Film Room
Analysis beyond the numbers

Film Room: Goff vs. Patriots

Film Room: Goff vs. Patriots
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Derrik Klassen

No defense can beat the Los Angeles Rams by playing on its heels. Sean McVay has mastered the craft of moving defenders pre- and post-snap for the quarterback, and his brilliance is magnified by an offensive line that hardly allows any pressure versus simple four-man rushes. The more defenders McVay can manipulate in coverage and the fewer of them gunning for his quarterback, the better.

New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen must have missed this memo. After a useless first quarter by Rams quarterback Jared Goff, the Saints defense failed to turn up the heat as the Rams were trying to get back into the game. Instead, the Saints regularly dropped seven defenders into coverage with four pass-rushers vs. the Rams' six-man play-action protections. Goff was allowed to throw himself back into the game against mostly soft coverages, topped off by a few legitimately great throws to complete the feat.

Bill Belichick knows better, though, and has the perfect personnel to get under Goff's skin. New England runs a press- and blitz-heavy defense, and they are excellent at both. With two linebackers who were pass-rushers in their past lives in Dont'a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, as well as a mean secondary led by All-Pro Stephon Gilmore and breakout undrafted rookie J.C. Jackson, the Patriots have the players to press and blitz early, often, and effectively.

This strategy has worked well for them since the second half of the season, but it has been particularly strong during the playoffs. Neither Patrick Mahomes nor Philip Rivers -- the MVP favorite and another top MVP candidate, respectively -- could get past this overwhelming style of defense.

One thing the Patriots love to do is "pepper" the line of scrimmage with their linebackers. Sometimes all the linebackers go, sometimes none of them do, and other times they may be asked to read the offensive line's pass sets to determine which linebacker goes and which drops into coverage.

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Rivers gets toasted here because the Patriots generate a free rusher and cut off the hot route by "peppering" the line. The Patriots threatened with six pass-rushers vs. five blockers, meaning one offensive lineman will have to make a decision between two rushers and leave the other free. In this case, Van Noy (53) and Adrian Clayborn (94) are the conflict for the left guard. The guard ends up squeezing in for Van Noy, so Clayborn gets a free rush while Van Noy trails off of the initial blitz and cuts off the slant from the slot. Rivers is left with no choice but throw up a prayer or eat the sack.

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Here is Mahomes suffering the same fate as Rivers in the last clip. The offensive concept is not comparable, but again the Patriots generate a free rusher and have a defender to take away primary receiving options from the quarterback. It is likely Mahomes wanted Tyreek Hill (10) all the way on this play, but with the blitzer rushing his process and the defensive back capping Hill's vertical route with ease, Mahomes was not given a chance to complete this pass.

The Patriots' recent defensive prowess is especially impressive because if any quarterback could have defeated them, it should have been Mahomes. Mahomes has the arm, athleticism, and fearlessness to not be phased by press or blitzing. For the most part, Mahomes did appear unphased mentally, but the Patriots were just so suffocating for most of the game that he had to make a handful of miracle deep throws just to keep the Chiefs in the game. Their best play was "oh, clearly the defense does not believe they have to cover this deep down the field."

Goff is not Mahomes. That may be an obvious, and even unfair, comparison, but it is true. Goff, though impressive in the second half of the New Orleans game, is not consistent in showing wherewithal under pressure or when forced to beat teams with his arm. It comes in waves, but has yet to stick around. Goff is a generally good decision-maker and accurate throwing to zones, but he is not the type of quarterback that press- and blitz-heavy defenses worry about.

via Gfycat

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In one of New Orleans' few bright moments of pressure last Sunday, they brought a slot cornerback from the offense's left to disrupt Goff's thought process and rhythm. Goff opens the play peeking to his left, but comes back knowing he wants the back-side square-in route. Goff feels the pressure coming and tenses up in trying to deliver the throw. The ball comes out from an uncomfortable throwing environment for Goff and ends up sailing wide of the receiver. This was not an easy throw, per se, but it is one an NFL quarterback should be capable of making from the pocket and knowing he was coming back to it.

