Behind Enemy Lines: Rams confident in John Wolford if Stafford sits out Sunday
Behind Enemy Lines brings you the key storylines and latest news for the Arizona Cardinals’ opponents each week this season.
Rams confident in John Wolford if Stafford sits out Sunday
By Associated Press
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — John Wolford has led the Los Angeles Rams to victory over the Arizona Cardinals before, and his teammates are confident he can do it again if needed Sunday.
The fact that Wolford has never won another NFL regular-season start and has barely played at all since that exciting debut in Week 17 of the 2020 season is not a public concern for the Los Angeles players and coaches, who will be riding with their seldom-used backup quarterback at SoFi Stadium if Matthew Stafford isn’t cleared to return from the concussion protocol.
“Me and Wolf of Wall Street, we go way back,” All-Pro receiver Cooper Kupp said Thursday, invoking one of Wolford’s nicknames. “We’ve had some time playing with each other, so if that’s what it is, it will be fun going out there with him. He’s got great command. He’s been running this offense for a little while, so if it comes to that, we’ll be ready to go.”
Stafford watched practice on Thursday at the Rams’ training complex while Wolford led the first-team offense in workouts. Bryce Perkins, who is in his second season as a third-string quarterback on the Rams’ active roster, also got work.
The Rams could know by Friday whether Stafford will be cleared to play, but coach Sean McVay said Wolford is preparing to take over — although in classic football form, Wolford said he always prepares as if he’s the starter.
“Not much of a change,” Wolford said. “Be ready to go if I’m called on, and pumped to play if I get to.”
It’s been a while since Wolford got meaningful snaps, but he has been on the Rams’ roster and in McVay’s meeting rooms for four seasons since going undrafted out of Wake Forest in 2018 and getting cut by the Jets before playing for the Arizona Hotshots in the only season of the Alliance of American Football.
Wolford spent 2019 on the Rams’ practice squad, winning the coaching staff’s approval with his preparation and athleticism. He was named Jared Goff’s primary backup in 2020, and he impressed McVay enough in that playoff-clinching, 18-7 victory over Arizona to be given the start over a not-fully-healthy Goff in the Rams’ first playoff game a week later.
But Wolford got hurt in the first quarter at Seattle, and Goff came on to lead the final victory of his Rams career. Goff was replaced by Stafford a couple of months later, and Wolford settled into two more seasons as the backup QB.
Four years is a fairly long tenure for any backup quarterback, particularly with another passer of Perkins’ talent also on the roster. The situation is a measure of the confidence McVay feels in Wolford.
“I think his teammates rally around him, and he’s got a great mastery and ownership of what we’re really trying to get done,” McVay said. “There’s moving parts to what we’ve done year in and year out, (and) this year has obviously been a unique year in and of itself, but there’s still some foundational elements that are very comfortable and familiar for John.”
In his brief playing time in 2020 and during the past few preseasons, Wolford has demonstrated a running ability far superior to Goff or Stafford. His presence against the Cardinals would allow McVay to call more plays putting a quarterback in motion, perhaps bringing some unpredictability to an offense that has struggled at the simplest tasks for long stretches of several recent games.
“It’s a much shorter learning curve than people might think,” Kupp said. “He’s done this, and we know he prepares the right way. If his name is called, he’ll be ready to go out there and do what he needs to do Sunday.”
The Rams all say they won’t rush Stafford, and they won’t allow Stafford to rush himself. Even though Los Angeles’ playoff hopes would take a major blow with another loss in the next few weeks, they’re all publicly confident Wolford can do the job capably while their Super Bowl-winning quarterback clears the concussion protocol.
“This isn’t something you muscle through,” Kupp said. “It’s been very clear with concussions that this isn’t something like an ankle. It’s not a knee. It’s something you have to handle the right way for your family and yourself. I hope he feels that and he knows, because it’s so against his nature. He’s played through so many things in his career. It’s just in his nature, and that can grind on you when that’s how you’ve played your entire career.”
Stafford’s struggles puts Rams offense toward league’s bottom
By Arizona Sports
The Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams offenses have had their fair share of struggles through nine games heading into the Week 10 matchup.
The Rams (3-5) and Cardinals (3-6) have been left week after week with lackluster performances leading into what feels like a must-win game for both teams on Sunday.
Just a season ago, the defending Super Bowl champs scored 27.0 points per game, good enough to rank No. 5 in the NFL. This season, L.A. is scoring 16.4 ppg, ranking No. 29 in the league.
