After more than a month of answering questions about tendinitis in his right elbow, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is looking forward to showing he’s fit when the Rams play the Buffalo Bills in the season opener Thursday night at SoFi Stadium.
Stafford, 34, is entering his 14th NFL season.
“I feel great — I’m ready to go play,” Stafford said Sunday when asked about his elbow. “Can always be better. Can always try to feel like I’m 21 again. I’ll keep trying.”
Stafford and receiver Cooper Kupp remain the centerpieces of the offense for the defending Super Bowl champions.
Yet there have been changes to a unit that last season ranked tied for seventh in the NFL in scoring (27.1 points per game), ninth in offense (372.1 yards per game), fifth in passing (273.1 ypg) and 25th in rushing (99 ypg).
Coach Sean McVay is still the play-caller, but with Kevin O’Connell leaving to become coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Liam Coen rejoined the staff as offensive coordinator after a season at Kentucky. Receiver Allen Robinson ostensibly replaces Robert Woods, who was traded to the Tennessee Titans. Joe Noteboom replaces retired left tackle Andrew Whitworth, and Coleman Shelton replaces right guard Austin Corbett, who signed with the Carolina Panthers.
Stafford last season passed for 41 touchdowns, with 17 interceptions. The former Detroit Lions quarterback ended any doubt about his ability to win playoff games by leading the Rams on a postseason run that culminated with a 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium.
Stafford did that while playing through arm problems. He received an injection after the Super Bowl and the Rams shut him down for offseason workouts and limited his workload during training camp.
Stafford appeared fine during joint practices with the Cincinnati Bengals, firing passes from all angles.
“You always want to be cognizant of pitch count if you will,” McVay said Sunday when asked if he was concerned about managing Stafford’s arm condition through the season. “But … he’s throwing the ball excellent, he feels good, everything I’m seeing is reflective of everything he’s saying to me.”
After achieving the so-called triple crown of receiving last season, Kupp appears primed for an encore.
The reigning NFL offensive player of the year led the NFL in catches, yards receiving and touchdown catches. He was voted the most valuable player of the Super Bowl.
“There’s a lot of stuff that I think there’s a lot of room to improve on,” Kupp said.
Kupp, a sixth-year pro, pointed to the nuances of his position. Timing with Stafford on certain routes. Finding angles as a ballcarrier and blocker.
Stafford says he spends more time with Kupp than he has with any other receiver during his 13 previous NFL seasons.
“It’s just different in the aspect that he does a lot of listening,” Stafford said. “Just kind of just trying to hear me talk through what I’m seeing, what I’m thinking on certain plays. … We kind of bounce off each other and figure out how to try and make things work.”
Robinson, a ninth-year pro, has eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving in a season three times. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Robinson provides Stafford with a versatile target.
“He definitely gives us some creative ways to do things differently in some ways, and really activates some of Matthew’s strengths as well,” Coen said.
With third-year receiver Van Jefferson recovering from knee surgery, McVay will rely on tight end Tyler Higbee and receivers Ben Skowronek and Tutu Atwell to fill the void.
McVay and Coen said that among their aims are improving the rushing attack.
Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson are the primary running backs, with rookie Kyren Williams also available.
After flashing his talent as a rookie in 2020, Akers was sidelined nearly all of last season because of an Achilles injury. Henderson, a fourth-year pro, has been productive when not injured.
The Rams gave Noteboom and center Brian Allen new contracts after last season. They are part of a line that also includes left guard David Edwards and veteran right tackle Rob Havenstein, a starter since 2015 who is in the final year of his contract.
Noteboom said he was ready to step in for Whitworth.
“I know what they want,” Noteboom said. “I know the system.”
The temperature in Thousand Oaks was 103 when the Rams began their workout. McVay said the team had increased the number of hydration breaks. … The Rams still have a locker with Odell Beckham Jr.’s name on it in their locker room. Beckham remains a free agent.