Rams well-armed with Matthew Stafford at QB

Without the hurdles he had to clear in Detroit — better protection, a better run game and a defense that won’t turn his best work to dust — Stafford could reach a new level in Sean McVay’s offense.

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Quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) will play in his first game with the Rams in the season-opener against the Bears on Sunday night at SoFi Stadium. Stafford, acquired from the Lions in a trade for Jared Goff, did not play in the preseason.

Mark J. Terrill/AP Photos

Matthew Stafford is one of the most prolific quarterbacks in NFL history. He’s 16th on the all-time list in passing yards (45,109), ahead of Jim Kelly, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman and Kurt Warner, among other Hall of Famers.

But in 12 seasons with the Lions, Stafford was a threat who commanded respect more than he elicited fear. He actually has averaged more passing yards per game against the Bears than the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers has (272-241), yet he has been nowhere near the daunting villain Rodgers has been, willing his way to victories with one soul-crushing play after another.

In 20 starts against the Bears, Stafford is

11-9. His passer rating is 86.3 (32 touchdowns, 23 interceptions). Even the Lions’ stunning 34-30 victory at Soldier Field last year was more a byproduct of a Bears implosion than a Stafford miracle. Stafford’s 402 passing yards, three touchdowns and 109.4 passer rating, while impressive, were about to go for naught until Mitch Trubisky’s fumble while being sacked at the Bears’ 7-yard line set up the Lions for the go-ahead touchdown in the final two minutes.

But that was with the Lions. Stafford in his prime with coach Sean McVay and the Rams after an offseason trade of former No. 1 overall picks that sent Jared Goff to the Lions . . . that’s a different deal.

The Rams provide Stafford with many of the support-system elements he didn’t have in Detroit — an offensive line, a run game, a 21st-century offensive guru and a defense that won’t turn his best work to dust.

“The respect I have for Matthew,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said, “just in who he is as a player, going against him and just being a quarterback guy all my life — and then you put him in that [Rams] offense. Coach McVay went out and got some tools, too. I was with [Rams receiver] DeSean [Jackson] in Philadelphia. He might be older, but he can still blaze — Sean knows that. I’m sure he’s excited. It’s gonna be a challenge for us on defense.”

Just having a better running game figures to benefit the strong-armed Stafford. The Lions were no better than 17th in rushing in Stafford’s 12 seasons and in the bottom 10 in 10 of them. The Rams have ranked in the top 10 in rushing three times in McVay’s four seasons.

And Stafford figures to be better protected now. The Rams ranked sixth in sacks allowed per pass play in 2020. The Lions were 22nd.

But McVay’s influence is the biggest reason for optimism that Stafford could excel with a new team. His inventive system often keeps defenses guessing and off-balance. A veteran with Stafford’s experience and arm strength could take it to another level.

“We all know Stafford has a great arm — definitely can make all the throws,” outside linebacker Robert Quinn said. “And him joining McVay, I’m sure they’ve got a whole bunch off crazy schemes drawn up.”

The Bears’ timing might be good. Stafford is new to McVay’s system. And he and the Rams’ starting offense did not play in the preseason. Running back Cam Akers is also out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon.

But the potential for a breakout performance is always there with Stafford.

“They’re going to have a lot of new wrinkles with Matt,” Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai said. “Matt’s a stud. He’s one of the top quarterbacks in this league. And obviously he’s going with one of the top offensive minds in the league. I think that will be fun for them. I’m sure they’re enjoying it, and we’re excited for the challenge.”

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