Los Angeles Rams Gameplan: Matthew Stafford Era Begins Against Bears

by Blaine Grisak
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The Los Angeles Rams finally begin the 2021 season on Sunday Night Football against the Chicago Bears. For the first time ever, Rams fans will see quarterback Matthew Stafford take the field as the starting quarterback at SoFi Stadium. To be quite honest, it’s like a five-year old on Christmas Eve.

How can you not be excited for this guy?

On the Saturday before the game and all day Sunday leading into Sunday night, Rams fans will be unable to sleep and huddled around the Christmas tree waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. It might be a cheesy analogy, but it’s the one that seems the most accurate. There’s no other way to really describe it.

As Rams fans, there have been several seasons over the past 15 years in which there was no hope and no real reason to be excited. Matthew Stafford has ignited that hope for the 2021 season.

To grasp the level of excitement for Matthew Stafford, let’s take a step back and add some context.

Since Kurt Warner and the end of the Marc Bulger years, the Los Angeles Rams have been in search of a quarterback. Sam Bradford brought some hope, but that hope was crushed every time Bradford left the field on a stretcher. Nick Foles brought hope, joining the Rams after a season in which he threw for 27 touchdowns and two interceptions, but in the end, it was Nick Foles.

Case Keenum brought hope, finishing the 2015 season and starting the 2016 season 3-1, but again, Keenum was a below average starting quarterback.

With the first overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Los Angeles Rams selected Cal quarterback Jared Goff. Goff’s career started off less than ideal. He began 0-7, throwing five touchdowns to seven interceptions. The future looked bleak.

Then, Sean McVay took over and everything changed. Jared Goff looked like a competent starting quarterback. The Rams went 11-5 in 2017 and managed a Super Bowl run in 2018, going 13-3. It was Goff’s throws before halftime to Brandin Cooks and in overtime to Tyler Higbee that sent the Rams to the Super Bowl.

However, during the Super Bowl, everything changed. According to NFL Network’s Mike Girardi, one Patriots player said, “Rams quarterback Jared Goff will ‘sh*t his pants’ when the defense shows him new defensive fronts during the game.” As everyone knows, the Rams scored three points in the Super Bowl and a missed throw from Goff intended for a wide open Cooks was a big reason for it.

Goff’s 2017 and most of 2018 were magical. His game against the Minnesota Vikings and Kansas Chiefs will go down as two of the greatest games by a Rams quarterback in franchise history.

However, things changed in 2019 and 2020. The echos of “system quarterback” began to take shape. Goff threw a career high 16 interceptions in 2019 as the Rams missed the playoffs for the first time in the Sean McVay era. In 2020, poor games from Goff against the 49ers, Dolphins, and Jets cost the Rams the number one seed and ended with a December trip to Lambeau Field. In those games, the former number one overall pick had eight turnovers.

John Wolford started in Week 17 due to a Goff thumb injury and then surprisingly started ahead of Goff against Seattle in the playoffs.

It was clear that Goff’s time in Los Angeles was done.

During this time, there was another former number one overall pick in a far worse situation than the one that Goff arrived in. The Detroit Lions had just finished 0-16, becoming the first NFL team to finish winless in a 16-game season. The Lions had their hopes crushed by a promising Joey Harrington and would now be leaning on Stafford to take them out of the darkness.

In Week 3 of 2009, Stafford helped break a 19-game losing streak in the regular season. With one touchdown pass, Stafford led the Lions to a 19-14 win over Washington. The Lions got one more win that season. That win came in the infamous Browns game in which Stafford threw the game-winning touchdown with a separated shoulder. The Lions went 2-14, but this 2-14 had a different vibe.

Unfortunately, throughout Stafford’s time with the Lions, the front office remained a disaster. Jim Schwartz provided an attitude, but chaos. Jim Caldwell was steady, but not a difference maker. Matt Patricia was a total disaster.

The Lions made the playoffs just three times between 2009 and 2020. Stafford threw for 380 yards in one loss to the Saints in 2012. In 2014, bad officiating that included a picked up flag on pass interference led to a Cowboys win. Stafford once again threw for 300 yards. In 2016, the Seattle Seahawks lost one game at home the entire season.

All of the losses came on the road.

