In Hollywood, one of the most exciting things is the collaboration between an actor and a director. DeNiro/DiCaprio/Scorsese Cukor/ Hepburn, Beatty/Beatty etc. In football, the combination of a quarterback and coach is equally as exciting i.e. Brady/Belichick, Montana/Walsh, and Brees/Payton to name a few.
Matthew Stafford toiled away in the cold of Detroit for over 10 years before finding McVay in Cabo and finding his way to Los Angeles presumably living next door to high school best friend Clayton Kershaw. McVay has longed for a quarterback that could execute his vision and Stafford has pined for a team that wouldn’t waste his arm. Finally, they’ve found each other and are ready to deliver a title to the City of Angels.
Sean McVay was four years into his time with the Rams and while surely he could’ve done more or at least done things differently with Jared Goff, by the second Niners game last year it was too late. McVay was clearly frustrated that his offense essentially had a defined ceiling with Goff at quarterback and it wasn’t until Goff hurt his thumb during a week 16 loss at Seattle that his true vision could be fully realized.
John Wolford got the start in a must-win game the next week in Arizona and it was then that McVay gave fans a taste of what he wanted. Deep balls, quicker handoffs on jet sweeps, and a quarterback that could move around the pocket. All of a sudden the offense moved in ways it hadn’t in quite some time. The next week, The Wolf of Ball Street got hurt, and Goff, bless his heart, put in a damn good performance against Seattle. No really, he did. He made the kind of plays he made in 2018, Unfortunately, a week later while he played a good game, he couldn’t put the points on the board to match Aaron Rodgers’ absolute masterclass against a diminished Rams defense.
Fast-forward a few weeks later, and while Rodgers was not so quietly trying to lay the groundwork to get out of Green Bay, Matthew Stafford went to Cabo where coincidentally Sean McVay and Andrew Whitworth were also vacationing. They zinged and before the internet knew it, Matthew Stafford was a Ram. All it cost was Jared Goff and two first-round picks (more on that later), for Sean McVay to get the quarterback that could bring his offensive vision to life.
The proof is already evident based on what’s been seen during OTA’s and training camp. The throws are night and day from where they were a year ago. Watching Matthew Stafford fling sideline throws to Cooper Kupp, or no-look throws to Darrell Henderson, or just straight bombs to DeSean Jackson or Jacob Harris are antithetical to things fans had seen over the last four years. If Sean McVay is smiling and filled with renewed vigor, Matthew Stafford must feel like he’s won the lottery.
Besides being teammates and best friends with Clayton Kershaw, Matthew Stafford was a highly touted high school recruit out of Highland Park High School. His arm was already the stuff of Texas legend. In 2005, he had a perfect record on the way to a State Championship. He hit 4,000 yards even though he missed the first three games and then became the first true freshman QB to start at the University of Georgia after incumbent starter Joe Tereshinski III got hurt. After that, he won his first career start and the rest is history.
His freshman season ended with a comeback win (his first of many) against Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The following year the Bulldogs smoked Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl capping their best season since 2002. His junior year was less successful but still ended with him leading Georgia to victory in the Capital One Bowl over Michigan State. He then decided he’d go to the NFL Draft.
Over the course of his twelve seasons in Detroit, Matthew Stafford earned the nickname “Stat Padford”. His 45,109 yards and 282 touchdowns look impressive on paper but they aren’t looked at as impressive outside of fantasy leagues because those stats only netted three playoff appearances and no wins. It’s fair to expect a number one overall pick to drag his team to playoff victories i.e. Andrew Luck, but it isn’t so simple as him being an empty calories player who can’t win.
Stafford detractors like to point out that he couldn’t win with Calvin Johnson as his leading receiver HOWEVER, it’s again not that simple. Yes, Stafford had Megatron as his leading receiver but he’s always had a bottom 10 running game. In fact, until Reggie Bush in 2013, he hadn’t had a running back crack one hundred yards in a game, a feat that would only be replicated five more times by 2020.
The running game was an absolute graveyard and his offensive line wasn’t much better. Stafford has been sacked 33rd most all-time and the Lions didn’t land a quality tight end until T.J. Hockenson in 2019. The Lions’ malfeasance has been cartoonish for the majority of their existence and during Stafford’s tenure, it’s been no different. Despite or because of, his porous line and an invisible running game he’s seventh all-time in fourth-quarter comebacks tied with John Elway (no Stafford is not Elway but if he opens a car dealership in Ontario he’d be closer to it). His detractors would say he had a third-ranked defense and did nothing with it. True and that defense helped them make the playoffs only to lose to a beatable Cowboys team. It’s unfortunate Dallas won, but given their talent, it shouldn’t have been as close as it was.
This isn’t to excuse or absolve Stafford of not being a winner, but the circumstances surrounding his time in the D are enough to where it would be damn near impossible to succeed no matter WHO was the quarterback. He began his career with Jim Schwartz as his head coach and Schwartz was the textbook example of a better coach than a general. His teams were always undisciplined and could be counted on to have a dumb flag on defense.
Jim Caldwell was the counter to that. He made the trains run and it looked like he was building something but management fired him before he could see that through.
They instead brought in rocket scientist and pencil enthusiast Matt Patricia who tried to be Bill Belichick, and, spoiler alert, he was NO BILL BELICHICK. The point is, while yes Stafford played a decent chunk of his career with Megatron, he had little to no help.
What’s funny is how quickly the perception of him changed just between when the Rams season ended and Cabo. When the Niners were alleged to be on the cusp of getting him, KYLE finally had a QB with a canon that he could unlock as only KYLE can. Of course, once McVay landed him for two first-round picks and a third (plus Goff), the Rams landed an older loser quarterback and mortgaged their future to do it. Weird how that works. Nevertheless, Stafford has a chance to rewrite his legacy and make good on the promise that given his high school and college pedigree he can win at the highest level.
Matthew Stafford and Sean McVay are the perfect matches for each other. They are each other’s counterpoint. McVay is firey and gregarious while Stafford is reserved and private. They both have long memories, although Stafford doesn’t have the Marilu Henner-level memory McVay does, and both know what it’s like to be highly touted Georgia quarterbacks (both also had Calvin Johnson in their lives).
McVay’s offense came alive with the Wolf of Ball Street but Matthew Stafford is the one that could take his vision into the stratosphere. Both are desperate to succeed, though Stafford has waited longer and taken more lumps than McVay has at this point, McVay went through his own cycle of praise followed by opinion of him shifting just as quickly.
Their legacies are now bound by this move, and one way or another, everyone will know just how good both of them are in the most optimal of conditions. If the Rams’ bet on matching Matthew Stafford with Sean McVay is right, it could end the way Oscar night ended for Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis and cement a collaboration that should continue to thrive for years to come.
Featured Photo Credit: Los Angeles Rams