It took a few seasons, but Sean McVay finally could not take it anymore.
After a 2020 defeat to the San Francisco 49ers, McVay called out quarterback Jared Goff for committing too many costly turnovers. He eventually traded Goff and two first-round draft picks to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford.
McVay might never reach the point of similarly criticizing Stafford, who led the Rams to the Super Bowl last season.
That was evident again Wednesday as the Rams (2-2) began preparations for Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys (3-1) at SoFi Stadium.
The Rams are coming off a 24-9 defeat to the 49ers.
Stafford completed 32 of 48 passes for 254 yards but committed two turnovers, including a fourth-quarter interception that was returned for a touchdown to seal the embarrassing loss on “Monday Night Football.”
And yet McVay said that Stafford played “excellent” in the defeat.
“If you look at some of the different things that he was dealing with, I thought he played excellent,” McVay said. “I thought he did a lot of good things. I think the margin for error was that much smaller. … I thought that was a performance that he could build on.”
Stafford, 34, got off to a fast and winning start with the Rams in 2021, persevered through a winless November and starred in their postseason run to the Super Bowl title.
The first quarter of this season has not played out in similar fashion.
Through four games — roughly a quarter of the 17-game season — Stafford’s touchdown passes are way down, his interceptions way up.
The Buffalo Bills routed the Rams in the opener and the offense did not look sharp in victories over the Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals. The inconsistency continued against the 49ers.
When asked Wednesday to assess his performance through four games, Stafford found room for improvement.
“The name of the game for the quarterback is helping the team get in the end zone,” he said. “We haven’t done that enough.
“And I can do a better job of that, whether that’s executing a little bit better in the red zone or being a little bit more explosive. … Definitely can be better.”
In the first four games last season, Stafford passed for 1,222 yards and 11 touchdowns, with two interceptions.
Through four games this season, he has passed for 1,015 yards and four touchdowns, with a league-worst six interceptions.
Stafford has targeted star receiver Cooper Kupp a league-high 54 times, and the reigning NFL offensive player of the year has a league-leading 42 catches for 402 yards and three touchdowns.
But receiver Allen Robinson, who the Rams regarded as an upgrade over Robert Woods, has been targeted only 18 times. He has nine catches, one for a touchdown.
“He’s a really talented player — a guy that I can do a better job of trying to find him and get balls to him earlier,” Stafford said, adding, “Whatever the coverage dictates is where I try to put the football.
“I think there are some opportunities in games where I can give him shots.”
On Sunday, Stafford faces a Cowboys defense that includes elite pass rushers DeMarcus Lawrence and Micah Parsons among others. The Cowboys have 15 sacks, second most in the NFL.
The Rams have given up 16 sacks, including seven against the Bills and seven against the 49ers.
Stafford said he studies film to find ways to improve in those situations.
“’Can I get the ball out quicker here? Can we do this? Can I get us out of this play or that play or whatever it is,’” he said, “So, I look internally more than anything. Know those guys up front are freakin’ fighting and doing everything they can to keep the guys off me.”
With center Brian Allen recovering from knee surgery and backup Coleman Shelton sidelined for four to six weeks because of an ankle injury, Stafford could be operating behind a line that once again includes third-string center Jeremiah Kolone, backup guards Bobby Evans and Alaric Jackson and tackles Joe Noteboom and Rob Havenstein.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy coached the Green Bay Packers for 10 seasons while Stafford played for the Detroit Lions in the NFC North.
McCarthy is familiar with Stafford’s potential.
“He can make any throw from any platform and any arm angle,” McCarthy said during Wednesday during a conference call with Los Angeles reporters. “So he gives you the flexibility to be very aggressive schematically and he’s obviously a great fit for Sean and the Rams.”
The Rams held meetings and worked in the weight room but did not practice Wednesday. Had they practiced, offensive lineman David Edwards (concussion), cornerback David Long (groin) and safety Taylor Rapp (ribs) would have been limited, according to the Rams injury report.