I thought I’d fill this space today—after seeing some of the throws he made the last couple weeks—with the story of how Jared Goff was throwing a right cross at the perception of his 2017 season. Of how he went from product of Sean McVay’s system to a guy worth building a system, and a franchise, around.
After talking to Goff on Wednesday night, I think I had it wrong all along.
So instead of this being about some huge leap Goff was making year over year, it became how the rest of us might just be catching up to how good he really is and really was last year while McVay was winning Coach of the Year and Todd Gurley was winning Offensive Player of the Year. Instead of Goff affirming that so much has changed for him in Year 3, he argued that his progress, in fact, remains incremental.
“I don’t think three games into the season I’m exponentially better than I was last year,” Goff said, as he wrapped up prep on the short week for tonight’s game against the Vikings. “I mean, I think I did a lot of good things last year. We were able to make the playoffs. Going into the offseason, learning more about defenses, getting more comfortable in our own offense and continuing to grow and get better.
“I expected myself to get better. I always strive for the extra one percent. Right now I don’t feel like I’m exponentially better.”
Maybe it just seems that way. He’s right, too. His numbers were damn good last year—Goff completed 62.1% of his passes for 3,804 yards, 28 touchdowns, seven picks and a 100.5 rating in 15 games. Through three games this year he’s connected on 70.3% of his throws, and has a 111.0 rating, with his yardage projecting to 4,705, and TD-INT differential to 30-10 over that 15-game sample size.
But whatever it is everyone is seeing out of Goff sure looks good. Which means … maybe we were all just a little late to the party?
“I think any time people make a predisposed decision about who you are or what you’ve done, they’ve made up their mind, they’ll have certain reasons for why stuff change, and it can’t possibly be ‘because I was wrong’,” Goff said. “That’s what happened a little last year. And I don’t really care what people think, but hopefully as time goes on, it’s not the same stuff.”
We’re going to give you a couple really interesting college players to watch in primetime on Saturday—one you know, another you will soon—and a few pass-rushers to keep your eye on Sunday in this week’s Game Plan, and we’ll get to all your mail, too, including questions on Le’Veon Bell and the state of the Cowboys.
But we’re starting with a great Thursday night game, and a showdown involving two quarterbacks whose career breakthroughs were sparked by the 32-year-old Rams coach. For Vikings QB Kirk Cousins, it happened in Washington in 2015, with the Redskins making the playoffs for just the second time this decade. Cousins had McVay as his OC for another year, then this past offseason earned a huge payday in Minnesota.
For both quarterbacks, it took time to convince people they were more than the product of rock-solid coaching. Now Cousins has made it happen under different coaches, and with a different team. With Goff, the difference is in how the proof has come—through a slew of wow throws that have victimized defenses over the last few weeks. In an effort to explain that as best we could, I asked a couple Rams staffers for a list of those plays.
I came away with five from the last two weeks, and asked Goff to explain them to me, which he was gracious enough to do.
Play 1 — Arizona
The situation: Third quarter, 5:20 left; First-and-10, Cardinals 42.
The throw: Goff stands in the face of blitzing safety Antoine Bethea (who was flagged for roughing) and sends a rope to the left sideline, where Robert Woods, running a streak, plucks the ball from above Arizona’s Budda Baker, in tight coverage.
The quarterback’s take: “I got hit on it pretty good. That’s a play we’ve ran before, we ran it a bunch last year. A play we’re comfortable with. Robert ran a good route and they actually covered it pretty well. We were a little loose up front, they had a safety blitz coming and were able to run through on us, and I just got it off before he got there. And I just gave Robert a chance. He’s shown it, he’s become such a great ball-catcher, he’s shown so much improvement from last year, he’s probably the most sure-handed guy we’ve got right now. And it’s just really nice when you can throw it, and I got hit, I didn’t see the end of the play, and heard the crowd go, and usually that means interception or a good catch, and that one ends up being a good catch.”
Play 2 — Arizona
The situation: Fourth quarter, 10:22 left; Third-and-four, Rams 48
The throw: Goff takes a shotgun snap, and Arizona sends six. With Chandler Jones looping in and bearing down on Goff, the quarterback stood tall and delivered a crosser to Brandin Cooks—sneaking it high into a tiny window just over Baker’s head, and underneath Bethea, playing the deeper part of the field.
