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Why Matthew Stafford Will Thrive With the Rams

Jim Bob Cooter was Matthew Stafford’s QB coach with the Detroit Lions from 2014-15, then his offensive coordinator from 2016-18 — so few coaches would have a better perspective on what Stafford’s trade to Los Angeles will mean for the Rams this season. Coach Cooter shared his thoughts with the 33rd Team:

When Matthew Stafford was being scouted out of Georgia, everybody knew he had the physical talent – the big arm, the accuracy, the athleticism. All that stuff is evident on tape. But what really stood out to me when I had the opportunity to coach him in Detroit was his professionalism, intelligence and toughness. For those reasons – and because he has all those other traits – I expect him to thrive in his new role as QB of the Los Angeles Rams.

When Stafford was drafted by the Lions in 2009, he had the gunslinger label attached to him by many. And it’s easy to understand why – he certainly has the ability to make any throw. But sometimes that gunslinger label contains a hidden connotation – that the guy isn’t that smart, that he’s just out there slinging the ball around. That would be totally inaccurate with Matthew. In my time coaching him, it was clear he could not only handle absolutely everything asked of him mentally on the football field, but excel at it.

Now he gets an opportunity to play for a new franchise, with an outstanding collection of talent around him, and for an excellent offensive coach in Sean McVay. The Rams have had one of the best offenses in the league the last few years, and have been a consistent playoff contender since McVay took over as head coach.

When I look at the Rams, I see one of the most talented offenses in the NFL. They’ve got one of the best, if not the best, receiving groups in the league. Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp have been playing at a really high level for several years, and they can do just about anything asked of them on a football field. Van Jefferson is a good young receiver who I think is going to have a breakout year. I expect him to get more opportunities this year and have success when the ball’s thrown his way.

To me the wild card is DeSean Jackson, who they picked up this offseason. Jackson’s had a ton of production and a ton of success in the league. He’s also worked with McVay before, so there’s plenty of familiarity there with the offense. He’s a premier big-play threat, and the combination of his big-play speed and Stafford’s arm should be an excellent match.

I haven’t even mentioned Tutu Atwell, a guy they drafted in the second round this year who is a really unique player. McVay does a great job innovating offensively, and Atwell is a player I’d bet McVay will be creative with and use in different ways. He’s someone to keep an eye on.

Throw in Tyler Higbee at tight end, a guy that does everything well – run block, pass protect and produce in the passing game. They always have a strong running game and I expect that to continue even with the recent injury to promising second-year RB Cam Akers. Their offensive line is really the engine that makes the whole thing go – creating holes in the run game and protecting the QB. I think it’s fair to say that Stafford is coming to an offense that should be productive and explosive.

McVay traditionally has leaned on a wide zone run game that meshes with a movement-based play-action game – where the quarterback’s on the move after a fake, often outside the pocket. It requires a quarterback who is able to throw the ball accurately on the move and able to quickly set up and launch the ball downfield. Stafford’s got the ability to do all of that at a high level.

Watching McVay’s offense, it appears to me that he asks his QBs to do a lot mentally presnap. They’ve got to be able to handle multiple shifts, motions, tempos and checks at the line of scrimmage pre-snap. They put a lot on the quarterback from that standpoint, and Stafford will excel at it.

What I’ll be interested to see is whether having Stafford as his QB leads McVay to be even more creative offensively. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sean open things up a bit and expand his packages with some concepts we haven’t seen as often from them the last few years. One thing I can definitely see coming is Stafford putting the ball up down the field with DeSean Jackson running underneath it for an explosive play. I’ll bet McVay and that offensive staff have already got some pretty good ideas of what they want to do with these guys.

McVay had Jared Goff the last few years as his QB, and before that he had Kirk Cousins in Washington. Both of those guys have been respected, productive players in this league, but Stafford brings an enhanced skillset – more tools to work with for a playcaller, more areas of the field to attack. I’m excited to see what those guys can do together.

Now, success may not happen overnight. Any time you take a quarterback and put him in a new scheme, there are usually some bumps in the road along the way, especially early. I want to see what they look like in November and December. That’s when we’ll really find out what they can do offensively.

One thing I know: The Rams haven’t just acquired a franchise QB, they’ve acquired a true team leader. Stafford is someone who interacts with everybody in the building. The video staff? Stafford knows all those guys. He knows their names, he knows their stories. He’s got a joke to tell with each one of them – or a nickname, or a question about their alma mater. Same with the equipment guys, cafeteria staff, maintenance, every one of them.

In Detroit, Stafford had the respect of everyone on that team, everyone in that building – and, from my perspective, the respect of that city. And he earned that. It wasn’t something that was given to him just because he was the number one overall pick and threw for a ton of yards. He earned that reputation through the way he handled himself – in the building, in the community, with his family, and on the playing field.

Stafford is the perfect person to walk into a new organization – one that’s already had some success – and earn the ability to lead. He’s walking into a great situation, joining a team that already has multiple respected veteran leaders. I expect Matthew to fit in with their other established leaders – earning that respect within the team and authentically enhancing their team culture.

Stafford had a standout career in Detroit – played a lot of good football, competed at a high level and had all the stats you could ever want. But now I think he’s ready to enjoy some sustained success. I think he can lead the Rams deep into the playoffs and compete for championships. This is a great opportunity – for both Matthew Stafford and the L.A. Rams – and I’m excited to see how it goes.

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