Sports

Rams quarterbacks have a pattern of struggling in the second half

Rams HC Sean McVay and starting QB Matt Stafford discuss a play call.

Rams HC Sean McVay and starting QB Matt Stafford discuss a play call.
Image: Getty Images

Since Week 9 of the NFL season, Matt Stafford has thrown for 1,862 yards (266 yards per game), 14 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. Those are good numbers. Not great, but good. From Weeks 1-8 though, Stafford was on a different planet. The move from Detroit to L.A. seemingly sparked new life into the former first overall pick as he threw for 2,477 yards (309.6 per game), 22 touchdowns, and just 4 interceptions. So, what changed? How did Stafford go from sure-fire MVP candidate to middle-of-the-road starter? I think a better question would be: Why does this keep happening to Los Angeles Rams’ quarterbacks?

The graph above shows the EPA for each quarterback to play under Sean McVay during each week of each season since Jared Goff took the Rams’ starting quarterback job. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the numbers consistently trend downward as the Rams finish out the regular season every year. EPA, or Expected Points Added, are basically a measure of how likely a team is to score at the beginning and end of any given play. For example, let’s say an offense completes a 20-yard pass on 1st-and-10 that moves the offense from their own 20-yard line to the 40-yard line. At the beginning of the play, the offense has about 0.7 Expected Points for that drive. The number may vary depending on team, opponent, location, etc., but after the play, that 0.7 gets bumped up to about 2.06 with 1st-and-10 from their own 40. That’s an addition of 1.36 Expected Points on that play.

You can also lose Expected Points on plays. A 10-yard sack that brings up 2nd-and-20 from your own 10 will lose you several Expected Points for that drive. You can average out these Expected Points for each play to determine a player’s, usually a quarterback’s, EPA per play, or sum up the total on each drive to determine their EPA for that drive or the entire game.

As was the case in 2017, 2018, 2020, and now 2021, Sean McVay’s quarterbacks take a sizable dip in production around the halfway point in the season and then never really return to their form from the first half. Sometimes it happens a bit earlier like in 2017, but the dips are still there. Now, you might be thinking: “Oh, this seems normal. Opponents have more game film on teams in the second half, so it makes sense that the quarterbacks’ EPA would drop as the season progressed and other teams started to figure them out.” However, with the Rams, this is taken to an extra level.

From 2017-2020, Jared Goff saw second-half EPA dips of .069 or greater every season. Stafford is currently on pace to post a similar drop in 2021. These drops in EPA, a pretty well-rounded figure used by statisticians when attempting to determine a quarterback’s efficiency, consistently rank the Rams’ quarterbacks near the bottom of the league (~80th percentile or higher) in terms of second half drop-offs. The best year in terms of drop-off relative to the rest of the league was Jared Goff’s 2019 season — arguably the worst season of his career. Nonetheless, even in the season with the smallest drop, Goff still ranked close to the 80th percentile. That’s much more indicative of a coach who gets figured out near midseason than quarterbacks who can’t sustain success.

If you really want to get into the nitty gritty of this data, when comparing Rams’ quarterbacks EPA per play to the Rams’ offensive line’s pass-blocking prowess, we start to see a worrisome trend for Rams fans.

Stafford’s current season is eerily similar to Goff’s 2018 season. That’s not a bad thing, per se. After all, Goff led the Rams to a Super Bowl that year, and Stafford is ahead of the pack in EPA, so maybe the Rams can reach the Super Bowl again this year. However, it does make people wonder whether or not Stafford could suffer similar season-to-season drop-offs, like Goff endured between 2018 and 2019 in McVay’s system, if the Rams’ pass-blocking doesn’t hold up. Essentially, Stafford’s efficiency two or three years down the road could be wildly lower than what we’re currently seeing.

The Rams have no first-round picks for the next two years and very little cap space to work with. Starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth is 40 years old, and three of their other four starting offensive linemen’s contracts are set to expire either this offseason or next. It might be difficult for the Rams to sustain the high level of offensive line play we’ve seen from the team this season. After all, the Rams’ offensive line has regressed in terms of adjusted sack rate each of the past three seasons as is (3.7 percent in 2019, 4.2 percent in 2020, and 4.8 percent in 2021).

While this is a trend that should worry you if you’re a Rams fan, the team has seemingly gotten back on track per the win column. After a winless November, the Rams have won four straight games and reclaimed first-place in the NFC West. Even with Stafford’s drop in efficiency, the Rams are finding ways to win and that’s what’s most important as we approach the end of the regular season. That being said, seeing McVay and Stafford up their game in the final two weeks would certainly ease the minds of many Rams’ fans out there as well.

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