Quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) will play in his first game with the Rams in the season-opener against the Bears on Sunday night at SoFi Stadium. Stafford, acquired from the Lions in a trade for Jared Goff, did not play in the preseason. | Mark J. Terrill/AP Photos
Without the hurdles he had to clear in Detroit — better protection, a better run game, and a defense that won’t turn his best work to dust — Stafford could reach a new level in Sean McVay’s offense.
Matthew Stafford is one of the most prolific quarterbacks in NFL history. He’s 15th on the all-time list in passing yards (45,109) — ahead of Jim Kelly, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman and Kurt Warner among other Hall of Famers.
But in 12 seasons with the Lions, Stafford was a threat who commanded respect more than he elicited fear. He actually has averaged more passing yards per game against the Bears than Aaron Rodgers (272-241), but he’s been nowhere near the daunting villain that Rodgers has been — willing his way to victories over the Bears with one soul-crushing play after another.
In 20 starts against the Bears, Stafford is 11-9. His passer rating is 86.3 (32 touchdowns, 23 interceptions). Even the Lions’ stunning 34-30 victory at Soldier Field last year was more a byproduct of a Bears implosion than a Stafford miracle. Stafford’s 402 passing yards, three touchdowns and 109.4 passer rating, while impressive, were about to go for naught — until Mitch Trubisky’s fumble while being sacked set up the Lions at the Bears 7-yard line for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:37 to play.
But that was with the Lions. Matthew Stafford in his prime with Sean McVay and the Rams after the offseason trade of former No. 1 overall picks that sent Jared Goff to the Lions is a different deal. Or could be.
The Rams provide Stafford with many of the support system elements that stifled him in Detroit — an offensive line, a run game, a 21st-century offensive guru and a defense that won’t turn his best work to dust.
“The respect I have for Matthew,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said when asked about the impact of Stafford on the Rams. “Just in who he is as a player, going against him and just being a quarterback guy all my life — and then you put him in that offense. Coach McVay went out and got some tools, too. I was with Desean [Jackson] in Philadelphia. He might be older, but he can still blaze — Sean knows that. I’m sure he’s excited. It’s gonna be a challenge for us on defense.”
Just having a better run game figures to benefit the strong-armed Stafford. The Lions were no better than 17th in rushing in Stafford’s 12 seasons — and in the bottom 10 in 10 of them. The Rams have ranked in the top 10 in rushing three times in McVay’s four seasons
And Stafford figures to be better protected with the Rams. They were sixth sacks allowed per pass play last season. The Lions were 22nd.
But McVay’s influence is the biggest reason for optimism that Stafford could excel with a new team. McVay’s inventive system often keeps defenses guessing and off-balance. A veteran with Stafford’s experience and arm strength could take it to another level.
“We all know Stafford has a great arm — definitely can make all the throws,” outside linebacker Robert Quinn said. “And him joining McVay, I”m sure they’ve got a whole bunch off crazy schemes drawn up.”
The Bears’ timing might be good. Stafford is new to McVay’s offense. And he and the Rams starting offense did not play in the preseason. And running back Cam Akers is out for the season with a torn Achilles. But the potential for a breakout performance is always there with Stafford.
“They’re going to have a lot of new wrinkles with Matt,” Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai said. “Matt’s a stud. He’s one of the top quarterbacks in this league. And obviously he’s going with one of the top offensive minds in the league. I think that will be fun for them. I’m sure they’re enjoying it and we’re excited for the challenge.”