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Jared Goff finally has to play with expectations on his shoulders in Detroit

In his third year with the Lions, Goff has to show he’s ready for the next step

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Jared Goff arrived in Detroit on the wrong end of a quarterback swap, dumped off after a fall from grace in Los Angeles. Since that time, he’s cemented himself as an unquestioned starter for the Lions, with everything situated to his optimal performance.

The project to build the new offense in Detroit hinges upon Goff as much as it does offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. In spite of odes to a run-first offense, the Detroit Lions are still in the business of passing in good quantities. To make that work, they need a quarterback who can spread the ball around and operate the field at all levels. In 2022, Goff showed he could do that.

This season, expectations are high for the Detroit Lions, and Goff will have to live up to those self-same expectations. Fans can dream all they want about a playoff berth, but the team doesn’t go anywhere unless Goff performs.

Jared Goff

Expectations for 2022

After a dreadful start to 2021, Goff’s reemergence came with the shift of offensive coordinator to Ben Johnson, the emergence of Amon-Ra St. Brown as a prolific receiving target and a series of comfortable performances to end the year. Going into 2022, the Lions stuck by Goff and did not draft a quarterback, intending to play him through his contract and given him a full season with an expanded offense.

Goff was spared the spotlight in “Hard Knocks” (I found that quite odd: while understandable given his time in previous seasons, he was ignored to the point where it was like he didn’t even exist) and was given the time to get to work, preparing for his second year.

Actual role in 2022

17 games (17 starts): 1,133 offensive snaps, 626 dropbacks
Stats: 4,438 passing yards, 29 passing touchdowns, 7 interceptions
PFF offensive grade: 72.4 (18th among starting quarterbacks)
PFF passing grade: 71.6 (15th)
PFF rushing grade: 53.0

Goff discovered something of a return to form and became exceptionally productive in his second year in Detroit. His passing touchdowns, passing yards and quarterback rating all placed in top 10 quarterback production. Football Outsider advanced metrics placed him second among quarterbacks in Defensive-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR), and fourth in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA).

Key to his success was keeping the ball secure, making accurate and safe passes and never pushing his luck; his 1.2 interception percentage was second best in the league.

Pro Football Focus grades did not paint such a high picture, marking him about average among the class of 2022’s starting quarterbacks. In the eternal war of “was it the quarterback or the offense,” the grading of Goff probably came out slightly towards the latter. In their 2023 QB Annual, PFF pointed towards play action as the main driver of Goff’s effectiveness, while also pointing out his higher grading performances when operating from a clean pocket, versus lower grades when under pressure.

With a full season under Johnson, “comfort” became the key word. Everything was done to make Goff comfortable, to minimize any wanton elements. He was given a wide range of weapons, an offensive line with both tackles healthy and a close connection with his coordinator.

“His confidence is really, it has really grown, and along the way he has matured as a quarterback,” said head coach Dan Campbell. “He has a real good grasp of what we are doing, where the issues are, where the problems are, and that is something we really wanted him to get good at and he wanted to get good at, and he has worked at it, and he has improved.”

For his confidence and his mastery of the Lions offense, Jared Goff returned to the Pro Bowl in 2022, the first time in four seasons.

Outlook for 2023

If Goff can continue his 2022 production, it would make the Lions happy. If Goff could take a step beyond that and elevate himself as a quarterback, it would make everyone very excited.

Just as it’s hard to untangle wide receiver performances from their quarterbacks in our fandom collective, it’s become hard to point to just what makes Goff stand apart from the Ben Johnson offense. At this point, he doesn’t. He is the driver of the Ben Johnson offense, one necessary to make it run. It’s not to an extreme like the quarterbacks that have rolled through Kyle Shanahan’s system, nor has it been tested to run without him at present. For now, they are one and the same, and Johnson acknowledged as much.

He’s one of the biggest reasons why I didn’t want to leave,” Johnson told The Athletic. “I feel we are tied together to a degree. He’s an extension of me, and I’m an extension of him. I’ve told him multiple times his success is my success and vice versa.”

Everything shows there’s not many more places for Goff to go while operating under optimal conditions. His passer rating with a clean pocket last year, 113.6, was top territory (it was a far different story when pressured, where it dropped to 59.6).

What’s different this year for Goff isn’t a matter of new additions to receiving weapons, but it will be more mental. The Lions have gone along with low expectations in 2021 and 2022, working through the matter of a rebuilding project and bashing out the kinks and faults of their offense and defense. The expectation of Goff was similarly low in those seasons, as he just had to perform adequately to succeed in his position.

In 2023, the Lions hope to win the NFC North and take playoff glory for the first time in over 30 years. Likewise, Goff now plays with new expectations: not just the quarterback on the mend, but the christened leader of the offense.

We are, at this point, squarely in the “quarterbacks are pathologized” territory, but it’s a fun little place to be all the same. Let’s pathologize and make a big-ass statement: it’s time to see if Goff can be the reason the Lions win, rather than another piece to that winning. It’s quite fine if it’s the latter, so long as his production remains stout; but to be the former is what every quarterback should aspire for—especially one who hopes to gain another contract with the Detroit Lions.

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