Stafford’s best seasons came in 2011 and 2012 in which he threw for 4900 yards in back-to-back years. Drew Brees and Stafford are the only quarterbacks in NFL history to accomplish that feat.

In Detroit with Stafford, the Lions had good coaching one time with Jim Caldwell. Reggie Bush is the only running back with Stafford to rush for 1,000 yards. To add to that, Stafford only had 11 100-yard rushers throughout his career in Detroit. Derrick Henry had 10 100-yard games last season. The Lions ranked inside the top-15 in rush offense DVOA once and the ranked inside the top-15 in defense in DVOA just four times.

To say Stafford didn’t have help around him is an understatement. Two players in Stafford and Calvin Johnson can only do so much. After a 5-11 season, it was clear that it was time for Stafford to move on.

Everyone knows the story of Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford in Cabo at this point. To make a long story short, the Rams ended up with Stafford and the Lions ended up with Jared Goff and draft picks.

The Rams get a quarterback that is nearing the end of his prime, but can still make throws only Patrick Mahomes can make while the Lions get Jared Goff and a chance to rebuild.

So, there you have it. A reason to be excited on Christmas morning. The Rams get this quarterback that is seen as top-10 by many in NFL circles in an offense that is considered one of the best. It’s time to see if Stafford can be unleashed and unlock the full potential of the Sean McVay scheme.

Now, let’s get to our five lists of five.

Five Los Angeles Rams Players to Watch

1. Matthew Stafford

All eyes will be on Matthew Stafford as he takes the field in a Rams uniform for the first time on Sunday Night. Stafford will be going up against a former division foe in which he lost to last season in the opener, 27-23. Is Stafford all that he’s cracked up to be? We’re about to find out!

2. Darrell Henderson

There have been a lot of questions surrounding the Los Angeles Rams’ run game. That has a lot to do with the loss of Cam Akers and the fact that Henderson has never had to carry the load. Heck, Henderson has struggled to stay healthy at times. We’re going to find out if Henderson can be the lead back against a stingy Bears defense that ranked fourth against the run in 2020.

3. Jordan Fuller

Jordan Fuller has done nothing but surpass expectations as a sixth round pick. He started Week 1 as a rookie and enters year two as a team captain. He’ll lead what is a very young and inexperienced safety group. There may be bumps along the way, but Fuller could cement himself as one of the league’s best young safeties by season’s end.

4. Leonard Floyd

Leonard Floyd will be going up against his old team. In last season’s game, he had a pair of sacks, helping the Rams get a big win. Floyd will be looking to build on last year as the Rams signed him to a long-term contract extension. With Andy Dalton under center, Floyd will be ready to tee off.

5. Jalen Ramsey

There is one clip that has likely been playing in Jalen Ramsey’s mind all offseason. That clip is him getting beat by Darnell Mooney. The last thing you want to do is give Jalen Ramsey a reason to show up at his best. Mooney and Bears fans have done just that. Look for Ramsey to be lock down.

Five Keys to Victory for the Los Angeles Rams

1. Make Andy Dalton Uncomfortable

The Chicago Bears will be rolling with Andy Dalton at quarterback over Justin Fields. Dalton may not be a great quarterback, but he went 4-5 with the Dallas Cowboys last season, throwing 14 touchdowns to eight interceptions. He tends to crumble in the spotlight, and it doesn’t get much more in the spotlight than Sunday Night Football in Week 1. The Rams will need to make Dalton uncomfortable early, disguising coverages and getting Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd, and co. going up front.

2. Stop the Run

The Bears started last season 5-1 and won three of their last four games. David Montgomery rushed for over 90 yards and scored in those three wins. If the Bears get Montgomery going, that’s going to take pressure off of Dalton and work right into the Bears’ gameplan. The Rams need to make the Bears a one-dimensional team early.

3. Play Sharp on Offense

Since losing to the Chicago Bears 15-6 in 2018, the Rams have won the last two meetings. However, both games haven’t been flashy on offense. The Rams won 17-7 in 2019 and just 24-10 last year. That was enough to get wins. It might be tempting to unleash Stafford immediately, but the Rams must play within themselves and not get impatient.

