Now, maybe I’m just a glass half full kind of guy, or maybe I’ve watched enough NFL football to know when the wheels have truly fallen off and when a team is just in a rut and needs some help getting out.
Sitting at 3-3, the Rams are in a rut. Statistically speaking, LA ranks 12th in total offense and 12th in total defense through six weeks. The offense might be skewed a bit after a 40-point game in week 4, but remember, the opposing team (Buccaneers) put up 55 points that day, so the defense is actually skewed a little bit the other way.
Either way you look at it, a 12th ranked team doesn’t spell “wheels off, SOS.” However, HOS (Help Our Ship), may be the correct call sign.
Who Is Jared Goff‘s First Mate?
The captain of a ship needs his first mate to take some of the pressure off and help with the crew and workload. As a quarterback, it’s safe to call Goff the captain of the ship, but who is his first mate in 2019?
In 2018, you could say that the young quarterback had a slew of worthy ship hands. Todd Gurley, Robert Woods, Andrew Whitworth, and Brandin Cooks all inspired confidence in their captain and took parcels of the pressure off. 2019 seems to be a much different tale.
What may surprise people is that Goff is on pace to throw for 4,604 yards this season, 84 yards fewer than last season. However, he just hasn’t quite looked the same. Many have attributed this to not playing any preseason games and needing to shake the rust off. Six weeks into the season that rust should be long gone.
Others have attributed this to the scheme no longer working, i.e. the play-action. This certainly has a direct correlation and plays a major factor. If the running game cannot get going, then the play-action poses no threat because the defense doesn’t need to stack the box.
The Raging Waters Of 11 Personnel
By now, many of you reading this know what 11 Personnel is, but for those of you that don’t, I will give a very brief overview. Personnel groupings are identified very simply with two numbers. The first number represents how many running backs are on the field. The second number represents how many tight ends are on the field. So 11 Personnel has 1 running back and 1 tight end in the formation (which leaves 3 receivers after the quarterback and offensive linemen). 12 Personnel has 1 running back and 2 tight ends. 21 personnel has 2 running backs (full back counts as a running back) and 1 tight end, and so on and so forth.
11 Personnel has become a very popular formation in the modern NFL, partially thanks to Sean McVay and the Rams. In the 2018 season, the league average for 11 Personnel was 66%. The Rams ran it at an astonishing 89% percent! One of the main benefits of running this scheme is that it will force the defense to spread out, keeping a thin box upfront, something Gurley was able to expose last year, and thus making the play-action so effective.
This season through six weeks, the Rams are still running 11 Personnel 80% of the time, according to Sharp Football Stats. That’s second only to the Cincinnati Bengals who run it 83% of the time (their head coach Zac Taylor formerly coached under McVay).
Now, what’s interesting is that if you look at the metrics, the numbers between last year and this year are not drastically different. In 2018, out of 11 Personnel, 60% of the plays were pass plays with a 49% success rate. This season, 69% of the plays are pass plays with a 48% success rate.
In 2018, 40% of the plays in 11 Personnel were run plays with a 59% success rate. This season, 31% of the plays are run plays with a 56% success rate.
In reality, the only difference is the slight uptick in pass play percentage and downtick in run play percentage. Here is the one major difference, however. In 2018, Goff’s TD:INT ratio in 11 Personnel was 30:15, or 2:1 (including Playoffs and Super Bowl). Not great, but not bad. This season his ratio in 11 Personnel is 6:6 or 1:1. Not bad, awful.
So what changed?
What Has Caused Goff’s Struggles?
Lately, or not even lately, pretty much his whole NFL career, people have called Jared Goff a system quarterback. To an extent, these people are not wrong. But if you truly think about the moniker, what is wrong with being a system QB?
Everyone has a certain skill set, whether it be in life or football, so what is wrong with utilizing that skill set and being put in a situation that gives you the best chance to succeed. Some of the greatest quarterbacks of all time have been “System Quarterbacks.”
In today’s NFL, in my opinion, there are only three true non-system QBs, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Patrick Mahomes. Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz have shown glimpses, but not enough. Again, this is just this writer’s humble opinion, but being a “Non-System Quarterback” just means that your best skill set is being able to drop back and improvise.
Aaron Rodgers plays best when he’s not caged up by a specific play call and can make decisions on the fly. Russell Wilson is so elusive in the pocket and makes his offensive line look better than they are. Patrick Mahomes made completing passes without looking and with the opposite hand a thing. None of these skills are in Jared Goff’s arsenal, so why not build a system that accentuates his talents? I’ve never understood why the “system” label is a bad thing. Overall, it is the coach’s job to adapt play calling to suit his players, not the other way around. But anyway, I digress.
