It's that time of the year again, folks. No, no, not Christmas. It's time to talk about Jared Goff after having one of "those" games in Sunday's loss to the previously winless New York Jets.
To be fair to Goff, a number of things went wrong for the Rams. The Jets defense did a good job presenting the Rams with odd/bear fronts on defense, which neutralized the Rams' rushing attack before they switched to more misdirection and gap schemes in the second half. The special teams unit was also a bit of a disaster, largely due to a blocked punt that set up the Jets inside the Rams' 30-yard line. Additionally, Los Angeles' defense failed to force any turnovers against a horrid Jets offense despite having forced 21 turnovers (now tied for fifth) this season.
Quarterback play is always a key factor in a loss like this, though, and Goff was mostly bad. He was a disaster in the first half in particular. Through the first two quarters, Goff had 23 dropbacks that resulted in him going 11-of-20 for 86 yards (4.3 per attempt), an interception, two sacks, and a 9-yard scramble on a failed third-down conversion. In turn, the Rams went into halftime down 13-3. To the Jets.
One of the simple reasons for Goff's early struggles is that the Jets regularly generated pressure. In typical fashion, Goff did not handle that pressure well. Goff's issues versus pressure are not generally of the "playing scared" variety, though. Los Angeles' signal-caller is plenty brave in the pocket and willing to take a hit in order to get tough throws off, but sometimes that is not the way pressure needs to be overcome. Sometimes a quarterback needs to bail the pocket right away, be an athlete, and show some creativity. None of that really works for Goff.
Make no mistake: the Rams offensive line did Goff no favors on these two plays. Their interior offensive line got beat up all day and there were a number of other clips you could pull up to prove it. Still, the issue remains that Goff has close to zero workaround for broken plays such as these ones where a rusher breaks the middle of the pocket. Goff can climb up into pockets when pressure is coming from the edge, but when problems are thrust into his lap like this and he needs to be an athlete, his response is to take as graceful a sack as possible.
Almost all of the best young quarterbacks in the league -- Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, etc. -- have the capacity to break the pocket and make plays when things get messy right away. They have a built-in "second chance" because of their athletic ability. Goff's turtling approach is something we more often see from veterans who were great before the 2011 CBA that cut down practice time, which almost certainly made it easier for quarterbacks to play more like computer programs and less like playmakers. It's tougher now to get away with being a statue in the pocket with a poor "second-chance" mechanism.
Even when Goff does find easier chances to break the pocket and salvage a play late in the down, he just does not have the kind of vision and creativity to consistently deliver in those situations. Goff does not have some of the spontaneity that Watson, Allen, and others do to find players breaking open late. That is not to say he has never done it, but it is surely not something about his game that anyone can say they rely on.
Take this third-and-11, for example. The middle of the pocket parts like the Red Sea for Goff and he takes that opportunity to move into open grass. So far, so good! However, Goff, a middling athlete at best, decides that taking off for the sticks is a better option for his skill set than looking for the dig route breaking over the middle, which he knows is not being carried by a man coverage defender. Plenty of other quarterbacks, even comparable or worse athletes, would be able to throttle themselves down after first taking off and find the receiver running right across the first-down marker. This is not a particularly difficult throw to make on the move, but Goff never even seems to consider it.
Perhaps a more egregious infraction from Goff than his issues extending plays was how blatantly he disrespected the Jets' flat defenders. Not only did Goff throw his interception to a flat defender on a boot concept, but he nearly threw another in the second half to a flat defender on a different boot concept. No matter the coverage, Goff just showed zero respect for that defender playing underneath the routes of his intended targets.
The positioning of the flat defender changes because both the coverage call and passing concept are different on each play, but the point remains the same: Goff showed zero respect for that defender sitting underneath the routes he wanted to throw. Both clips are on first-and-10, too, so there was no reason for Goff to feel like he needed to press the way he did. Somehow he got away with it in the second clip, which was in the fourth quarter, but that mistake could have effectively sealed the game right there.
On the one hand, it is never a comforting feeling when a team's handsomely paid quarterback crumbles. The Rams are a borderline great team who could easily be put over the edge on a given day if Goff shows up, but he has performances like this one that raise the question as to whether he can be relied on to do that.
On the other hand, in better news for the Rams, Goff's struggles were far more his own than an issue of the scheme being exposed or shut down. For much of the game, Sean McVay schemed people open. Goff just did not execute, save for a drive or two in the third quarter.
It's more likely that this game is an embarrassing blip on the radar than it is an omen for Los Angeles' downfall this season. This did not have the same feeling as the 2018 Bears game in which Goff and the Rams offense were completely short-circuited by the Bears' Cover-4 coverages and 5-1/6-1 defensive fronts. That game helped set a blueprint against the Rams offense at the time. McVay has more in his arsenal now, as he proved with his second-half adjustments. Sunday's game against the Jets was just a poor outing from Goff from an execution standpoint. The Rams had just better hope Goff does not execute this poorly again.