4. Don’t run for the sake of running

Dak Prescott threw the ball 58 times on Thursday Night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Why? Well, Tampa Bay was one of the best run defenses in 2020 and look to be so once again this season. The Bears ranked fourth against the run last season and 13th against the pass. With Jaylon Johnson and Xavier Crawford at cornerback, it’s a matchup the Rams can exploit.

5. Play Special on Special Teams

The Rams special teams unit had an up and down preseason. Jake Funk is likely going to be returning kicks. TuTu Atwell or Cooper Kupp will be returning punts. Johnny Hekker and Matt Gay will be handling kicking duties. This game might not be close, but a special teams error or two could keep Chicago in the game.

Five Matchups To Watch

1. Jalen Ramsey vs. Allen Robinson

It’s no secret that Jalen Ramsey shut down opposing teams’ best receivers last season. Allen Robinson is one of the league’s best and will be a focal point of the Bears passing attack. The Ramsey and Robinson matchup will be one that fans keep an eye on throughout the evening.

2. Rams interior offensive line vs. Bears defensive line

The Bears defensive line could be one of the top-10 units in the NFL. Akiem Hicks and and Eddie Goldman will give the interior of the Rams offensive line a true test to start the years. David Edwards, Brian Allen, and Austin Corbett could have their hands full. However, it’ll be up to them to protect Stafford.

3. Rob Havenstein vs. Khalil Mack

Rob Havenstein typically struggles against speed rushers. While he does a good job of shutting down most No. 2 pass rushers on teams, Mack will rush from both sides, but likely will come from the right. Havenstein will have his hands full. Mack had just one sack in last year’s game. Havenstein will need to have another solid showing.

4. Rams Wide Receivers vs. Bears Cornerbacks

The Chicago Bears are not very good or very deep at cornerback. Second year cornerback, Jaylon Johnson allowed five touchdowns last year and 41 receptions. For comparison, Ramsey has allowed 40 receptions throughout his entire career. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods could have their way with the Bears cornerbacks and it’s a matchup they’ll have to win.

5. Sean McVay vs. Sean Desai

The Rams have beaten the Bears the last two years, but both wins came after the departure of Vic Fangio. Desai was hired as the Bears defensive coordinator this offseason and was Vic Fangio’s right hand man for four years. He’s drawn comparisons to Brandon Staley. The battle between these two playcallers could be worth monitoring.

Five Bold Predictions for the Los Angeles Rams

1. DeSean Jackson Scores a First Half Touchdown

The Los Angeles Rams signed DeSean Jackson in the offseason to take the top off of defenses. In Week 1 games since 2016, Jackson has:

2016 – 6 rec., 102 yards
2017 – 3 rec., 39 yards
2018 – 5 rec. 146 yards, 2 touchdowns
2019 – 8 rec. 154 yards, 2 touchdowns
2020 – 2 rec. 46 yards.

DeSean Jackson is infamous for starting seasons strong and I’ll predict a 50-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to Jackson in the first half.

2. Matthew Stafford Throws for 400 yards and Four Touchdowns

Stafford threw for 400 yards and three touchdowns in a Week 12 win against the Bears last season. This time, he has Sean McVay calling the plays and Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods at wide receiver. The Lions won that game in 2020, 34-30. While the Rams may not allow 30 points on defense, Stafford should have just as much success on offense.

3. Rams Offensive Line Allows Zero Sacks

The Rams offensive line may not be the best in the league, but Matthew Stafford should be able to help them out with his ability to buy time. The Rams offense is going to be sharp and it’s going to be efficient. Expect the ball out quickly and on time in this one.

4. Leonard Floyd Repeats With Two Sacks

Last season, Leonard Floyd got two sacks against his old team. The Rams paid Floyd in the offseason and he’ll want to show his former team what they’re missing out on. Expect the Rams edge rusher to get after Andy Dalton and take him to the ground at least twice.

5. The Rams Score 30 Points

The Rams offense finally broke through against the Chicago Bears with 24 points. It was the first time in three meetings that McVay’s offense scored 20 against the Bears. In that game, Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown combined for over 110 yards rushing while Goff threw for an efficient 220 yards. With Matthew Stafford at quarterback, the Rams eclipse 30.