Here is an example of Goff's mental process versus the blitz. In this first screen shot, Goff should be anticipating the blitz to some degree. It is third down, and the Saints have to have this. Furthermore, Goff should know the blitzers will have to vacate the middle of the field, and if his receiver had an option to move into that space, he absolutely should have been going there.

By this point, Goff can confirm the blitz and see that there is no immediate defender in the middle of the field. It is a straight 2 vs. 2 out to the left, and the only way the Saints could make a play on a slant route from the two-receiver set would be otherworldly closing speed from the inside defender. We are talking Malcolm Butler-in-the-Super Bowl level reactions and closing, and even that only works under the assumption that the inside defender would play the inside route instead of purely the inside receiver.

via Gfycat

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For whatever reason, Goff and the receiver are on different pages and Goff throws the complete opposite way of the receiver cutting inside. To a degree, all miscommunications are the fault of both players, but Goff had all the signs to know where the ball needed to go to beat the incoming blitz and he did not execute on it.

With two weeks of planning, McVay will surely have answers to work around Goff's deficiencies. Even against New Orleans, McVay turned to a number of effective motion and jet concepts when the Saints were getting into deep zone shells with their cornerbacks or man coverage. McVay made the on-the-fly adjustment to work around the Saints' defense, and should have at least some semblance of answer to keep up with Belichick.

Still, this is the best the Patriots' defense has been in some time. New England is better against the pass than either of the defenses the Rams already faced this postseason, and poses a more threatening matchup from a scheme perspective. Goff is coming along nicely and McVay is at the forefront of offense in the league, but this aggressive, uber-talented Patriots defense is equipped to delay a potential Rams dynasty until further notice.


19 comments, Last at 28 Jan 2019, 3:02pm

3 Re: Film Room: Goff vs. Patriots

Goff performed well after the first quarter when his helmet communication device wasn’t working. There aren’t many QBs who would have done that well in threshold of pain decibel level of the Superdome. Communication at the LOS was nearly impossible. Atlanta will be a much friendlier environment for McVay and Goff to attack the Pats D in a way that was impossible in New Orleans.


5 Re: Film Room: Goff vs. Patriots

"aggressive, uber-talented Patriots defense"

there is a phrase I haven't heard in a very long time.

not since the days of ty law, rodney harrison, richard seymour, ted washington, willie mcginest, tedy brusch, mike vrabel et al

7 Re: Film Room: Goff vs. Patriots

I think this column somewhat misses how different a game the Chiefs game would have been if Kareem Hunt were active. Both the Chargers and Chiefs were offenses built on downfield passing and really weren't equipped to attack the poor LB's coverage that is the weakness of the Pats - I haven't followed the Ram's as I had some other teams but they definitely have tools that look better suited to attacking the Patriots on paper (apart from Cooks who you can expect the Pats to neutralize).

8 Re: Film Room: Goff vs. Patriots

If this Patriots defense is "uber-talented" it is not showing up in DVOA, neither full season or weighted. Their weighted defensive DVOA is 0.0%. In other words average. Slightly better ranked against the pass than the run, but nothing notable.

The Rams offense is at 24.6% for the season, and although it has slipped slightly to 19.2% in weighted DVOA, that is still ranked 2nd in the league. The passing offense is ranked slightly worse than the rushing offence (#5), but still very good.

I too expect Belichick to scheme up some confusion for Goff, but painting this as a matchup where we should expect Goff to struggle is submitting far too much to the Patriots/Belichick mystique.

9 Re: Film Room: Goff vs. Patriots

I think the Pats strategy will be:

a) don't let Cooks beat us deep
b) force the Rams to sustain long drives
c) try to fool Goff into a turnover or two
d) tighten up against the run in the red zone and force Goff to make throws in compressed space to get TDs instead of FGs

Maybe I'm wrong and we get the blitz heavy approach suggested here. Or maybe the Pats line up with two DL and let Gurley run. It's Belichick in the Super Bowl, so who knows?