The quarterback’s take: “It’s actually a similar throw to the Woods one, where he’s covered, but having the comfort level I have with Brandin and the trust I have in him, was able to throw that ball high and give him a chance knowing that the DB was not looking and Brandin was looking. If that ever happens, you give them a chance and you could have a good outcome. I think that type of throw just comes with being more comfortable and having a lot of trust in the receiver. Would I have made it last year? I don’t know. I’d like to think so, but I don’t know if I can speak to that. I think just being comfortable and having a good rapport with our receivers is why that one worked.”
Play 3 — Chargers
The situation: Second quarter, 10:50 left; Second-and-six, Chargers 35
The throw: Goff takes the snap from center, gets protection, and puts the ball up for tight end Tyler Higbee, who posterizes Chargers rookie linebacker Kyzir White.
The quarterback’s take: “They’re all kind of similar throws. That one is very similar to Brandin’s and even Robert’s, where he was covered and I was just confident in my receivers and confident in myself. The throw is not as hard as the catch. The throw, I’m just throwing it high. The key to that, and really the first three we’ve talked about, it’s trusting my receiver that they’re going to make a play on a high-difficulty catch, and just giving them a chance ultimately with the throw.”
Play 4 – Chargers
The situation: Third quarter, 12:51 left; 3rd-and-8, Chargers 47
The throw: Goff takes the shotgun snap and steps up in the pocket, going through his reads, and has to dodge defensive end Isaac Rochell to break the pocket and turn the play into a scramble drill, at which point Cooper Kupp breaks off his route. Goff hits Kupp streaking upfield in stride, and Kupp gallivants into the end zone with a 47-yard scoring play.
The quarterback’s take: “It was just an off-schedule play. Cooper was an underneath read, and I didn’t see anyone open through the first three reads, and tried to move around the pocket a little bit, and got my eyes up off the rush, and Cooper spun around the defender up the field, and I knew he had a lot of room in front of him, so I tried to put the ball out in front of him, and was able to put a good ball on him and he made a great play breaking that tackle and scoring. I made a similar play in the third game of season last year against San Francisco down the right sideline.”
So at this point, Goff’s contention is every one of these throws, he’d have been capable of making last year. And then we came to the last one I had on my list, and that one, as it turned out, was different.
Play 5 — Chargers
The situation: Second quarter, 1:40 left; First-and-10, Rams 32
The throw: In hurry-up, Goff takes the shotgun snap, gets protection and finds Woods on a deep out-breaking route. The ball clears Pro Bowl corner Casey Heyward’s outstretched arm by no more than a foot or two, and hits the receiver less than a second before rookie Derwin James makes it over to help on the coverage.
The quarterback’s take: “It was Cover 2. That would be a throw—that’s the best example of one that would’ve been tougher last year, just in me understanding defenses and understanding what their intent is, and understanding, what’s Casey’s responsibility and what’s Derwin’s responsibility, and being able to manipulate that in the way that we did. And feeling confident in where to throw the ball and knowing Robert would be there. All of it comes back to being confident in the receiver and really trusting him.”
The point here? Goff’s come a long way in two years, for sure. But it didn’t happen all at once. And if you think it’s all coaching, Goff isn’t going to let that get to him, or even try to change your mind, and he insists it doesn’t bother him in the slightest.
“Never. Never,” Goff said. “[McVay’s] incredible and he deserves all the praise he gets. My rookie year was not so good, and coming into my second year, one of two things was going to happen—I was gonna be bad or I was gonna be good. And if I was good, they were gonna pin it on someone else. It’s all positive, it’s the way it works. I expected this coming into everything. All I can do is get better.
“Sean’s incredible, he’s probably the best coach in the league right now, won Coach of the Year last year, we’re doing stuff offensively—I mean, his innovation is incredible. I’m very thankful that he’s the guy I get to ask questions of, I get to learn from and have as the one teaching me.”
And that’s an ongoing thing in L.A., which you’ll be able to see tonight. Back in camp, Goff explained to me how, as he saw it, the Rams had to work to stay one step ahead as teams caught up to what they were doing, and the quarterback says McVay has done that through continued wrinkles in motioning and formationing to give defenses different looks.
