The Rams Are Unleashing Jared Goff, and Not a Moment Too Soon

Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times

For a guy who doesn’t know how the sun works, Rams quarterback Jared Goff played extremely well in Week 3.

We should probably forgive Goff by this point for his lack of knowledge about as minor a topic as the universe. We should let him off the hook because he doesn’t appear to be nearly as confused by NFL defenses this season.

In this week’s installment of Thursday Night Football, Goff and the Rams defeated the San Francisco 49ers in a game that had all of the makings of a snooze-fest but turned out to be a fantastic contest. The 2016 #1 pick finished 22-28 with 292 yards and three touchdowns. The 41-39 victory was the highest-scoring game in the NFL this season, and if before the season you had quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Jared Goff leading their teams to a combined 80 points in the most exciting game of the NFL season to date, please collect your winnings. You’re probably crazy but you’re definitely right.

Goff, though, is the quarterback I want to talk about here.

Last year, Goff started just seven games for the Rams in their return to Los Angeles. When he was handed the reins to the offense in Week 11 of last season, he struggled mightily. The game before Goff was named the starter, the Rams defeated the Jets by a score of 9-6. It was L.A.’s last victory of the season; Goff’s squad went winless in the final seven games of the year.

And Goff was one of the main reasons for the Rams’ late-2016 failures. Last year’s #1 pick only eclipsed 200 yards twice in the last seven games and the Rams averaged all of 12.1 points per game in that span. Goff finished the year with five touchdowns and seven interceptions; among players with at least seven starts last season, Goff came in 31st in passing yards per game. His passer rating of 63.6 would have put him dead last in all of football, and yes, he would have been behind both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brock Osweiler. Those are two names you never want to be associated with as an NFL quarterback.

Of course, part of the problem was the weapons, or lack thereof, at Goff’s disposal. Last year, the team’s two leading receivers were Kenny Britt and Brian Quick. This year, Britt is playing for the Browns and Quick is playing for the Redskins. Despite their services to the team last year, they simply didn’t get the job done, as neither were able to create the separation that Goff needed to get them the ball. We’ll revisit the wide receiving corps in a little while.

The other issue for Goff and the Rams was, to be quite frank with you, the coaching staff. Head coach Jeff Fisher, who was one of the longest-tenured and most mediocre coaches in NFL history, simply did not provide his franchise quarterback with the right coaching for him to succeed. Last year’s offensive coordinator was Rob Boras, who was in his first year as the team’s permanent offensive coordinator. It showed, as the Rams scored the fewest points (224) in the league a season ago. In fact, the Rams’ offensive futility was almost impressive; their 224 points in sixteen games was the fewest points scored in an NFL season since the 2012 Kansas City Chiefs, who were spearheaded by Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn, put up all of 211. Fisher was fired with three weeks to go in the season; to show how much things have changed, last week, a Twitter user spotted Fisher at his local grocery store. Much more importantly, Fisher was reportedly seen by multiple patrons shopping in the vicinity of aisles seven and nine. I just got off on a tangent and I apologize. Actually, no I don’t.

Anyway, the Rams hired Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay in January; at the time, McVay, an offensive wunderkind who spent three years as Washington’s offensive coordinator, was just twelve days short of his 31st birthday, making him the youngest head coach in NFL history. Under McVay’s tutelage, Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins finished in the top seven quarterbacks in passer rating for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The new Rams coach hoped to do the same with Goff, and the front office, for a change, helped the offense’s cause.

Remember the depleted wide receivers group from last year? Los Angeles and general manager Les Snead signed former Bills wide receiver Robert Woods to help the passing game. Woods is a perfectly acceptable second option; he’s never had more than 700 yards in a season but he would help the Rams this year. Until August 11, however, Woods was set to be the team’s number one pass-catcher, a role that likely did not suit him. But on that August day, the Rams traded for Woods’ Buffalo counterpart, Sammy Watkins, to provide Goff a legitimate downfield threat. While this put some pressure on Goff to perform, it also gave him a significantly better supporting cast than he had a season ago.

