Rams QB Matthew Stafford Has Thrived When Things Are ‘Empty’

Matthew Stafford

Getty Matthew Stafford looks for an open Los Angeles Rams wide receiver during their 34-24 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, September 26.

Matthew Stafford has unleashed his arm for three straight weeks, racking up 942 yards and nine touchdown passes during the Los Angeles Rams‘ 3-0 start.

But the 33-year-old has done his most damage without a running back by his side.

What exactly does this mean?

Stafford Has Done His Most Damage in ‘Empty’ Looks

The Rams’ QB1 has picked apart defenses when L.A. unveils this look: Four to five wide receivers and just Stafford behind center…which means he’s dominated defenses so far in what’s called the “empty” formations.

According to Next Gen Stats on Monday, September 27, Stafford has posted the following numbers when the Rams go without a single back: 25 completions, 345 yards and a +21.2 Expected Points Added (EPA) index — all league highs per NGS.

Also, Stafford has thrown three of his nine TD’s with just him taking snaps out of the shotgun. And it was to his new go-to target.

The ‘9 to 10’ Connection Has Destroyed Defenses in ‘Empty’

Here’s some examples of how effective Stafford has been with no backs in the backfield. And when his leading receiver is open.

During this third quarter sequence from inside the Tampa Bay red zone, Stafford is by himself in the backfield with RB Sony Michel lined up as a wide receiver. The Bucs rush four and drop seven into coverage. But, Cooper Kupp completes this score out of the empty look.

Here’s another example from the September 19 road win over the Indianapolis Colts. Stafford is the lone man in the backfield and has his most receiving options aligned to the right. Stafford, again, locates Kupp and the result is six points for the Rams.

But Stafford and Kupp have connected for TD’s outside of the red zone empty look.

In the season opener versus the Chicago Bears and with the ball at the L.A. 44-yard line, Stafford is facing a four-man rush. However, Kupp gets behind not one, not two but three defensive backs with an 11.5 yard gap between he and them and the play ends like this.

Stafford has tinkered with this offense and has convinced the Rams to not rely heavily on this next design.

Stafford Has Made This Change for L.A. Offense

Before Stafford’s arrival, the Rams offense were known for hitting defenses with their 11 personnel (one tight end, one RB) groupings and by fooling defenses with the play action.

Now, the Rams haven’t had a heavy need for faking the handoff and firing down the field, per Next Gen Stats.

From 2017-2020 when head coach Sean McVay had Jared Goff running the offense, the Rams busted out the play action on 32% of their plays — the highest percentage among any teams that used the play fake. Now? That percentage number has dipped, as seen below.

This doesn’t mean the Rams don’t trust Stafford with the play action. Per Pro Football Focus, Stafford has attempted 21 passes out of the play action. And he’s completed 18 of those passes — giving him an 85.7% completion percentage on the fakes. Two of his nine TD’s have come with Stafford bringing the football back to him on the attempted handoff. However, seven aerial scores have come with Stafford just dropping back and letting the ball fly to his open target.

In conclusion, the Rams have clearly given new meaning to the phrase “running on empty” with Stafford now at the controls.

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