Can Matthew Stafford turn momentum into a Super Bowl bid?

Matthew Stafford has led the Los Angeles Rams to the NFC Championship in his first season. Can he get the Rams to the Super Bowl?

Matthew Stafford was brought in by the Los Angeles Rams during the offseason as an upgrade over Jared Goff. In his first season with the team, Stafford has justified that move by leading the team to the NFC Championship Game. And while the regular season had its ups and downs for the veteran, his playoff performance has been excellent.

Matthew Stafford had a mixed regular season but has improved dramatically in the playoffs

Stafford’s regular season saw a lot of positives, but some negatives as well. He ranked third in the NFL with 4,886 passing yards and second with 41 touchdowns. Yet, Stafford struggled with turnovers, ending the regular season tied for the NFL lead with 17 interceptions.

However, since the playoffs have started, Stafford has been playing at a different level. He threw for 202 yards and 2 touchdowns in a beatdown of the rival Arizona Cardinals, then for 366 yards and another pair of touchdowns against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He also scored on a QB sneak in both games, giving him his first 2 rushing touchdowns of the season.

Most importantly, he has avoided turning the ball over. He hasn’t thrown an interception, and while the Rams fumbled 4 times against the Buccaneers, nearly gifting the game to Tampa Bay, none of those can be blamed entirely on Stafford.

At least in the first two games of the postseason, Stafford has been playing clean, effective football.

Stafford’s advanced metrics have also improved in the playoffs

To help demonstrate Stafford’s playoff improvements, let’s use the Offensive Value Metric (OVM). The OVM is a grading system created by the (Bx) Movement to measure how much of a player’s statistical production they were actually responsible for.

During the regular season, Stafford performed well on this metric, earning a grade of 23.78, which ranked 10th among all qualifying quarterbacks.

In the playoffs, however, he has outperformed his regular-season numbers dramatically, earning grades of 32.13 and 33.13, respectively. Those grades ranked second in the NFL in each of the last two weeks.

While other players have had more productive games, Stafford has arguably been the most effective quarterback so far this postseason.

Examining his weekly OVM grades

To help contextualize Stafford’s improvements, let’s look at how he has performed on a weekly basis. In the chart below, you can see his grades from each game the Rams have played this season, marked by the black dots. For comparison, the yellow line represents the average OVM grade for quarterbacks during the regular season.

Can Matthew Stafford turn momentum into a Super Bowl bid?

As you can see, Stafford’s regular-season performance had some dramatic inconsistencies. While most of his games were above the league average, he had several grades significantly below that line.

His worst came at the start of a three-game losing streak in the middle of the season, with a grade of 7.16 in a loss against the Tennessee Titans in Week 9. Interestingly, that game came just before the first of the Rams’ two losses against the San Francisco 49ers, their opponents this weekend. In that game, he earned a grade of 14.4.

Fortunately, Stafford’s second performance against San Francisco wasn’t nearly as ineffectual as the first, earning him a grade of 26.17, slightly above his usual standard. And remember, that game was decided on the final play.

If Stafford can maintain his playoff form, which is well above how he played in either game against the 49ers, the Rams have a great chance of getting the result they’re looking for on Sunday.

The advanced metrics behind Stafford’s OVM grades

In order to understand why Stafford earned the grade he did, let’s look at the advanced metrics involved in calculating them.

In the chart below, you can see how Stafford performed on the following statistics during the regular season and in the two playoff games the Rams have played so far:

  • His completion percentage
  • The difference between his completion percentages and the NFL’s projections
  • The frequency with which he threw into tight windows (Aggressiveness)
  • How far he threw the ball past the line of scrimmage on all of their pass attempts (IAY)
  • How far he threw the ball past the line of scrimmage on their completions (CAY)
IAY CAY Agg. Comp. % Comp. % +/-
Season 8.5 6.7 12.1% 67.2% -0.6%
Wild Card 10 8.4 5.9% 76.5% 2.8%
Divisional 7.9 7.4 10.5% 73.7% 7.9%

Although many of Stafford’s metrics have fluctuated between the regular season and his two playoff games, the reason his playoff grades have been so high should be relatively apparent: his completion statistics have been excellent, particularly in how they compare to the NFL’s statistical projections.

While during the regular season, Stafford completed below 70% of his attempts, a rate slightly lower than the NFL’s projections, in the playoffs, he has completed well above 70% of his passes, several percentage points higher than expected.

Will Stafford continue his run of spectacular play?

After spending years with the Detroit Lions, a franchise perhaps best known for squandering elite talent like Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson, Stafford is finally on an offense that allows him to show off his abilities. And he is rewarding them by playing at his best in the most important games of the season.

The 49ers have given the Rams trouble this season, and have won the last six matchups between the two teams. However, Stafford’s current form might be enough to help Los Angeles break that streak.

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