NFL Roundtable: Stafford dazzles in Rams debut
Each week we sit down with TwinSpires columnists Ashley Anderson, James Scully, and Scott Shapiro to discuss the latest news from around the NFL. Today they weigh in on the Steelers' hot start, Matthew Stafford's dazzling debut, and the league's best sophomore QB.
The Steelers stuffed the Bills on Sunday. Is Pittsburgh a true contender in the AFC?
Ashley: Pittsburgh proved its defense is good enough to give the Steelers a fighting chance, but the offense is as concerning as it was last year, if not more. In the first half against Buffalo, Pittsburgh totaled 53 offensive yards, and Ben Roethlisberger got sacked twice behind a young, inexperienced offensive line. Rookie running back Najee Harris averaged 1.1 yards per carry before halftime. This team has much of the same issues as last season, and I see the Wild Card Round as Pittsburgh’s ceiling.
James: No. A terrific defensive performance carried Pittsburgh to a Week 1 win over Buffalo, but the Steelers generated only 252 yards of offense. The ground game is still woeful, which puts too much pressure on Ben Roethlisberger, and they lack the offensive firepower to compete for the AFC title. However, the formidable defense should guarantee a Wild Card berth for Pittsburgh.
Scott: Pittsburgh’s defense once again illustrated that they are one of the best units in the NFL, but their offense will prevent them from being a true AFC contender. The revamped offensive line looks like it will be a major issue again this year after failing to open holes for rookie running back Najee Harris. Combine that with the obvious decline in Roethlisberger and you have a team that is likely to earn a Wild Card, but not achieve much more in 2021.
The Matthew Stafford era has officially begun in LA. What were your first impressions of his Rams debut?
Ashley: I loved seeing a talent like Stafford airing it out in Sean McVay’s system. This offense is going to be extremely dangerous, even after it took a major hit in the offseason with the loss of running back Cam Akers. The Rams, whose defense is one of the scariest in the league, are one of the most complete teams in football, with the addition of Stafford. They need more consistency in the run game, but with Stafford playing like he did Sunday night, the Rams will be difficult for anyone to beat.
James: The encouraging debut by Matthew Stafford was exactly what Los Angeles needed. The defense proved underwhelming, allowing David Montgomery to average 6.8 yards per carry as he piled up 108 rushing yards, and the Rams' ability to run the ball remains a concern, but Stafford brought a much-needed element to Sean McVay’s offense. Los Angeles will now have a dynamic passing game.
Scott: Matthew Stafford looked really good in his first performance in a Rams uniform. The former first overall pick completed 20 of 26 passes for 321 yards and made a couple of throws deep down the field that former signal caller Jared Goff just was unable to execute. With Sean McVay calling the plays and a strong corps of receiving options at Stafford’s disposal, the Rams appear to be set for a big season on offense.
Which sophomore quarterback has the brightest future: Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, or Jalen hurts?
Ashley: I give the edge to Justin Herbert, the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, who threw for 337 yards and a score against one of the league’s best passing defenses (Washington) on Sunday. Hurts turned in an impressive performance as well, but his three-touchdown outing came against Atlanta, who ranked dead last in pass defense in 2020. Herbert has a ton of talent around him, including an upgraded offensive line, and a new coaching regime that should get the best out of the young player.
James: Justin Herbert has superstar written all over him, and ranks the edge presently, but it’s too early to count out Joe Burrow, who returned from a torn ACL last November to lead Cincinnati to an upset win over Minnesota in Week 1. Nothing against Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa, who are both off to good starts this season after winning on the road in Week 1, but Herbert and Burrow have brighter futures.
Scott: All four QBs have gotten off to solid starts in their sophomore year, but much like in his rookie season, former Oregon star Justin Herbert showed he has the brightest future amongst the bunch. Herbert has tremendous arm strength, great mobility, and played a nearly flawless game in the nation’s capital against one of the league’s best defenses. With an improved offensive line and a more creative coaching staff, look for Herbert to prove he is one of the best young QB’s in the game in 2021.