Don’t be fooled by the hype: Matthew Stafford has never faced this much pressure

Detroit Free Press

I have to laugh.

After all those years of Detroit Lions coaches offering careful and measured praise during the start of their tenures working with Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay has taken a completely different direction .

Since the Rams mortgaged their future to acquire Stafford for three draft picks (including two first-rounders), McVay has gushed over his new quarterback with no reservations. He has taken off the restrictor plate, turned off the traction control, unbuckled his seat belt and punched the accelerator.

McVay even found a whole new gear when he told one of the highest-profile NFL reporters that Stafford was so impressive this offseason that he’s apparently a cross between Shaft, Tom Brady and Gandhi.

“Bro, this dude’s a bad MF-er,” McVay told Albert Breer of SI.com. “Whatever people say about him, as good as it can be, he’s even better than advertised. It makes sense to him. The guy’s ability to see the game, his ability to draw on his experiences, the feel that he has, it’s pretty special and unique. And man, his feel for people, his authentic way of connecting with his teammates, his coaches, this guy, it’s great being around him.”

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Breer, noted McVay sounded like he “was about to jump through the phone” when he talked about Stafford.

THE OTHER GUY: Jared Goff sounds excited to play for the Detroit Lions. No, really.

As soon as the trade became official, McVay turned on the fire hydrant of praise, comparing him to Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers — both NFL MVPs — and the praise hasn’t stopped flowing.

“The way he’s able to see the field,” McVay told reporters in March, “you see Rodgers, Mahomes have done an outstanding job of being able to move and manipulate coverage and change their arm slots and Matthew has done a lot of those same things.

All of Stafford’s Detroit’s head coaches eventually praised him. But at the outset, they were careful to temper expectations.

After Stafford’s first minicamp in 2009, Jim Schwartz wouldn’t rank Stafford’s position on the depth chart while he was engaged in a QB battle with Daunte Culpepper.

Martin Mayhew, who drafted Stafford No. 1 overall that year, took his caution even further during the minicamp and said he thought Culpepper would start in that moment.

“He’s a pro, and I trust Daunte,” Mayhew said. “He’s got a lot of ability, and I anticipate that if we had something to do today, Daunte would be the guy today.”

Jim Caldwell watched all of Stafford’s 634 pass attempts in 2013. During his introductory new conference in 2014, Caldwell said Stafford was merely “on the cusp” of being a fine player.

“He’s a guy that has talent, he has ability,” Caldwell said, “he has great leadership qualities and I think, without question, you’re going see him develop and then also, certainly, take off in every facet.”

Matt Patricia said even less about Stafford at his first news conference in 2018.

“He’s great,” Patricia said. “Obviously, I’ve had the opportunity to play against him a couple times and see him on film and study him, so I know what a tremendous quarterback he is, what a competitor and someone that just is a true professional at what he does.”

Of course, each of these coaches began their working relationship with Stafford under different circumstances. It’s understandable why McVay is publicly gushing about Stafford: McVay is comparing him to Jared Goff while trying to sell Stafford, not only to Rams fans, but also to his entire team.

But something else is happening to Stafford for the first time in his career. The pressure for him to win — and win big — has been cranked to an unprecedented level. All of McVay’s exaltations can be translated into one thought for Stafford: It’s all on you, bub.

When a team puts so many resources and so much hope into one player, that player has to be seen as the savior, if of the franchise, then the savior of this regime and, specifically, the savior of McVay’s reputation as an offensive genius who has not yet had the right quarterback turning his vision into reality.

Thus, we get McVay’s bloviating as a keen piece of strategy that would be worthy of an episode of “The Queen’s Gambit” on Netflix. Hyping Stafford this much means Stafford can give no reason for any struggles. He has nowhere to go other than a deep playoff run. He’ll either be a savior or a scapegoat for McVay and general manager Les Snead.

Lions coaches were always careful not to place too much public pressure on Stafford. That helped give rise to the popular — but false — narrative that Stafford never had enough weapons in Detroit.

Stafford’s standing in Detroit was largely a function of how he was viewed by ownership. He was a favorite of the Ford family and pretty much got what he wanted. He got huge contracts. He got to keep offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. In the end, he even got the trade he wanted. During his 12-year tenure, the NFL franchise in Detroit might as well have been called “Matthew Stafford and the Lions.”

But that’s changed now that Stafford is in L.A.’s limelight, spotlight and hot seat. Because with every compliment from McVay that leads to another laudatory headline and article, the pressure mounts for Stafford. He no longer works for a tenderhearted blueblood family with deep roots in American business, but for Stan Kroenke, a titan of global sports ownership who will no doubt demand a sizable return on his investment after McVay had to convince him to up the trade ante with the Lions.

It almost makes me feel a little sorry for Stafford. Because he might be a bad MF-er, bro. But don’t you dare forget he now plays for a team that is no longer his. He plays for the L.A. Rams. Actually, make that “Sean McVay and the L.A. Rams.”

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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