Rams' Matthew Stafford on early success: Stats not all, folks

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INGLEWOOD, CALIF. - OCT. 24, 2021. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford throws a pass against the Lions during a game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on S\unday, Oct. 24, 2021. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford ranks among the best in the NFL statistically. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Ranking among the NFL’s top five passing leaders is not an entirely new experience for Matthew Stafford, but it could become a habit with the Rams.

In a dozen seasons with the Detroit Lions, Stafford finished among the top five passing-yardage leaders four times. His last appearance came in 2017, when he finished the season ranked third in yardage and fourth in touchdowns.

After seven games with the Rams, Stafford ranks in the top five in several categories. He has passed for 19 touchdowns, second behind Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady’s 21. Stafford’s 2,172 yards passing ranks third behind Brady and Las Vegas’ Derek Carr.

Stafford has led the Rams to a 6-1 record heading into Sunday’s road game against the Houston Texans (1-6) at NRG Stadium.

The Rams’ success means more to Stafford than seeing his name among league leaders.

“I feel like I’m trying to make sure I do my job for our team every week — whatever that job is,” he said. “Sometimes that’s going out and throwing it a bunch of times. Other times it’s not.

“But I just want to go play well on each play. I don’t want to have any wasted plays.”

In last Sunday’s 28-19 victory over the Detroit Lions, Stafford completed 28 of 41 passes for 334 yards and three touchdowns.

Coach Sean McVay described it as “arguably his most complete game” of the season.

“If you said what’s he doing well? I could go on and on about it,” McVay said Wednesday before practice. “There are not many things he’s not doing well, and that’s a real positive and I think that’s a big reason why we are where we are right now.”

The Rams, riding a three-game winning streak, rank third in the league in passing, fifth in scoring and eighth in total offense.

Stafford has been buoyed by receivers Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Van Jefferson and DeSean Jackson, and tight end Tyler Higbee.

Kupp leads the league in nearly every receiving category. He has been targeted 81 times and has 56 catches for 809 yards and nine touchdowns.

Woods has been targeted 50 times. He has 35 catches for 423 yards and three touchdowns. Jefferson and Higbee each have been targeted 33 times and they have 21 and 27 catches, respectively.

DeSean Jackson has been targeted only 15 times. He has eight catches for 221`yards and a touchdown.

McVay’s play design is creating space on the field for receivers running vertical and horizontal routes.

“Matthew definitely opens up all of that for us,” McVay said.

Stafford’s biggest plays against the Lions came on third down.

After struggling mightily on the third down against the Seattle Seahawks and New York Giants — Kupp had described the offense’s third-down performance as “atrocious” — the Rams converted nine of 13 times against the Lions.

On one third-down play, Stafford used his eyes and body position to force a Lions safety out of position, and then connected with Kupp for a 59-yard gain that set up a touchdown. He also had a key third-down completion to Higbee that set up a touchdown.

“Those are the kind of things, I think, you really see his ability on display,” McVay said of Stafford.

Etc.

Rookie Tutu Atwell, a second-round pick, is a “young player” with a “lot of room to develop and grow,” McVay said. McVay was asked if the receiver/kick returner was where McVay anticipated he would be at this stage of the season. “I’d like to see him have a little bit more increased sense of urgency,” McVay said. “Think you’ve just got to be patient and he’s got to just work behind the scenes, and then when he does get his opportunity, whether it’s this week, next week, at some point, he’s got to be ready to go.”… The already struggling Texans probably made it easier for the Rams on Wednesday when they traded veteran running back Mark Ingram to the New Orleans Saints. Ingram had rushed for a team-best 294 yards and had scored a touchdown. ... Offensive linemen Andrew Whitworth (knee) and Tremayne Anchrum (illness), defensive linemen Aaron Donald (rest) and Sebastian Joseph-Day (chest), linebacker Terrell Lewis (ribs), cornerback Robert Rochell (knee) and safety Jordan Fuller (knee) did not practice, per the Rams injury report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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