Any Given Sunday: Jets over Rams
Over the last month of the season, the Rams' highly successful space-based passing offense has begun to show some wear and tear on the edges. Jared Goff was picked twice and threw for under 200 yards against the 49ers in a Week 12 shocker. Though they beat the Patriots 24-3 in a laugher on Thursday night in Week 14, that was more of a victory for the defense than the offense, which threw for only 137 yards. Against the Jets, the Rams did an excellent job of running the ball against a good run defense, but Goff, again, was picked off at a key time and threw for only 209 yards. There are only five NFL quarterbacks with 12 or more interceptions this year: Carson Wentz, Russell Wilson, Drew Lock, Nick Mullens, and Goff. I don't tend to mentally group Goff in with the true turnover-prone quarterbacks in the NFL, but maybe we need to have a conversation about that. He has actually decreased his interception rate this year from 2.6% to 2.4%, and he has thrown 40 picks in his last 46 games.
“Our quarterback’s got to take better care of the football.”
McVay implores Goff – and the whole team – to correct the frequent turnovers https://t.co/YCdbNiqta6
— Cameron DaSilva (@camdasilva) November 30, 2020
Against the Jets, the tricky thing for the Rams was that Goff simply has no ability to win out of structure and the offense continually set him up -- via broken runs, sacks, or busted screens -- with third-and-long. Third-and-long has been the Rams' waterloo for the last two seasons. Against the Jets, they converted 2-of-11 third downs and the average third-down distance was 10.1 yards to go. Even as the rest of the offense has improved with more attention from McVay, the third-/fourth-and-long problems remained:
|Rams Third-Down DVOA by Distance, 2019-2020|
|2019||2.7% (14)||3.7% (16)||-5.4% (17)|
|2020||11.1% (9)||12.3% (13)||-4.4% (17)|
Goff's second-quarter interception came on a first-down toss play-fake. He bootlegs to his right with a man in his face, and never appears to recognize the underneath coverage trap of Bryce Hall.
Jared Goff's pick on Sunday by Bryce Hall. pic.twitter.com/FyISgOF0EA
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) December 22, 2020
Hall had dropped into a short zone. The Jets had only a single-high safety, and that safety had to play Josh Reynolds (11) honestly because there was no coverage beyond him. If Goff had some anticipation, he had a pretty simple NFL throw. Instead, he tried to thread the needle to Tyler Higbee. That was that. Goff is a quarterback you can trap a few times in a game, and that was one of the biggest swings of the entire contest per EdjSports' Game-Winning Chance chart. (See below.)
Where the Game Swung
|Where the Game Swung|
|Sam Darnold 6-yard pass to Frank Gore on third-and-6||2:17 Q4||77.5%||99.9%||+22.4%|
|Fourth-and-4 incomplete to Gerald Everett||4:00 Q4||48.3%||66.8%||+18.5%|
|Bryce Hall interception||9:59 2Q||38.2%||53.4%||+15.2%|
|Frank Gore 8-yard run on second-and-7||3:10 Q4||68.3%||83.0%||+14.7%|
|Fourth-and-goal Frank Gore TD||8:34 Q3||69.5%||80.2%||+10.7%|
|34-yard Nsimba Webster punt return||5:47 Q4||47.4%||37.3%||-10.1%|
|Robert Woods 15-yard TD catch||6:09 Q3||74.6%||65.0%||-9.6%|
|Jets block punt||14:20 2Q||32.0%||40.1%||+8.1%|
|18-yard Ty Johnson catch||6:25 1Q||18.1%||25.1%||+7.0%|
The Jets made a lot of hay on throwing to Ty Johnson early on in this game on big third downs. On his opening drive -- four catches.
Rams just let Ty Johnson run wild on the first drive. Four catches for 37 yards, none easier than this. pic.twitter.com/bozckCjK0j
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) December 22, 2020
Here's the touchdown. Thursday Night Football hero Kenny Young appears to have responsibility to this side of the formation but gets distracted by the tight end's route. With the corner also heading outside, this was one of the easiest throws Sam Darnold has had all season.
