Two years ago from this exact date, the Los Angeles Rams were a couple days from facing off against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 53. The Rams were being heralded as the new dynasty in town with a high-powered offense that no one could stop. Leading the charge were two young studs: 33-year-old head coach Sean McVay and 24-year-old quarterback Jared Goff.
Goff had been named a Pro Bowler in two of his first three seasons and was putting up eye-popping numbers. Across 2017 and 2018, only two quarterbacks had a higher yards per attempt (Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson), and only three had thrown more touchdown passes (Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady).
But McVay and Goff got downright embarrassed by the Patriots in the Super Bowl. The Rams put up three total points, while Goff completed only half of his 38 passes for just 229 yards and an interception.
Since then, Goff’s stock has been plummeting. Sure, the Rams showed faith in him a few months later by handing him a four-year, $134 million extension, but after missing the playoffs in 2019, and essentially benching Goff in a playoff game in 2020, the Rams had clearly had enough of their once-promising quarterback. Goff was packaged with a couple first-round picks and a third-round pick and shipped to Detroit for Matthew Stafford in a move many called a salary cap dump for Los Angeles.
Statistically, it’s undeniable things had just completely derailed for Goff and the Rams. Throw out his rookie season, and let’s compare Years 2 and 3 to Years 4 and 5:
2017-18: 63.6% completion, 8.2 Y/A, 60 TDs, 19 INTs, 100.8 passer rating
2019-20: 64.9% completion, 7.3 Y/A, 42 TDs, 29 INTs, 88.1 passer rating
So what the hell went wrong? How did Goff go from being a top-five quarterback in this league to a throw-in for a blockbuster trade in a matter of just two years?
It’s easy to see why McVay may have been frustrated with Goff after the past two years. Let’s, again, throw out Goff’s rookie season. In his second and third years, he threw just 19 interceptions at an INT rate of just 1.8 percent. In 2019 and 2020 combined, Goff has thrown 29 interceptions at a rate of 2.5 percent.
To further illustrate the point, let’s look at Football Outsiders’ “adjusted interceptions” metric, which aims to credit a quarterback with an interception if the pass should have been intercepted, while also removing interceptions from their record if it wasn’t their fault. Here’s what Goff’s adjusted interceptions look like from his first four seasons (2020 has not been calculated yet).
2016: 8 adjusted INTs
2017: 10 adjusted INTs
2018: 18 adjusted INTs
2019: 20 adjusted INTs
Admittedly, it looks like Goff was a little lucky in 2018 (18 adjusted INTs to just 12 actually thrown), but this is clearly an issue that has progressively gotten worse, and it accounts for plenty of the frustration from Rams camp.
But quarterbacks don’t just suddenly get worse or break down this early in their careers. What exactly is causing this rise in turnovers?
Offensive line issues
Here’s a look at the Rams’ offensive line ranking per PFF over the past five seasons, along with their pass blocking rank:
2016: 27th (22nd)
2017: 6th (13th)
2018: 6th (7th)
2019: 31st (29th)
2020: 3rd (12th)
It should come as no surprise, then, that Goff’s two best statistical seasons came in 2017 and 2018, when the Rams’ offensive line was downright dominant. In 2019, the Rams offensive line lost the eighth-most games due to injuries, and everything fell apart. Goff’s statistics plummeted with poorer protection around him.
However, some advanced statistics suggest Goff’s offensive line wasn’t nearly as bad as advertised in 2019. His pressure percentage was just 18.5 percent compared to 21.7 percent in 2018 and 20.4 percent in 2020. His sack percentage in 2019 (3.4) was actually the lowest of his career.
That all being said, perhaps the most telling statistic of 2019 was NextGenStat’s “time to throw” metric, which measures the average time between snap and release of the football. Here’s how that has looked over Goff’s five-year career:
2016: 2.54 seconds
A drop from 2.95 seconds to 2.80 seconds may not seem like much, but it can make a world of difference.
Still, this doesn’t fully account for Goff’s issues, as the offensive line rebounded in 2020, but Goff most certainly did not.
Running game issues
Jared Goff was at his best when the Rams had a running game to complement his arm. While the analytics community argues that success on play-action passes is not impacted by the success of a running game, Goff presents a compelling counterargument.
Here’s a look at the running games Goff’s had, using yards per carry and Football Outsiders’ efficiency rankings (DVOA).
2016: 3.3 YPC, 31st in DVOA ranking
2017: 4.3 YPC, 7th in DVOA ranking
2018: 4.9 YPC, 1st in DVOA ranking
2019: 3.7 YPC, 15th in DVOA ranking
2020: 4.3 YPC, 4th in DVOA ranking
Much like the offensive line rankings, we saw a significant dip in Goff’s supporting cast in 2019. But, again, things rebounded in 2020 while Goff did not. Which leads to our final point here:
Drastic change in strategy
In 2017 and 2018, the Los Angeles Rams were thought of as one of the best deep ball teams in the NFL. Goff finished those seasons with 8.0 (third in NFL) and 8.4 yards per attempt (fourth), respectively. But over the last two years, it’s been a completely different story:
Deep ball rate since 2019:— PFF (@PFF) February 1, 2021
Matthew Stafford - 17% (2nd)
Jared Goff - 9% (31st) pic.twitter.com/qGNN3Qewd9
Just look at Goff’s average intended air yards per throw over the years:
Whether it was because of the turnovers, a lack of faith in the offensive line, trading Brandin Cooks, Goff losing confidence in his own ability, or something else completely, the Rams simply didn’t throw the ball down field nearly as much over the past two seasons than they did in the previous two.
McVay mentioned in his post-game presser that the Rams certainly missed Cooks in 2020 specifically:
“Brandin was a huge contributor in those (previous) years,” McVay said. “That’s important to look at. You always want to make sure to create explosives plays. It wasn’t as prevalent as years past.”
Can Goff succeed in Detroit?
That’s the $43 million-in-guarantees question.
If there’s anything his time with the Rams has taught us, it’s that the Lions will need to build (or maintain) a solid offensive line, rely heavily on play-action with a real threat running the ball, and find themselves a deep-ball threat or two.
The Lions already have a foundation of a solid offensive line, and they have a coaching staff that absolutely knows the value of a running game and play action, but that whole deep-ball threat is still a thing in progress. Kenny Golladay could theoretically help if Detroit decides to retain him, or Detroit could target a top receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft with their seventh-overall pick. For Goff to find success, this is certainly an area the Lions will need to address before the season.