The eyes of the nation drifted toward the quarterbacks in the first Sunday Night Football matchup of the 2021 season.
Matthew Stafford made his debut for the Los Angeles Rams after moving from Detroit, while Chicago Bears rookie Justin Fields made his first appearance with his franchise, even if he was only holding the clipboard. In the end, the game ended how most expected — with Stafford’s Rams cruising to a 34-14 win.
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Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford ran a masterclass in creating explosive pass plays. In all, 33.3% of their passing plays went for 15 or more yards, the highest rate of any team in Week 1. And Stafford was dialed in on play-action passes, in particular.
Stafford play-action passing vs. Chicago on SNF
It was Darrell Henderson’s backfield in Week 1. The Rams only presented newly acquired running back Sony Michel with one carry, and it came in garbage time. Henderson took advantage of the open lanes and picked up at least a five-yard gain on eight of his 16 carries, tying for the third-most by a running back in Week 1.
Only Tyreek Hill generated more yards per route run from the slot in Week 1 than Cooper Kupp. However, Kupp wasn’t the only L.A. wide receiver to partner up with Stafford, as Van Jefferson, Robert Woods and DeSean Jackson all got into the mix:
Rams Wide Receivers vs. Chicago on SNF
|Wide Receiver||Routes/Targets||15+ Yard Rec.||Yards per Route|
Tight end Tyler Higbee tied with Kupp in total first down/touchdown receptions, with four. Higbee reeled in both of his contested targets and actually led the team in yards after the catch, with 45.
It was a mediocre night at best for a Rams offensive line that is heavily protected by McVay’s scheme. They saw only 15 true pass set opportunities and gave up pressure on five of those dropbacks.
On the other hand, their run-blocking was exceptional. They currently have the second-highest run-block grade among the 30 offensive lines that have played so far, pending review of the game film.
Aaron Donald was receiving some extra attention — as usual — and got off to a slow start, but offenses can only keep him quiet for so long. Donald won only two pass-rush reps in the first half before winning six in the second half.
The Rams could not have asked for a better performance from Kenny Young, the lone linebacker who consistently saw the field for L.A. He saw six targets in coverage and allowed zero first downs while forcing an incompletion. This will end up as one of the highest-graded games of his career.
Jalen Ramsey played a versatile role, splitting time fairly evenly between the slot and outside. It wasn’t his best day, but it wasn’t his worst, either. Overall, he surrendered less than a yard per coverage snap, with 35 yards allowed on 45 plays.
Cornerback David Long Jr. was the top performer among the group, coming away with a pick, two forced incompletions and a passing stop to just one first down allowed.
Day 3 rookie corner Robert Rochell, who was pegged as a raw athlete with high-upside coming out of Central Arkansas, really impressed tonight. He allowed only one catch for 10 yards while forcing an incompletion on 19 coverage snaps.
Unlike Stafford, Andy Dalton struggled to move the ball downfield. He completed only two throws over 10 yards downfield for 21 total yards.
Stafford vs. Dalton throwing 10-plus yards downfield on SNF
Dalton wasn’t egregiously inaccurate, but he struggled to make those big-time throws downfield. That’s no different from what he put on display in 2020 with the Dallas Cowboys.
Justin Fields played five snaps in his debut. Two ended in handoffs, one was a nine-yard pass on an RPO, one was a one-yard pass on a screen and the other was his first career touchdown on an option run.
David Montgomery wasn’t going down without a fight on Sunday night. He averaged 5.1 yards after contact per attempt and picked up three 10-plus-yard runs on his 16 attempts.
Allen Robinson II and Darnell Mooney were the top two targets, with 10 and seven balls thrown their way, respectively. Unfortunately, neither of the two found success, as they combined for zero gains of 15-plus yards, and each generated under a yard per route run.
Veterans Jimmy Graham (14 snaps) and Jesse James (nine snaps) played second-fiddle to second-year tight end Cole Kmet (51 snaps). Kmet did drop a pass but was the second-most productive receiver on the night for Chicago, with 1.31 yards per route run.
Matt Nagy added some different elements to his offense this offseason. One of which was the usage of no-tight end personnel packages that were often paired with two running backs and three wide receivers. Nagy had four plays with zero tight ends tonight compared to only four in all of 2020.
Left guard Cody Whitehair got the Aaron Donald experience and was on the other end of many of the interior defender’s wins. Whitehair finished as Chicago’s lowest-graded pass-blocker, with five total losses on the night.
On the bright side, right tackle Germain Ifedi played well and allowed only one pressure overall (a hurry). Three different players saw time at left tackle due to a couple of injuries, and each lost one rep. In the case of Jason Peters and Elijah Wilkinson, the loss was a sack.
Star edge defender Khalil Mack was shut down in this one. He generated just one pressure — a hit that came at the end of the night on the Rams’ final touchdown.
With Danny Trevathan out, Alec Ogletree got the nod, which was an issue for the Bears. Ogletree gave up three catches for 36 yards on 19 coverage snaps en route to a coverage grade that is bound to be among the worst at the position for the week.
Roquan Smith also gave up a few first downs in coverage but made up for it with a couple of defensive stops, a forced incompletion and a sound performance against the run.
In addition to a coverage bust that resulted in a wide-open 56-yard touchdown, the Bears allowed a number of open throws downfield.