A major reason for the Rams’ shaky performances this season has been the decline of quarterback Matthew Stafford’s play.
The QB currently ranks No. 15 in the league with 1,928 passing yards (68.4% completion), has thrown eight touchdowns, eight interceptions and is averaging 6.8 yards per passing attempt. The eight touchdowns rank him No. 23 in the NFL while the eight interceptions put the QB tied for second, only behind Matt Ryan.
Through eight weeks in 2021, Stafford was setting the league on fire with his new home. He threw for 2,477 yards (68.9%), 22 touchdowns, four interceptions and was averaging 9.1 yards per attempt. He finished the season with 41 TDs and 17 INTs.
The Rams relied heavily on wideout Cooper Kupp in 2021, catching 145 balls for 1,947 yards, 95 more receptions and 1,145 yards than No. 2 receiver Van Jefferson. This season, Kupp is on track for another jaw-dropping year (72 catches for 813 yards). Outside of one of the NFL’s best, L.A. has three other receivers or tight ends with over 200 yards, all of which do not combine for Kupp’s yards.
Although, another explanation for the lack of a passing game has been the non-existent run game.
The Rams have 547 rushing yards on 171 attempts, the second worst total in the league and only one yard ahead of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for last. The Rams’ 3.2 yards per carry also ranks second worst. Last season, L.A. was not a rushing juggernaut but ran for 1,683 yards and a respectable four yards per carry.
The offseason loss of wideouts Odell Beckham Jr. and Robert Woods, offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth as well as the low level of play from running back Cam Akers means Stafford has struggled to find consistency and a No. 2 option outside of Kupp. The bottom line is if Kupp doesn’t blow defenses away, L.A. will struggle to move the ball.
Matthew Stafford [Minus Cooper Kupp]
W1: 112 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT
W2: 164 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT
W3: 205 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
W4: 132 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
W5: 183 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
W6: 173 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
W8: 108 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
W9: 38 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
1,115 yards, 2 TD, 8 INT
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) November 8, 2022
After winning his first-ever Super Bowl, Stafford signed a four-year, $160 million contract to keep the quarterback in L.A. through 2026. Quarterbacks that signed major offseason contracts have struggled in 2022 including Aaron Rodgers (3-6), Russell Wilson (3-5), Kyler Murray (3-6) and Derek Carr (2-6).
It could be a Super Bowl hangover but the lack of draft picks and the inability to load the quarterback with weapons has put head coach Sean McVay in an uncomfortable position.
Rams open for changes to kickstart offense
By Arizona Sports
Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay is searching for answers. The defending Super Bowl champions have lost four of their last five to fall in the bottom half of the NFC West, along with their Sunday opponent, the Cardinals (3-6).
And as bad as the Arizona offense has had it lately, Los Angeles arguably has performed worse. The Rams (3-5) have averaged 11.4 points over their last five games — the stretch since the two teams met on Sept. 25 in a 20-12 victory for Los Angeles.
“We’ve got to really figure out a lot of different things to be able to do,” McVay told reporters on Sunday, per Rams.com’s Stu Jackson. “Whether it’s different players, whether it’s different schemes, different things like that, but this is not good enough. And I have to do better, too. I’m a huge part of this. And that’s just the reality of where we’re at right now.”
In terms of expected points added per play (EPA per play), the Rams have the second-worst offense behind the Indianapolis Colts, who have fired their offensive coordinator and head coach in the past two weeks.
~~Week 9 thread~~
Exactly half of this year's regular season games have been played (136 of 272).
Through half the season, I'd say the biggest surprises are the Dolphins (good) and Rams (bad), with honorable mentions to the Browns & Seahawks pic.twitter.com/CxWeZ2X4nP
— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) November 8, 2022
McVay told reporters that “everything’s got to be up for debate” regarding how the Rams offense is functioning.
Like with the Cardinals, offensive line turnover has played a central part in the inconsistencies.
One area that could see adjustments is the offensive line, which had its eighth starting combination in eight games on Sunday as Chandler Brewer got the start at right guard. Asked if he was comfortable with that iteration of the Rams offensive line, the rest of which was filled out with Alaric Jackson at left tackle, Bobby Evans at left guard, Brian Allen at center, and Rob Havenstein at right tackle, McVay said “I think it’s hard for me to say that.”
From there, quarterback play has been sketchy.
Matthew Stafford has thrown eight touchdowns to eight interceptions.
His passer rating (84.6) and QBR (46.0) are worse than Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray’s 86.9 passer rating and 47.8 QBR, respectively.