That newly-potent offense has been on full display in the first three weeks of the season. Goff’s passer rating, which ranked dead last in 2016, is third in the league this season among passers with multiple starts. He’s currently first in the league in yards per attempt, a category he would have also finished at the bottom of had he qualified for the statistic last year. The high-flying Rams are averaging 35.7 points per game in the first three contests of the season. Granted, there are defenses far better than the Colts and the 49ers in the NFL. But this isn’t the 2016 Los Angeles Rams.

And that has a lot to do with the play of Jared Goff. To show you how he’s utilizing his new offensive toys, I give to you this absolute dime from Goff to Watkins in the third quarter of Thursday night’s game:

I don’t remember the last time I was a downfield passing play that was that perfect on both the passing and receiving ends. More to the point, though, the 2016 Rams’ offense has no chance of making that play because it doesn’t have Watkins. That offense also didn’t have as good of an offensive line; this offseason, Los Angeles signed veteran linemen Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan, both of whom, ironically, are older than head coach Sean McVay. This offensive line has been more than effective; Goff has been sacked just three times in as many games. Last year, the Rams offensive line conceded 49 sacks, the second-most in football. This is consistent with McVay’s offense, one that emphasizes the quarterback releasing the football quickly after the snap. To support this, McVay’s Washington offense finished in the bottom four in the league in 2015 and 2016 in sacks allowed. That is as much a function of the teams’ offensive lines as it is a function of McVay’s offense.

That offense is now one of the best in football, and, improbably, Jared Goff is its centerpiece. While Todd Gurley has been more effective this year and the Rams’ offensive line has done a far better job protecting its franchise QB, Goff has been the most impressive and surprising part of the team’s success.

That being said, he hasn’t been perfect. The Rams lost their Week 2 game to the Redskins in large part because of this mind-numbing fourth-quarter pick-six from Goff to Redskins linebacker Mason Foster. The Rams also have accomplished defenses such as the Seahawks (twice), Giants, and Texans on their schedule for later in the season. All of those defenses are far better than the Colts and 49ers. But the Rams’ resurgent offensive is strikingly stellar this year; the team has scored 40 points in two of the first three games of the Sean McVay era. The Rams crossed that threshold twice in 77 games under Fisher.

The Los Angeles Rams have gone from being the NFL’s worst offense to one of the league’s best. That has everything to do with the new offense of head coach Sean McVay and second-year quarterback Jared Goff.

The combination of the two has meant offensive success for the Rams. And regardless of whether the sun goes down in the east or the west, know that it will be setting on one of the best young quarterbacks in the game, one who finally has the weapons around him to be successful.

Jared Goff Should Start the Season As the Rams’ Staring Quarterback

Jared Goff
Photo Credit: Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times

The sun may rise in the East, at least it settles in the final location…..

Never, ever, ever did I think I’d be using a line from a Red Hot Chili Peppers song as the lede to an article about an NFL team’s quarterback situation. If you want a reason as to why I’m suddenly grabbing wisdom pearls from “Californication”, here’s an explanation:

As you already know, the Los Angeles Rams are on HBO’s Hard Knocks this season. During the first episode of the show, #1 overall pick and quarterback Jared Goff was asked by his position coach, Chris Weinke, where the sun rises and sets in the sky. His answer? He had no clue. Obviously, it rises in the East and sets in the West, which would seem like common knowledge, except for the fact that it apparently isn’t. And it seems like Goff is far from alone on the team in terms of his ignorance of the Sun’s activity.

So hey, let’s make a case for him as an NFL team’s starting quarterback, shall we?

To begin, Goff, as previously stated, was the first overall pick in this year’s draft. Out of the last five quarterbacks selected first overall (Matt Stafford, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston), exactly zero of them did not start for their team in week one of the season. Granted, the Rams are in a theoretically better position than all of those teams were, but the precedent set by these quarterbacks is clear. However, we need to look far beyond precedent to see why Goff should be the team’s starting quarterback at the beginning of the season.