Five Storylines to Follow

1. Matthew Stafford Takes The Field as a Ram

For the last 12 years Matthew Stafford has put on the same helmet and the same jersey. This season is different. Stafford will be putting on horns and wearing blue and yellow. Stafford felt like the Lions were holding him back. McVay felt like Goff was holding him pack. The two are together and will be looking to help the other succeed.  

2. Rams Debut New Uniforms

For the first of three times in 2021, the Los Angeles Rams will be debuting their new throwback white uniforms. The hope is that these eventually take over for the bone uniforms as the permeant away. For now, they are an alternate and the Rams will debut them in action on Sunday Night.

3. McVay Undefeated in Week 1

Sean McVay has never lost in Week 1 as the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams. In 2017, the Rams beat the Colts, 46-9. 2018 began with a 33-13 win over the Raiders. While 2019 didn’t end well, it started with a 30-27 win over the Carolina Panthers. Finally, last season started with a 20-17 win over the Cowboys. With an Andy Dalton led Bears team, McVay will look to make it 5-0.

4. Starting the Season Where Los Angeles Rams Hope to End It.

The Los Angeles Rams will be beginning the season at SoFi where they hope to end it. Super Bowl LVI will be held at SoFi Stadium in February. Tampa Bay became the first team in NFL history to win a Super Bowl in their home stadium. The Rams will be looking to make it two in a row.

5. Bears Benching Justin Fields

Justin Fields looked good in the preseason and was clearly the better quarterback between he and Andy Dalton. If Field were playing, I’d give them a slight chance to win. If this game gets out of hand early, do the Bears make the switch and turn to their first round rookie?

Downtown Rams Mailbag

These are two very good questions. I’ll start with the first.

1. The Chicago Bears do have weapons on offense. Allen Robinson is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. Darnell Mooney showed last season that he has potential be a good number two along with Robinson. David Montgomery also looked like he figured it out towards the end of last year.

It would not be surprising to see the Bears move the ball early. A touchdown or field goal on the opening drive or two would not be a total shock. However, at the end of the day, Andy Dalton will hold them back. They aren’t going to be able to move the ball consistently for 60-minutes.

2. I don’t see Sony Michell playing a huge role in this game. I would expect Henderson to get a majority of the looks as Michell still works his way into the offense. Michell’s role could increase as the season goes on, however, early on, including this week, it will be a majority Henderson.

I don’t believe this will be the case. The Buccaneers started last season with back-to-back division opponents, including a Week 1 meeting on the road against the Saints. Matthew Stafford will begin the year against an opponent that he’s quite familiar with and a Colts team that has had a chaotic offseason.

While the Rams rested their starters in the preseason, these first two games will allow them to find their footing and get going before an important Week 3 game against the Buccaneers. The Rams coaching staff is very good in their preparation. I expect Stafford and the offense to hit the ground running.

Matt W from Discord – What do you think is going to take more time to get into gear: Stafford into his new offense or the defense with a new coordinator and new pieces?

I love this question! I’m going to go with the defense taking longer to get into gear than Stafford and the offense. As long as Sean McVay is in charge, the offense will be fine.

On the defensive side of the ball, Raheem Morris is a defensive coordinator for the first time in his career. Yes, he’s been a head coach, but this is his first time as a coordinator. Add to that, John Johnson and Troy Hill left in free agency and the team traded Michael Brockers for peanuts.

I think that this defense could be a top-10 unit once again. With Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, you’re in good shape as a unit. However, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a busted coverage or two early in the year or see the Bears on Sunday move the ball in the first half. The defense could take more time than the offense as the young pieces like Fuller, Burgess, Long, etc. get more experience.

Game Prediction

The Los Angeles Rams are favored by 7.5 points and the game has an over under of 46.5. This should be a convincing win for the Rams to get their season started on the right track. While the Bears defense is good and could give the Rams offense headaches early on, as the game goes on, Chicago won’t be able to hang around for 60 minutes.

I expect a low-scoring first half, with the Rams pulling away in the third quarter. Don’t be surprised if the Rams lead just 13-10 at halftime. At the end of the day, the Rams are simply the better team. Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp should have their way on the outside while Stafford works his way into the offense.

Prediction: Rams 34, Bears 13

 

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