Matthew Stafford enjoyed a career season in 2021, leading the Rams to a Super Bowl victory in their home stadium.
But reducing turnovers — he had 17 passes intercepted — was among the veteran quarterback’s goals going into his second year under coach Sean McVay.
That did not happen in the Rams’ season-opening defeat by the Buffalo Bills. Stafford had three passes intercepted.
“Definitely two or three I wish I had back,” he said this week, “there’s no question about that.”
Until Stafford plays efficiently, there will continue to be questions about the condition of his much-scrutinized right elbow, and how much the tendinitis he supposedly worked through is affecting his performance.
Stafford continues to say he feels “great.”
The latest test comes Sunday when the Rams play the Atlanta Falcons (0-1) at SoFi Stadium.
“I just got to do a better job of seeing it,” he said of opportunities to complete passes, “and hitting it.”
Stafford’s turnovers are only one of several problems that must be solved for the Rams to defeat the Falcons — and for McVay to avoid his first 0-2 start.
The Bills ran through the Rams offensive line and sacked Stafford seven times. The Rams failed to establish a running attack, and new receiver Allen Robinson was targeted only twice.
The Rams defense forced four turnovers but allowed the Bills to convert nine of 10 third downs.
It was an embarrassing performance by a team that proclaimed its intent to “run it back” and become the first in nearly two decades to repeat as Super Bowl champion.
“Sometimes,” McVay said, “until you get punched in the face, you really find out about people.
“And that’s what I love is the opportunity to respond.”
That starts with Stafford, a 14th-year pro.
Arthur Smith was a Tennessee Titans assistant for 10 years before he was hired as the Falcons coach last season. He observed Stafford throughout his career.
“He’s very smart, he’s got instincts, he can make every throw,” Smith said, “So that’s a huge challenge, and that’s why he won the Super Bowl last year and he’s had the success he’s had.”
The Rams can aid Stafford by keeping him upright. The seven sacks he absorbed against the Bills were the most he has taken with the Rams.
“He took some hits, took some shots and got up every single time,” offensive coordinator Liam Coen said. “[He] … wanted to keep competing. Sometimes it’s your night. I think it was just probably an off night.”
Now the Rams will attempt to protect Stafford with a reshuffled offensive line.
Because of a knee injury suffered by center Brian Allen, Coleman Shelton moves from right guard to center. Third-year pro Tremayne Anchrum will start for the first time at right guard. If a knee sprain suffered by left tackle Joe Noteboom is not sufficiently healed, second-year pro Alaric Jackson will start in his place.
The line also must help improve a rushing attack that produced a league-low 52 yards in the opener.
Darrell Henderson ran hard against the Bills, but McVay has said that Cam Akers needs to play with more “urgency.” Akers, a third-year pro, was on the field for only 12 plays. He gained zero yards in three carries.
“Always room to improve,” Akers said. “And I want to improve. I don’t think I’m perfect.”
The Falcons are coming off a 27-26 loss to the New Orleans Saints, during which they blew a 16-point fourth-quarter lead.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota, running back Cordarrelle Patterson, rookie receiver Drake London and tight end Kyle Pitts are featured players for an offense that produced 416 yards, 201 rushing, in the opener.
Patterson was an All-Pro kick-returner and he also played receiver during his first eight NFL seasons. Last season, the Falcons played him at running back.
Patterson rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown in 22 carries last Sunday against the Saints.
“He runs with absolute power,” Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said.
After their poor performance against the Bills, the Rams will have waited 10 days to show they are better than their season-opening performance.
The Rams are eager to move on, linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
“The testament of a team is how you respond,” he said, “so I plan on us responding.”