I can't believe Frank Gore is closing out games like it's 2012 in this table.
By the (D)VOA
Non-adjusted, the Rams actually come out as having played a better game here. They outgained the Jets 5.4 yards per play to 4.5, but had the game's only turnover and gave up a blocked punt.
The Jets notched 33.2% pass offense DVOA. That was their highest in any game this season outside of the loss to New England in Week 9 when Joe Flacco was slinging it. Meanwhile, the Rams posted a -23.5% pass offense DVOA, making it three times in four weeks that the passing game has posted a double-digit negative DVOA.
Magnifying Glass Optimism
Slightly more difficult than McVay's job of hiding Jared Goff's inefficiencies is finding a way to praise anything the New York Jets have done this year. Early in the offseason, before we had some of the opt-outs and later personnel moves tied in, initial DVOA projections actuallyliked the Jets as a wild-card contender in the AFC. Once we got to the season itself, we had them projected 28th in DVOA, with 6.1 wins and one of the worst offenses in the NFL leading the way. They have lived up to that projection with flying colors, posting the second-worst offensive DVOA in the NFL and watching Darnold be empirically worse than Flacco. They can't run, they can't stop the pass. The only thing that was good in 2019 and remains good in 2020 is the run defense, which is now eighth-best by DVOA and was No. 2 in 2019.
With a team as dire as the Jets, the only optimism to be clung to is in individual players. Mekhi Becton has had a largely successful rookie season. Denzel Mims has played well when healthy. Quinnen Williams took the next step. That's about where we're at.
Quinnen Williams has been a stud vs. the run this season and is a solid power-rusher with really nice flashes. Very encouraged by what I've seen from him this year. pic.twitter.com/AUxmZ61fDq
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) October 30, 2020
Williams has improved in every way from his 2019 season, raising his pressure rate (per Sports Info Solutions) from 5.7% to 10.4%, his tackles for loss from five to nine, and his sacks from 2.5 to 6.0.
Such a nice job by Becton using his backside hand to kick-out Bosa on the frontside of zone. Placement, length, strength. pic.twitter.com/Np9YcmNl16
— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) November 28, 2020
Becton reminds me of an old Ben Muthism about former Chiefs tackle Branden Albert:
I don't know how to describe his pass-blocking technique except to say that it's never the same thing twice. He'll get hunched over, on one foot, or sometimes completely turned around. But no matter what his body position looks like he always keeps the rusher away from the quarterback, and at the end of the day that's what the job is.
What Becton has can't be taught -- his body is an overwhelming obstacle. It didn't always look pretty this year, but he is going to be a fixture at tackle for whoever gets installed at quarterback.
If you squint really, really hard, you can see the pieces falling into place for the Jets to have a quarterback of the future drafted next year, then have a left tackle, pass-rusher, and premier receiver all lined up for that quarterback to play with. Of course, the quarterback is the hard part, and this loss takes the Jets -- for the moment -- out of the running for highly heralded quarterback prospect Trevor Lawrence. There's not a good way to sugarcoat that. It is an unfortunate circumstance that the Jaguars have devoted themselves to losing as hard as they have.
But there are other good quarterbacks in this draft in the eyes of the people who scout this stuff for a living. As we look at the future of the AFC, I think it's clear that it became more of a haves-and-have-nots this year than it has been in the past, where several teams were just barely in the race. Great and promising young quarterbacks litter the list of the playoff teams: Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Tua Tagovailoa. Deshaun Watson isn't in the playoffs this year, but has been and will be a threat to get there again. Justin Herbert hasn't been there yet, but will be a threat as well. The teams that don't have a guy like this are still getting very good quarterback play out of well-designed systems for solid quarterbacks such as Ryan Tannehill and Derek Carr. The barrier to entry is going to get higher.
If the Jets can hit on quarterback and head coach in short order, they can begin to keep pace with the rest of the AFC with the young core they have. As decades of being a Jets fan will teach you, that's a very big if.