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No quarterback-receiver combination has been more potent during this NFL season than Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp

Stafford ranks second in the NFL in passing yards and passing touchdowns, as well as passer rating, while he's first in QBR, Football Outsiders' DVOA, and TruMedia's version of EPA (estimated points added) per dropback. Kupp, meanwhile, is tied for the NFL lead with 90 targets, ranks second in the league with 63 catches (Tyreek Hill has 64) and is first by a mile in receiving yards (924; next-closest is Deebo Samuel with 819) and receiving touchdowns (10; Mike Evans and DK Metcalf each have eight). 

Together with Sean McVay, Stafford and Kupp are breaking NFL defenses with an outrageous mixture of scheme and talent. 

Through his first four seasons, Kupp was a moderately high-volume (he averaged between 6.2 and 8.4 targets per game), mostly short-yardage slot man. He helped the Rams get the ball downfield in smallish chunks, finding holes in defenses where Jared Goff could clearly see that he was open, then fire the ball into the passing lane. 

Teaming with Stafford has turned Kupp into a different, even more dangerous weapon. He's also become an explosive play machine, thanks to the combination of his route-running capabilities and Stafford's ability and willingness to deliver the ball downfield, as well as before Kupp comes out of his break, rather than when he's already shaken free of the defense. Kupp's average depth of target this season is 9.4 yards downfield. Over the previous three seasons, that number has been plummeting: it was 8.4 in 2018, dipped to 7.2 in 2019, and fell all the way to 6.3 last season. 

How to watch

Date: Sunday, Nov. 7 | Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Location: SoFI Stadium (Inglewood, CA)
TV: 
NBC | Stream: fuboTV (try for free)
Follow: CBS Sports App
Odds: Rams -7, O/U 53

Kupp has also not just retained his high volume, but seen it dramatically rise. His career-high targets per game average was previously 8.4; he has not seen fewer than nine targets in any game this season and is averaging 11.3 per week. Stafford targets him relentlessly: he's been thrown the ball on 32.6% of his routes run, according to TruMedia. (And not just from the slot, either. He's been targeted on 37.1% of routes when aligned on the perimeter.) That's the highest mark among all wide receivers with at least 100 routes this season, and second-highest among all players behind only hybrid receiver/running back Cordarrelle Patterson

Combined with his high catch rate and newfound role as a downfield threat, Kupp has been remarkably efficient. His 3.35-yards- per-route run average ranks second in the NFL behind only Samuel. (Davante Adams is the only other player over 3 yards per route run.) He's also already racked up 41 receiving first downs on his 90 targets (45.6%). His previous high for first downs in a season was 51, on 138 targets (38.1%). 

Nowhere has the duo been more dangerous, though, than in the red zone.

The absolute first thing that jumps out when watching Stafford and Kupp operate in this small area of the field is just how easy some of these touchdowns are. That's not a slight. It's a credit to the offensive design, Kupp's route-running, and players like Robert Woods, Van Jefferson, and Tyler Higbee, who often act as screeners for Kupp near the goal line. 

But just... look at these plays. The throws and catches are essentially uncontested, and all Kupp has to do is secure the ball and/or fall into the end zone.

Kupp has run 56 routes in the red zone this season, according to TruMedia, and been targeted on 20 of them. That 35.7% rate is just a touch higher than his overall target clip, but the efficiency with which those passes have connected is just absurd. Stafford is 14 of 20 for 128 yards and nine scores targeting Kupp inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Not many of those throws have been more difficult than the ones above. 

The more adventurous stuff comes a bit farther downfield. There is perhaps no team in the league that runs more over routes than the Rams, and they are a Kupp specialty. Los Angeles loves to line him up in the slot and then just have him sprint across the field and into an open area behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties. The Rams will attach a route from that side of the field that clears space for Kupp to fill, and it's usually not much more than an easy pitch and catch. 

Sometimes they'll send Kupp deeper down the field on a post route and bring an over or a dig in behind him, and Stafford can hit any one of those throws, from pretty much any platform. Using in-breaking stuff down the field as opposed to just in short areas allows the Rams to stretch defenses vertically and horizontally at the same time. 

Of course, Stafford's elite arm strength also allows him to hit on outbreaking throws with much more regularity than his predecessor. The Rams love to flood one side of zone coverages with a deep route, an intermediate route (Kupp's) and a short route, overwhelming the defense by taking advantage of coverage rules. That's just good offensive football and every team tries to attack that way, but the Rams do it better than almost any team in the league. Using Kupp -- their crispest route-runner -- as the intermediate target more often than not makes sense as well, because that's the route that needs the most selling. 

That Kupp has so much success running posts and overs -- and that the Rams run so damn many of them to begin with -- helps create enormous throwing lanes for Stafford to drop the ball into. Even if the lanes aren't that big, though, Stafford can fit the ball right in -- lofting it over the top of zone coverage and into the one area it needs to go -- or else count on Kupp's ability to create enough separation from man coverage corners such that the ball can only be caught by him.

And all of that is just standard, "scheme-him-open" type of stuff. The Rams and Kupp do a lot more. 

Line him up in a stack formation to get a free release, then let him roast man coverage from there. Line him up in the backfield to get him matched up on an overwhelmed safety and get one of your easiest touchdowns of the season. Go empty and have him aligned as No. 3 receiver to the three-receiver side, then give him two natural picks and throw a slot fade by zipping the ball over the corner's head so that it arrives before the safety does. Or, just have Stafford rip an absolute laser down the field, even though Kupp is basically triple-covered, because he can get the ball to his man anyway.

How, exactly, defenses are supposed to deal with this stuff is apparently as much of a mystery to NFL teams as it is to me. When you combine the ways McVay's offense was designed to attack defenses, with a quarterback who can make any throw and is playing at an extraordinarily high level, as well as a receiver who is pretty much always open to begin with, there's just not much hope for teams to stop them.