Where was I? Oh yeah, what happened to Goff from last year to this year and why his TD:INT ratio in 11 Personnel is so bad. There are a number of factors, but I am going to break it down into three simple ones.
First, the offensive line. Everyone had been worried about losing Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan, and rightfully so. This has been the talk all season, but let’s actually dig into and not just label them as a disaster. According to Pro Football Focus, the offensive line in 2018 ranked as follows (out of qualifying players at each position).
LT Andrew Whitworth – 3/35
LG Rodger Saffold – 5/35
C John Sullivan – 31/39
RG Austin Blythe – 7/40
RT Rob Havenstein – 2/37
Outside of Sullivan, those are extremely impressive ratings, and history shows us that teams with top offensive line units tend to be much more successful on offense. Now let’s look at this season through six weeks.
LT Andrew Whitworth – 13/39
LG Joe Noteboom – 34/35
C Brian Allen – 27/32
RG Austin Blythe – 37/40
RT Rob Havenstein – 29/34 (32/34 in pass blocking)
Obviously PFF rankings don’t mean everything, but this is bad, really bad. I don’t care who your quarterback is, the success rate wouldn’t be much different behind this offensive line.
Not that you can get much worse than 34/35, but Noteboom was just lost for the season, and the confidence in Jamil Demby is so little that McVay announced that rookie tackle David Edwards will be moving inside to get his first NFL start against the Falcons. Perhaps having another Badger in the trenches will snap Havenstein out of his daze and get him back to his 2018 playing ways.
So that is the first major change with Jared Goff and the offense’s appearance of struggles.
Second, Goff’s rhythm and timing as a passer.
I went into a lengthy monologue about system quarterbacks and why being labeled that should not be a bad thing so that I could get to this point. Jared Goff has many great attributes, arm strength, accuracy, ball placement, etc. In order to portray these skills, he and the offense have to establish rhythm and timing.
That is the type of passer that he is. Similar to Tom Brady, throw off his rhythm in the pocket and he is dramatically worse. Jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and throw off the timing and Goff is not great at adjusting. It’s not a poke at his skillset, just a fact of his environment.
If you watch this offense, these two integral components are off, and that is why they are ranked 12th, and not 1st or 2nd.
How do you get this back? Well, this brings us to our third and final point.
Righting The Ship
Let’s go all the way back to my horrible metaphor comparing a football team to the crew of a ship.
Jared Goff must find his first mate.
Unlike last year, the list is not as bountiful even though the names remain the same. Through six games, Todd Gurley is on pace for 720 yards. When you look at the offensive line grades from above can you blame him? Although, however you want to spin it, at this point, Goff cannot lean on Gurley.
The three-headed monster that is Woods-Cooks-Kupp has been efficient and productive this year, but with the offensive line struggles, 11 Personnel has not been as effective and thus, the three-headed monster is more of a three-headed scare tactic.
So where can Goff look?
A shakeup on the line potentially can improve things (Austin Corbett, a 2018 33rd overall pick, was brought in on Tuesday via trade with the Browns, and rookie David Edwards will be given reps at guard moving forward), but there is no guarantee and this is probably more wishful thinking than actual reality.
So then what.
What have all great quarterbacks, especially in time of need, had at one point or another in their careers?
A viable tight end.
Tom Brady had Rob Gronkowski
Jared Goff has…that has yet to be determined but I think that he’s on the roster.
Gerald Everett has yet to be truly unleashed and this could be the difference-maker in a struggling offense.
So far this season, Goff has a 56% success rate throwing to tight ends (Tyler Higbee included) in 11 Personnel. It is a much, much smaller sample size, but Goff has a 67% success rate and 113.9 passer rating in 12 Personnel. So what am I suggesting?
Outside of a running game, who is a struggling quarterback and offensive line’s best friend? The tight end. So why not change things up and run more 12 Personnel?
Higbee just recently signed a lucrative contract extension and Everett is a former 2nd round pick. The Rams have no draft capital to speak of, so they need to utilize what they have, and they have a damn good one in Everett. Get both tight ends on the field and we could see a huge swing in offensive production.
Whether McVay leaves Higbee on the line to block and sends Everett out in the flats, or sends them both out on crossers over the middle, McVay would take some of the pressure off of Goff and could potentially promote his next first mate.
The Seattle game gave us a little glimpse as Everett led all receivers with 136 yards receiving. On the final, should have been game-winning, drive Everett was targeted four times and hauled in three catches for 46 yards.
Last year, in the best game of the entire season, who hauled in the game-winning 40-yard touchdown? Gerald Everett.
It may be a small sample size, but it’s time for Sean McVay to take the pressure off of his quarterback and run some more 12 Personnel.
It’s time for a new first mate to emerge. And in 2019, that could be Gerald Everett.