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Attempting to diagnose Detroit Lions QB Jared Goff’s issues

What’s wrong with the Lions’ quarterback?

Philadelphia Eagles v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Back in June, I did a film study of Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff’s perfect game. Now, obviously, when you’re looking at a player's best game, it’s not often you see many things they did wrong. That’s totally fair. But, one thing that perfect game showed me is that Goff is capable of having a game like that, and at a minimum, he’s capable of playing well.

So when you see a film study like that, then and compare it to Goff’s play thus far in 2021, you can really drive yourself crazy trying to find out what happened.

At the halfway point of the season, I think I may have figured it out, or at the very least, I have some thoughts to share. Things really clicked when I saw The Athletic’s Chris Burke post this GIF from the all-22 footage of the Lions' loss to the Eagles.

This clip tells a lot.

Let’s jump into my thoughts:

Goff lacks trust in all of his guys

Ok, let’s start here. Goff is clearly locked in on TJ Hockenson in this clip. He stares at him the whole way down the field and totally misses Swift. You can’t blame Goff for wanting to throw to his Pro Bowl tight end. He’s targeted him 64 times this season and Hockenson has caught 48 of those balls. Swift was missed here, but he’s the second most targeted guy with 57 targets and he’s caught 47 of those passes. Goff seems to have no problem passing to these two.

Then there’s his ever-changing receiving corps. Kalif Raymond leads all receivers in targets with 40 (26 catches), Amon-Ra St. Brown has 38 (27 catches), and Khadarel Hodge has seen 14 (6 catches). All the Lions’ receivers have struggled to catch the ball this season and perhaps Goff notices that.

It’s not helpful, but he seems to have bailed on his receivers in favor of the guys he trusts. The problem with that is that the guys he trusts aren’t always open. Additionally, he’s locking onto the guys he trusts and defenses can totally see that. Hockenson is well covered the entire way in the above GIF—as is often the case.

Pressure

There are some who have been quick to blame Goff for getting sacked as much as he has because that appears to be a popular approach when fans don’t like a quarterbacks performance. But the fact of the matter is that Goff is dealing with pressure he’s not often faced before and he has shown he doesn’t really know how to handle it.

Last year Goff got sacked 23 times in 16 games. So far through eight games, Goff has been sacked 22 times. I mean that’s insane right? He’s taken a season's worth of sacks in less than half a season. The most he’s ever been sacked in a season between college and the pros was 33 times in 2018. At approximately 2.75 sacks per game, he’s on pace to blow right past that this season. As of now, only two quarterbacks have been sacked more: Ryan Tannehill and Justin Fields. If this is a race to see who gets the most, I’m betting on Jared Goff. After all, quarterbacks get sacked a lot in Detroit. Matthew Stafford got sacked 38 times last year. He’s been sacked seven times this year. Must be a Detroit thing right?

Well not totally. Goff has experienced pressure before. In 2019 he was pressured 236 times in 16 games. You can see by looking over his stat sheet that the pressure really affected him. He had quite the downturn from his 2018 season and 2019 is his worst season thus far.

So far he’s on pace to have a similar or worse year. So far, Goff has been pressured 121 time's through eight games. That’s roughly 15.2 pressures per game. At that pace, he’s looking at getting pressured somewhere around 258 times this year. That’s a lot.

The big difference here though is defenders didn’t get to Goff in 2019 like they’re getting there now. Goff was sacked 22 times in 2019 and as I noted above, he’s already been sacked 22 times through just eight games. That’s a problem that seems unfair to blame on Goff.

Pressure can do a lot to a quarterback. The thing it does the most is hurry their process. Goff is in quite a hurry out there. No wonder he’s locked in on a guy that he trusts, he probably feels like he doesn’t have time to go through his progressions. That pressure leads to him getting all jumbled up and loses track of the play or losing track of who’s out there. Maybe this is why he aims to get the ball out so quickly on short passes. He’s having trouble reading the developing play because he’s feeling the pressure.

This stuff seems fixable

Maybe Goff could benefit from seeing a quarterback guru. He saw one before the 2018 season and it paid dividends. He had his best season that year and he helped the Rams get to the Super Bowl. A refresher course could help him this summer. This is of course assuming he’ll be the Lions' starting quarterback again in 2022. Of course, he needs the Lions to help him as well.

I know one popular thing said about Goff, is that he needs to have the perfect situation around him. Well, I don’t see what’s wrong with that. I’m sorry to bring Stafford up again, but he’s living proof that no matter how good you are, it’s difficult to overcome not having a strong offensive line and a slew of trustworthy weapons. He has all those things in Los Angeles right now and it’s working.

I’m not saying the Lions have to build around Goff for the long term, but I am saying that if the Lions did a better job protecting him and gave him some skill players to throw to, you would probably see a much better version of him.

So to break it all down, I think Goff is having some mental lapses due to the pressure he’s under and is lacking trust in his guys to get him out of the jam. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.