Matthew Stafford enjoyed a career season in 2021, leading the Rams to a Super Bowl victory at their home turf.
But reducing turnovers — he had 17 pass interceptions — was among the goals of the veteran quarterback, entering his sophomore year under coach Sean McVay.
That wasn’t the case with the Rams’ season-opening loss to the Buffalo Bills. Stafford had intercepted three passes.
“Definitely two or three that I’d like to have back,” he said this week, “there’s no question about that.”
Until Stafford plays efficiently, there will continue to be questions about the condition of his much-examined right elbow and how much the tendinitis he is said to have worked through is affecting his performance.
Stafford goes on to say he feels “great”.
The final Test comes Sunday when the Rams play the Atlanta Falcons (0-1) at SoFi Stadium.
“I just need to see it better,” he said of opportunities to complete passes, “and hit it.”
Stafford’s turnovers are just one of several issues that need to be resolved for the Rams to defeat the Falcons – and for McVay to avoid his first 2-0 start.
The Bills ran through the Rams’ offensive line and sacked Stafford seven times. The Rams failed to establish a running attack and new wide receiver Allen Robinson was only targeted twice.
The Rams defense forced four turnovers but allowed the Bills to convert nine of 10 third downs.
It was an embarrassing performance by a team that announced its intention to “play it back” and become the first repeat as Super Bowl champion in nearly two decades.
“Sometimes,” McVay said, “you really learn about people until you get a slap in the face.
“And that’s what I love, is being able to respond to that.”
That starts with Stafford, a 14thth-year per.
Arthur Smith was an assistant with the Tennessee Titans for 10 years before being hired to coach the Falcons last season. He watched Stafford throughout his career.
“He’s very smart, he’s got instincts, he can make any pitch,” Smith said, “so that’s a big challenge and that’s why he won the Super Bowl last year and he’s had the success that he’s had.”
The Rams can help Stafford by keeping him upright. The seven sacks he absorbed against the Bills was the most he took with the Rams.
“He took a few hits, took a few shots and got up every time,” said offensive coordinator Liam Coen. “[He] … wanted to keep up. Sometimes it’s your night I think it was probably just a night off.”
Now the Rams will look to protect Stafford with a reshuffled offensive line.
Coleman Shelton moved to center from right guard after a knee injury suffered by center Brian Allen. Third-year pro Tremayne Anchrum will start at right-back for the first time. If left tackle Joe Noteboom’s knee sprain hasn’t sufficiently healed, second-year pro Alaric Jackson will start in his place.
The line must also help improve a fast attack that rushed for a league-low 52 yards in the first set.
Darrell Henderson ran hard against the Bills, but McVay has said Cam Akers needs to play with more “urgency.” Akers, a third-year pro, was only 12 games on the field. He gained zero yards in three carries.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Akers said. “And I want to improve. I don’t think I’m perfect.”
The Falcons suffered a 27-26 loss to the New Orleans Saints while giving up a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota, running back Cordarrelle Patterson, rookie receiver Drake London and tight end Kyle Pitts are prominent players for an offense that produced 416 yards and 201 rushing in the opener.
Patterson was an All-Pro kick returner and also played receiver in his first eight NFL seasons. Last season, the Falcons outplayed him at running back.
Patterson rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown in 22 carries against the Saints last Sunday.
“He runs with absolute power,” said Rams defense coordinator Raheem Morris.
After their poor performance against the Bills, the Rams will have waited 10 days to show they are better than their season-opening performance.
The Rams are desperate to keep going, linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
“A team’s testimony is how you respond,” he said, “so I plan for us to respond.”
https://www.latimes.com/sports/rams/story/2022-09-17/rams-prepare-for-atlanta-falcons-to-come-to-l-a Rams QB Matthew Stafford vows to be sharper against Falcons