The Rams are 3-0 and came off a road win in prime time against a team that had more hype than a thirty second trailer at ComicCon. Yet the conversation is less about how the Rams are 3-0 but how bad Jared Goff has looked in those three games. That’s right the Jared Goff concern train is already leaving the station. But how real is that concern? And what are the reasons he’s looked mediocre to bad through three weeks of the season? If you ask certain sects of NFL Twitter or the crank at the end of the bar the answer is simple, he’s terrible, has no confidence, is being weighed down by his contract etc. Luckily, a bit of a deeper dive signals that while not insignificant aren’t all to do with whether or not his extension has given him a big head.
It’s true that the chorus of Jared Goff concern is especially pronounced now that he’s been given a record deal for a quarterback (a record that Dak Prescott will shatter before Patrick Mahomes annihilates it again) at four years $134 million with $110 million guaranteed. It doesn’t help that the perception around him is still tepid heading into year four. That number seems outrageous but it will again seem less so in a year or two when the aforementioned QBs sign their deals. The ongoing conversation around Goff still contains a lot of doubt in regards to him being a franchise QB.
Despite having a career year, that hasn’t gone away. He looked bad against Philly and Chicago and the infamous play in the NFC Championship overshadowed how good of a second half he played. It also doesn’t help that he looked AWFUL in the Super Bowl.
Now that his numbers through three games look pedestrian especially with how dynamic Lamar Jackson, Gardner Minshew, or Deshaun Watson have looked in comparison. Is that fair? Not entirely, but given that they’re not being paid like Goff is starting in the 2020 season, it doesn’t help.
This is not to downplay Goff’s struggles or make this a homer screed that he’s being attacked unfairly. It’s not, because there are things he needs to fix but it isn’t all about him being overrated or suddenly in a confidence death spiral. However, his struggles are partially caused by the Rams’ other struggles on offense.
Sean McVay got pistol whipped by Bill Belichick in the Super Bowl. He has said himself how he didn’t prepare for all the possible outcomes and it showed. He vowed to tweak his offense so that kind of schematic depantising never happens again.
It’s clear that Todd Gurley isn’t the same and while he is still taking the majority of the snaps they aren’t giving him the ball in the same way they did a year ago. They’re using Malcolm Brown more and definitely want to preserve Gurley for the playoffs. This has meant that the offense has undergone a slight change in scheme. True, the offense is still the same style that it’s had since the McVay era began, but now that Gurley isn’t being used the same way defenses are better at sniffing out the screens and jet sweeps.
Also, because Gurley isn’t as big of a threat anymore their play action game has taken a huge hit. The last two years they averaged 10.1 yards on play actions and now that number is around 7.9 and play action plays have been where Goff has thrown picks this season. He should’ve FEASTED against a Browns secondary that had none of its starters and they were missing their starting linebacker. It’s likely that those corners over performed but its even more likely that the amount of pressure generated by Myles Garrett and the rest of the front seven enabled the secondary to succeed.
It isn’t as easy for the Rams to fool defenses as a good portion of the league is trying to emulate the McVay style and thus its not new anymore. McVay still needs to figure out ways to keep it fresh. Goff seems to be struggling with that as he’s looked largely out of sync with his receivers. His decision making hasn’t been great and McVay seemed visibly annoyed with some of the bad passes Goff has thrown because they were very preventable.
Now, McVay isn’t off the hook either. He too seems to be struggling a bit with how to balance the offense. He also needs to start being more aggressive on 4th down as well as stopping himself from being too cute i.e. that pass play in the 4th quarter that resulted in a Goff pick. The other factor contributing towards Goff’s struggles has been the retooling of the offensive line.
The offensive line of the Rams is undergoing a major reconstruction along the interior. Joe Noteboom, Brian Allen, and Austin Blythe are in their second years and have had to take on three dominant defensive lines in their first three games. Blythe got hurt in week two and in his stead is fellow second year Jamil Demby taken in the sixth round last year. Demby STRUGGLED mightily against the Browns who almost successfully ran the same defense the Pats trotted out in the Super Bowl. The line needs to get better as Goff has been strip sacked twice in the last two weeks.
If they can’t hold the interior then one of Goff’s worst traits will continue to rear its ugly head until it completely submarines the Rams offense. Goff still struggles when the interior pressure gets to him. This has been true since he’s been a starter and with a o-line in progress this is bound to get worse before it gets better. He needs to become a better improviser not just because it would allow him to make better decisions but it would in essence remove the critique that he’s a system QB that is a McVay appendage.
The good news is that despite the growing Jared Goff concern, he’s still capable of making plays. The Rams still have a weird issue with scoring in the red zone but that second touchdown to Cooper Kupp (who has looked TREMENDOUS) was everything the offense is capable of and they should be more willing to stretch the field in red zone opportunities.
He’s still able to thread the needle to Robert Woods and can hit Brandin Cooks deep or even on the sidelines. He can find Kupp damn near anywhere and he’s finding his tight ends more and more as the games have gone on. They’ve also gotten better at running the ball inside which can further help set up play action.
So, like all Jared Goff conversations, this remains incomplete. Yes, his decision making has been sub-par especially when the play breaks down. His line is still struggling on the interior and the defenses they face don’t exactly get any easier from here on out. He’s also just not seeing the field the same way he has when the play action is humming. That can be corrected once the running game gets off to better starts and Gurley can force defenses to respect him again.
Goff can still make plays when he has to, but until he can consistently make plays and not get off to a slow start, the Jared Goff concern chorus will remain. The good news is he gets a porous Tampa Bay defense to tune up on. The bad news is four days later he’s in Seattle and this conversation is going to happen all again.