’s blockbuster trade until the start of the league year made the transaction official, questions lingered regarding the Rams’ decision to send Goff (the player the Rams traded up to select first overall in 2016 and then awarded a $134-million contract extension in September of 2019), two first-round picks and a third-rounder to Detroit in exchange for Stafford.

Rumors of McVay’s dissatisfaction with Goff had swirled after signs of regression in each of the last two seasons, but the coach avoided divulging details of any issues he had with the quarterback’s play. He spoke diplomatically of Goff and predicted that he would do well with the Lions. 

The move, McVay said, had more to do with Stafford than Goff.

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The Rams consider Matt Stafford a major upgrade at QB.

And then, Rams general manager Les Snead expounded.

“The key word is opportunity. It’s a rare opportunity to have a chance to bet on going from good to great at that position,” Snead explained. “Especially where our team was – our core group of players and where they were in their careers. The coaching staff just felt like it was just too good an opportunity to pass up.”

Translation: The rest of the roster has been poised to compete at an elite level. We just needed a quarterback capable of the same, and now we think we have him.

Stafford comes to L.A. with an impressive individual resume, which includes nine of Detroit's franchise passing records, the league record for the fastest quarterback in history to reach 20,000, 30,000 and 40,000 passing yards, the most passing yards through 165 starts in NFL history, the most consecutive seasons with 550-plus pass attempts (eight straight seasons), the most fourth-quarter comebacks (19) or game-winning drives (22) since 2011. And the list goes on. 

The Rams view Stafford as a true difference-maker – a player capable of elevating the franchise to new heights. And they won’t say it, but they believe he can get the job done in areas where Goff could not. 

Goff did show great promise in 2018 while helping the team reach Super Bowl LIII. But after the Patriots defense befuddled him and the Rams offense as a whole in that defeat, Goff failed to continue the trajectory that his coaches and members of L.A.’s front office anticipated. 

McVay and Snead have believed that they have fielded a roster capable of returning to the Super Bowl, but the two seasons since have ended in disappointment.

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The 2020 season saw L.A. boast the stingiest defense in the league in both points and yards, but the offense underperformed while failing to capitalize on opportunities that presented themselves.

When Goff got hurt late in the year, McVay turned to backup John Wolford, a second-year pro with no career NFL snaps until Week 17. Wolford seemed to give the offense a spark, and McVay gave him the nod in the playoff opener despite Goff’s clearance to play. The move seemed ominous.

Wolford got hurt early against Seattle and Goff did take over and help the team to victory. But after a feeble effort against Green Bay the following week (174 passing yards and a touchdown in a blowout loss) his days still appeared to be numbered because of maddening inconsistencies.

McVay runs a quarterback-friendly offense. However, Goff struggled to take advantage of that. He typically did well running the offense if unimpeded. But at times, he could turn robotic, and when plays broke down, requiring Goff to adjust, he frequently struggled.

McVay was asked Friday when he lost confidence in Goff. He shifted the focus to Stafford.

The praise he heaped on Stafford proved telling –  in what McVay wants and expects from his new quarterback and what he wasn’t getting from his former starter.

“The things you've seen from Matthew over the course of his career: playing position at an elite level, being able to see the field,” McVay began. “You see (Aaron) Rodgers and (Patrick) Mahomes have done an outstanding job of being able to move and manipulate coverages and change their arm slots, and Matthew has done a lot of those same things. He's got great wide field vision, sees the field, he’s able to speed it up if he has issues. You're watching a guy that if you watch the film, the game makes sense to him. I really respect the lenses that he sees it through. ... It shows up on the film.”

Stafford’s ability to recognize defensive tactics, extend plays and drives, improvise and deliver wizardly heroics should give an added element and increased potency to a Rams offense that already boasted a talented group of wide receivers led by Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, and welcomes in speedster DeSean Jackson.

The game-changing play potential that Stafford offers and Goff did not could make the difference between squeaking into the playoffs and making a strong postseason push.

As Snead and McVay express belief that Stafford’s ability to take their quarterback position from good to great, it’s abundantly clear that they expect the Rams to launch themselves into the ranks of Super Bowl contenders. 

Stafford already can sense the weight of those expectations, but after 12 years of directing poorly constructed, and at times, poorly coached rosters in Detroit and reaching the playoffs just three seasons, he welcomes the expectations. 

“Feeling that pressure is a positive thing,” Stafford said. “I want to be playing in those games and those big moments. For me, it’s an opportunity more than anything.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.

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