How Matthew Stafford creates chunk plays in deep passing game

Expect L.A. Rams' Sean McVay to open things up with strong armed-QB
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With Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay seeking more talent at quarterback this offseason leading to a change from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford, the result for his team should be an increase in explosive plays.

“That’s always going to be a big part of it,” McVay told reporters via zoom conference call last week, when asked about the need to increase big plays. “When you have to go 12, 15-play drives consistently, your margin for error is so small. The level of competition is just so great that you have to be able to find ways to continuously create explosives, give yourself a little bit of margin for error, that it’s not always taking that many plays to produce points in this league.

“Any good offense, anyone that’s at the upper echelon of the league, that’s usually something that you can probably check the box on. I think that’s something that we’ve definitely got to do a better job of starting with me this next season.”

Even with one of the best play designers and play callers in the NFL in McVay, the Rams were not in the “upper echelon of the league” for offense. They averaged just 23.3 points a game, No. 22 in the NFL.

The Rams finished with 50 passing plays of 20-plus yards, No. 14 in the NFL. The Lions finished with 58 passing plays of 20-plus yards last season, tied for No. 7 in the league.

L.A. totaled just six passing plays of 40-plus yards, tied for eight-worst in the NFL. L.A.’s 20 passing touchdowns was seventh-worst in the league.

Goff struggled to generate deep chunk plays last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Goff had four touchdowns and six interceptions on deep passes 20-plus yards downfield in 2020. Stafford finished with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions on those passes.

So, if Stafford is the better deep thrower, what will that look like in McVay’s offense? The transition for Stafford should be made simpler because he played in a West Coast offense system led by offensive coordinator/interim head coach in Darrell Bevell at Detroit in 2020.

Bevell has always leaned on the play-action game during his time in the NFL, a staple of McVay’s offense. Look for McVay to amplify that skill set for Stafford on game days.

Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who sacked Stafford six times playing against him, spoke about the intangibles the 33-year-old quarterback brings to the field from playing against him.

“He’s a tough guy,” Donald said. “He stays poised, no matter the ups and downs. He doesn’t panic. Just watching him, a lot of quarterbacks panic when they make mistakes; they shut down and consistently make mistakes. But he’s a guy who if something negative happens, he doesn’t let that affect him for the rest of the game. He comes back still playing at a high level. And it was always fun playing against him.”

Here are three deep routes we should see more of from the Rams next season:

Go route

One of Stafford’s strengths is his ability to fit the football into tight windows. That skill, along with his feathery touch on deep throws, are on display in this 58-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Quintez Cephus on a go route against the Chicago Bears last season.

Stafford does a good job of moving his feet to evade pressure and then shows off his arm strength in getting the ball up and over the Chicago secondary and right on the money for the score. Stafford also has a compact release and gets the ball out quick. 

Stafford finished 15 of 46 (32.6 percent) for 555 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions on go routes last year, per Next Gen Stats. Goff was 8 for 28 (28.6 percent) for 189 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions on go routes last season.

Any questions about Stafford’s unique ability to create arm angles to get throw off should be answered by this throw below.

Deep in (Over) route

McVay likes to run in-breaking, over routes on play-action passes, forcing the linebackers to suck up to stop the run which allows his quarterback to find voids in the middle of a defense for big plays.

Stafford is good at using different arm angles to accurately fit the football into voids in the middle of a defense for big gains, like this 38-yard pass play to Marvin Jones.

According to Next Gen Stats, Stafford completed 88-of-131 passes (67 percent) for five touchdowns and no interceptions on play-actions passes last season, posting a 108.7 passer rating.

Skinny post

Here’s another impressive throw by Stafford that I remember watching in person when I covered the Chargers two years ago.

On a game-winning drive when the Lions needed points, Stafford showed the ability to move the safety to create a throwing window and drive the football where only his receiver could catch it on this 31-yard TD to Kenny Golladay.

Dan Orlovsky, Stafford’s former teammate with Detroit, does a nice job of breaking down the play in the video below.

Per Next Gen Stats, Stafford was 23-of-43 (53 percent) for 456 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception on post routes last season.