One of the things we need to examine here is the Los Angeles Rams’ current state of affairs. While there is a lot of excitement for the team’s move to the West Coast, the reality of the situation is that the Rams just aren’t that great of a team right now. That means that expectations should not be set very high this season; while that doesn’t mean the team should try to lose, it does mean that the organization should take more of a forward-thinking approach when it comes to personnel.

But why are we having this discussion in the first place? Well….

When Goff was selected at the top of the draft, many observers concluded that he would begin the season as the Rams’ starting quarterback. It seemed like the franchise had finally settled on its guy and would take the lumps that came with Goff’s development. And then it decided to seriously consider another option, even if it was an option that wasn’t a whole lot more experienced than Goff.

That option is Case Keenum. Keenum, the fifth-year quarterback who made a name for himself by throwing for almost 20,000 yards in his five-year collegiate career at Houston, has never started the season as an NFL starting quarterback. That may be about to change, as Keenum took reps with the first team in the Rams’ first preseason game on Saturday.  Of course, Goff could still win the job; he’s slated to take more snaps with the starting unit this week. However, it’s clear that the Rams, at least for now, are planning to start the season with Keenum under center.

And, truth be told, Keenum isn’t really that bad. In parts of six games last season, Keenum threw for 828 yards, four touchdowns, and just one interception. That really isn’t terrible; the problem is that those numbers are hopelessly pedestrian and mediocre. Kind of like Jeff Fisher, the Los Angeles Rams’ head coach.

Jeff Fisher is one of the most respected authority figures in the NFL. He has burnished a reputation as a smart, tough leader who gets the most out of his teams no matter how much talent is on the roster. He is regarded as one of the best coaches in the league over the past twenty years, and there is very little argument about this supposed fact.

The only thing is that Jeff Fisher’s reputation is completely unearned.

Over the course of his career, Fisher has won just 52% of his games with the Oilers/Titans and Rams. With the exception of a Super Bowl run in 1999 (fueled in part by an illegal forward pass) and brief spurts of success in the 2000s, Fisher’s teams have largely been in the middle of the league’s pack. That’s not good, especially for a franchise that could use some long-term success after a much-anticipated move back to Los Angeles, the second-largest media market in the United States.

That probably informs Fisher’s thinking in the matter. Keenum is the safe option here, the “experienced” choice, the guy who won’t lose you games. Goff is the far more aggressive option, the franchise quarterback, the player whose game-to-game performance may be rather unpredictable.

And yet, I’d start Goff over Keenum. Here’s why: the Rams don’t really have a lot to lose this season. With the team’s return to L.A., the fan base will be excited to watch its beloved Rams no matter how good they are this season. I’m not saying that the Rams shouldn’t try to win, but I am saying that this season is not as important as the future to the team’s long-term and much-needed success.

And if Goff performs well, then he would be a better option than Keenum based on performance alone. We all know that the Ryan Gosling lookalike is going to be the Rams’ starter at some point, so what point is there in delaying his maturation process? While we’ve seen recent examples of teams trotting out quarterbacks who weren’t nearly ready to play (cough, cough, Geno Smith), we’ve also seen plenty of examples of quarterbacks who improved after struggling to start their careers (Newton, Andy Dalton, Aaron Rodgers). It can be done. This could be what the Rams have to look forward to with Jared Goff.

Let me also say this: it isn’t some great injustice if Goff doesn’t start week one. The coaching staff knows the players better than we do and their quarterback decision will be informed by their intimate knowledge of the players and system. They’re at practice every day and they deserve the benefit of the doubt if Keenum is chosen, even if that doesn’t seem like the right decision.

However, it’s easy to see that Goff has far more upside than his veteran counterpart. And, especially with the team’s future being so bright, what do you have to lose by giving Goff the keys to the offense in week one? If you know you’re going to start him at some point anyway, why not start him in the season opener?

Rams fans can dream this season. They can dream of their team’s potential, of selling out the L.A. Coliseum, and even of Californication (hey, we’re right back where we started).

And maybe they can even dream of Jared Goff as their team’s starting quarterback.