10 Re: Film Room: Goff vs. Patriots

If they let the Rams run, then it will all come down to whomever executes better in the red zone, offense and defense. That favors the far more experienced qb of course, but I think that with Talib back, a lot of the Rams defensive deficiencies are mitigated in the red zone,

11 Re: Film Room: Goff vs. Patriots

I think we saw last week that the right approach to Goff is to stress his decision making rather than his execution (similar to the Chiefs last week); That's the presupposition that drives the blitz-heavy approach described above. I think it's the correct assessment of the Rams. I also think given the success the Rams have had all year running the football that daring the Rams to run at the heart of your defense is a losing proposition - this is bolstered by the weaker offense the Pats are carrying in 2018 (vs. 2014-2017). Also Blitzing keeps the Pat's LB's out of the coverage responsibilities that they stink at.

14 Re: Film Room: Goff vs. Patriots

There was certainly some credit given to him after they got gashed by the run when he was inactive and then improved when he was re-activated. There was a bunch of stuff like the below article:

15 Re: Film Room: Goff vs. Patriots

It could be not so much that Shelton is a run stopping stud but rather a fringe defensive player whose run stopping is better than his pass rush, and therefore serves as litmus paper of Belichik’s approach. He was active against inferior QBs with good running games, and benched in the opposite scenario. If the Pats plan to take away the run, it would make sense that they would bench a fringe player better against the run, and not if they were focusing on the pass.

If he really was a run stopping stud, you’d think he’d be active regardless, at least in a 2 down or vs base defense rotational role.

17 Pats will prioritize stopping the run

The Rams offense depends on steady success running the ball, and getting the ball to Gurley in space. The Pats have great man cover corners, so they can emphasize stopping the run, keeping Gurley marked by a fast and sure-tackling defender (maybe DMac, or Chung?) and pressuring Goff. Probably can't depend in jamming receivers at the line, because of the Rams tight formations, though some of that will be in the mix. But deception in coverage will be key to get Goff off his first read, and confuse his look post snap. If doesn't have a clear read and his throw lined up when he reaches his drop, the play is probably going South. Expecting a variety of robber and LB zone drops to cut off the various crossers and digs.

A few early picks by Goff could end this game quickly. So I think the Pats play to their strengths early, great corners, stuff the run, confuse reads and protection, and put all the pressure on Goff play-after-play and capitalize on mistakes.

19 Re: Pats will prioritize stopping the run

Goff had a horrible pick early against a better team by DVOA, was down 13-0, and still led his team back to an overtime win while his best weapon, Todd Gurley, was injured. The Patriots were up 14-0 against a team with a slightly better offense and worse defense, and still needed to win the overtime coin toss to not blow it. I think even if the Pats get an early big lead that the Rams have the firepower to come back. The Patriots do as well, but I think the Rams have the talent to make an early curb-stomping hold up. Not saying that the game isn't 50/50 (The Patriots' experience makes it more likely they come through in the clutch), but if the game ends up being a blow-out, it's mostly likely a Los Angeles victory. The Rams are the more talented team overall.

18 Re: Film Room: Goff vs. Patriots

On the first Ram's gif ("In one of New Orleans' few bright moments...") I'm looking at the protection and I think I see two egregious errors. I would love to see what Ben Muth would say about this.

There's a delayed blitz by the Saint's LIB,(can't read the numbers) as a stunt with the RDT. It looks like the LG has to pass off the DT to the center after the initial punch, but he almost inexplicably follows him across the formation to his right. It looks like the charging backer ought to be in his line of sight, plus with the DT breaking hard across his face he ought to be anticipating the stunt. WTF?

Separately the RB (guessing Gurley from the shape) comes across to the left and looks like he ought to be in good position to pick up the blitzing DB, but somehow overruns it and can't recover when the DB takes an inside path.

So the Rams end up with six blockers for five rushers and still turn two of them loose on the QB. I've been reading the Ram's OL is a strength? I guess the point is that an all-world QB will handle that, but that's not the first criticism of this play that comes to mind.