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Is Deshaun Watson still the top quarterback prospect?
1:57 | College Football
Is Deshaun Watson still the top quarterback prospect?
Monday November 21st, 2016

The Rams’ coaches insisted they would not change the offense for Jared Goff. And they didn’t. The offense still stinks.

Save for the rain in Los Angeles—a bit of cosmic humor if ever there was one—Goff’s first career start looked awfully similar to the Rams’ first nine games of the season, with Case Keenum at the helm. After scratching and clawing their way to a 10–0 lead, the Rams shut it down ... and then fell apart, in a 14–10 loss to the Dolphins.

Goff’s performance was of the same game-manager variety that Keenum specialized in, only devoid of the occasional deep ball Keenum found this season. The weather played a large part in shackling both quarterbacks, at least until Ryan Tannehill caught fire for two fourth-quarter touchdowns that saved Miami.

The rest, beyond Mother Nature, looked all too typical for the Rams this season: shoddy blocking, the receivers’ inability to get open, untimely miscues and an offense content to live with short passes.

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For his part, Goff finished 17 of 31 for 134 yards, no TDs and no interceptions. He took care of the ball, while showing the wherewithal at times to escape pressure or beat it with a quick pass. Early in the game, he moved the sticks with an on-target slant to Kenny Britt as a blitz charged up the middle; later, he felt some heat in the pocket, slid left and hit Lance Kendricks on the run for a first down.

Those moments were encouraging from Goff, whose knack for resetting on the move always was a bit underrated. Everything else? Well, let’s just say that anyone banking on Goff to step in and provide immediate fireworks came away disappointed.

Not that he had many chances, at least on first viewing. Goff threw into traffic more times than he should have and was trigger-shy at others, but it’s not as if there were Rams running wide open downfield, awaiting his passes. This is an offense designed, more or less, to let its defense win games.

The Rams, though, did have a chance—several, in fact—to put the game away with their new franchise QB on the field.

Up 10 just past the halfway point of the fourth quarter, Los Angeles faced a fourth-and-1 from Miami’s 36, following a Goff completion to Kenny Britt. Rather than keep his offense on the field, Jeff Fisher opted for a field-goal attempt, which doinked off the upright. On its next possession, after the Dolphins had trimmed the lead to 10–7, Los Angeles opted for runs on first and second down. Those calls, plus a false start, left Goff facing a third-and-10 from his own 25. He promptly threw short of the sticks for a six-yard completion.

Eventually, if this is going to produce any results, Goff will have to show more willingness to push the envelope, and the coaching staff will have to allow him the freedom to do it.

Is Fisher’s staff capable of giving that green light? There’s not much reason to be confident at the moment, and that’s a statement stretching beyond Goff’s fit. This is Fisher’s fifth season with the Rams and, thanks to Sunday’s collapse, he still has not made it through 10 games of any season at or above .500.

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As for Goff, there’s no more reason to write him off as a bust than there was before Sunday. The Dolphins always presented a tough opening opponent, even without the difficult weather conditions.

If anything, Sunday may have helped prove why he should be playing. While their defensive front remains impressive, the Rams definitely don’t have the overall look of a Super Bowl or NFC West contender. Sticking with Keenum with the hope that the future will be better than the present doesn’t match.

Think of how long it’s taken Tannehill to even somewhat solidify himself as a starter. He is in his fifth year, and the criticism has only died down in the past few weeks. It would have resurfaced Sunday had he not orchestrated two brilliant drives to win the game.

His situation and Goff’s are not mirror images, but the point is that the Rams will have to be as patient with Goff as they set out to be for much of the season. Sunday did as much to raise questions about whether Keenum should have been on the field as it did to prove Goff was worthy of the first pick.

Goff has the arm to be better than he was Sunday. He showed during his Cal days—at least, during the later ones—that he’s willing to take chances downfield. There is more to his game than was on display Sunday.

It’s still far too early to be locking in any conclusions about Goff. The same cannot be said of Fisher and the current staff. Is there any way forward for the two sides that ends the way Los Angeles hopes? Or is Goff going to be relegated to a Keenumesque role on a team that cannot get over the top.

We’ll find out. Sunday wasn’t a great start.

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