A familiar face is coming back to Motown. Matthew Stafford, the franchise’s all-time career passing leader, is standing between the Detroit Lions and the franchise’s first playoff win since 1991 when the Los Angeles Rams come to town on Sunday.
How significant is Stafford’s return? Imagine Barry Sanders, Calvin Johnson or even Bobby Layne returning to Detroit to face the Lions in a playoff game. Rest assured, Stafford’s return will be a key ingredient in creating what will be a truly unique atmosphere at Ford Field.
Stafford, though, is just one player. His presence is significant, but football is a team game, after all. There are other reasons why the Rams will put an abrupt end to the Lions’ storybook season. Here are the others.
1. Red zone edge
Football is a game of matchups, and the Rams have an extremely favorable one when it comes to the red zone. The Rams’ offense finished the regular season with the NFL’s fourth-ranked red zone offense after having scored touchdowns on 63.6 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard-line.
Los Angeles coach Sean McVay surely knows that the Lions’ defense wasn’t very good in the red zone. Detroit was 29th in the NFL during the regular season in red zone efficiency as they allowed offenses to score touchdowns at a 66 percent clip inside the 20.
If the Rams win this game, rest assured that a big part of the reason why will be their ability to maximize their trips in the red zone.
2. A balanced attack
Los Angeles’ running game hasn’t been the same since Todd Gurley’s departure after the 2018 season. But the Rams have enjoyed a resurgence there this season with the emergence of Kyren Williams. Williams earned a Pro Bowl nod this season after rushing for over 1,100 yards, scoring 12 touchdowns and averaging 5 yards per carry.
Williams’ emergence opened things up down the stretch for Stafford and the passing game, and it’ll do so again on Sunday if Williams is able to have success. It won’t be easy, though, as the Lions boast one of the NFL’s best run defenses.
Detroit’s prowess against the run will likely lead to the Rams using the pass to set up the run, instead of the other way around. Look for Stafford to try to exploit Detroit’s 27th-ranked pass defense early by getting Pro Bowl wideout Puka Nacua and former All-Pro Cooper Kupp some early touches. This should open things up for Williams as the game progresses.
3. Superior QB play
This is by no means a knock on Jared Goff, whose success with the Lions since being traded from L.A. has been nothing short of tremendous. But Stafford is a likely future Hall of Fame quarterback, who, at age 35, continues to play at a high level. In fact, many considered Stafford a dark-horse MVP candidate this year given his play down the stretch.
One of Stafford’s greatest strengths is his ability to look off defenders while seemingly willing receivers open. He can also fit the ball into extremely small windows while routinely giving his receivers opportunities to make plays after the catch.
Stafford is unflappable. He’s one of the most underrated tough guys in NFL history, so getting knocked down by Aidan Hutchinson won’t phase him.
Stafford is also a big-game quarterback, something that was somewhat of a question mark prior to him leaving Detroit. He has come up big in big moments, including leading the Rams from 10 points down to win the Super Bowl two years ago.
Sunday isn’t the Super Bowl, but it’s another huge stage for Stafford. Like he did in Super Bowl LVI, expect him to come up big once again while sending his former team home for the winter.