Sean McVay says there is no limits. Matthew Stafford says there is no hesitation.
Those are the party lines for the Los Angeles Rams when it comes to their franchise quarterback’s nudge coming into Thursday’s season opener against the Buffalo Bills. The message? If Stafford needs to throw another 741 pass attempts like he did last season to replicate the Rams’ Super Bowl-winning campaign, his elbow and the tendonitis in it are ready to roll.
As we kick off the 2022 season, Stafford throwing elbow remains one of the biggest (and somehow quietest) questions hanging over the league. Not just because he’s the centerpiece of the defending champion, but also because the Rams have a legitimate shot at being a better team this season. For that to happen, Stafford would have to take a step forward from last season, when he played the latter part of the schedule with enough elbow pain to require an injection during the season and then a total stoppage. until training camp, then a limited throwing diet until last week.
After all that maintenance, we can now see if Stafford is healthy enough to handle another slog towards 700 passing attempts. And you couldn’t have picked a more telling start than facing a Bills offense that should make the game a boat race, the kind of high-scoring affair that should put Stafford’s arm back on its trail of playoffs, as he averaged 41 assists in his last three playoff wins. And let’s not forget, against a defense that signed rusher Von Miller in the offseason and will almost certainly land a few licks on Stafford’s throwing arm.
If there is a problem in a game like this, it will become apparent at some point. And if there’s no problem, Thursday night should be the kind of test that silences some of the questions. But until either happens against the Bills, the simple truth is that no one knows how close to 100% Stafford is.
That’s largely because Stafford hasn’t had a typical offseason. He was kept out of team passing practices, placed on a shot count in practice and never took the field in a preseason game. All of this raised the question of whether the pain in his elbow had been completely resolved or not. Since this week, it looks more like an ambiguous “maybe” than a definitive “yes”.
“I feel good,” Stafford told reporters last week. “I’m ready to go. No limitations. … I feel good. I’m ready to go play. Can always be better. I can always try to feel like I’m 21 again. I’ll keep trying But no, I feel really good. I feel like I can hit every shot.
If your team is heavily reliant on a 34-year-old center quarterback, that’s not a proclamation you want to have to make in September. Especially when each arm should feeling good enough that it wasn’t a topic of conversation. Unfortunately, the Rams don’t have that luxury.
What they have is an excess of curiosity, so much so that an opposing NFC executive asked two questions during training camp when a visitor mentioned that he had recently seen a practice of the rams. First, was Matthew Stafford throwing a soccer ball that day? And second, what did it look like?
It’s the kind of thing teams want to know when they learn that a quarterback ended his offseason and then walked into camp on a pitch count. ‘Cause that’s definitely not a good thing for any team, let alone a defending Super Bowl champion who just inked that quarterback and his elbow tendonitis at a massive contract extension.
[It’s fantasy football season: Create or join a league now!]
Make no mistake, the state of the Stafford Elbow will impact the entire NFC landscape. If he’s healthy or if the team can handle the pain the way they did in 2021, the Rams start the season as the best team in the conference. But if there’s some kind of lasting problem that requires more than just veteran maintenance — or even worse, shutting down Stafford for an extended period — it could reshape both NFC West and the Super Bowl’s image. the conference.
Not that the Rams seem particularly worried about it. In July, McVay brushed off any concerns as the franchise treaded cautiously. He also insisted that Stafford not playing in pre-season was a matter of ideology, not elbow worries. As McVay said, Stafford will never play in a preseason game again, just by design and smarts. He explained that this approach was linked to lengthening Stafford’s next few years out of risk mitigation rather than just reacting to a tendonitis problem that worsened as 2021 progressed.
“It’s just about being smart with management,” McVay said in July. “He will be good when the season starts.”
Well, that time has come and health management is coming to an end. Or at least, the most controllable part of it. Once Stafford takes the field against Buffalo, the only certainty is that his season will bend at his throwing elbow – just like the top of the NFC.