It’s also helped, as Goff alluded to, being in Year 2 with Kupp and Woods, and having a quick study in Cooks. And the promise of guys like Higbee doesn’t hurt either.
Add it up, and you see why the guys calling the shots in L.A. feel so good about where Goff is at 23—the same age draft classmate Carson Wentz was as a rookie. Safe to say, too that Goff is pretty excited looking at the future around him, though he wouldn’t bite when I asked about he and McVay having a Sean Payton/Drew Brees-style 10- to 15-year run.
“That’s always the pipe dream for down the road,” Goff said. “We’re two years into this. We’ve been successful to this point, but there are so many good teams, so many good players that you have to keep on it at all times and can’t really look that far down the road. In 10 years, if we’re still together, we can talk about it. I promise you I’ll talk to you about it.”
For now, at least, Goff has proven he’s worth talking about as one of the best young quarterbacks in the game. And that, McVay himself would tell you, is regardless of who’s coaching him.
WEEKEND WATCH LIST
Dolphins WR Jakeem Grant: The Dolphins’ speed on offense figures to be trouble across the board for a New England defense that has bigger corners and looked slow in Detroit. But Miami’s little stick of dynamite, in particular, should be a tough cover in what feels like it’s as close to a must-win as you’re gonna get for the Patriots in September.
Chargers DE Melvin Ingram: With the news that Joey Bosa will be out until November, the onus falls on Ingram to be the wreaker of havoc for the Los Angeles front. And he’ll be important in trying to rattle the cage of new Niners starter C.J. Beatherd, as the Chargers try to claw back to .500.
Bears OLB Khalil Mack: The front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year gets venerable Tampa right tackle Demar Dotson this week, and the task of disrupting the Bucs red-hot passing game. We’ll see if he can get home.
Packers LB Clay Matthews: All eyes will be on Matthews after back-to-back weeks taking very borderline flags for violating the widely panned body weight rule. And this week is interesting because he’s going up against a moose of a quarterback, in Josh Allen, playing behind a shaky offensive line.
Browns QB Baker Mayfield/Cardinals QB Josh Rosen: What’s so interesting about the spot these two are in is that neither of their teams felt the need to bend too much schematically to accommodate guys who weren’t competing for starting jobs in camp. That speaks well for Mayfield and Rosen, by the way. And both Mayfield (at Oakland) and Rosen (vs. Seattle) should be fun to watch Sunday.
TWO FOR SATURDAY
Stanford RB Bryce Love (at Notre Dame, NBC, 7:30 p.m.): The Cardinal are unbeaten, but Love is off to a bit of a slow start, with just 254 yards on 59 carries in three games (he sat out the tilt against San Diego State). His yards per carry are at a little more than half his number last year. And in his one big statistical game—he went for 136 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries against USC—a 59-yard run inflated the numbers. So this is a chance for Love to get back to where he was last year, and do it on a national stage. “Notre Dame gave up a lot of yards last week,” said one NFC college scouting director. “Should be a big week for Bryce yards-wise, [we] just need to see him run behind his pads between the tackles, and show his explosiveness in the open field.” The good news? Outside of Alabama’s Damien Harris, we haven’t seen any sort of explosion early on by a draft-eligible back, so he’s keeping pace in the race.
Ohio State DE Chase Young (at Penn State, ABC, 7:30 p.m.): This is looking ahead a year, since Young isn’t draft-eligible until 2020. But with prospective top-five pick Nick Bosa down, this is a chance for the true sophomore from Maryland to announce his presence to the country. He’s listed at 6’5” and 265 pounds, with room to grow, and the buzz on Young as a freakish NFL prospect started as soon as he arrived on campus in the summer of 2017. He’s has flashed his potential through four games this year. With Bosa down, the scouts’ eyes will be on another potential 2019 first-rounder along the Ohio State defensive line—tackle Dre’Mont Jones—but here’s guessing those guys will be sure to get themselves a little glimpse at what’s coming in two years, too.
From GW’s BBQ Catering Co. (@GMsBBQ): What is wrong with the Dallas Cowboys? Can it be fixed? Give me your insight.
We can talk until we’re blue in the face about the departures of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. Or how Dak Prescott is still chasing the kind of success he had as a rookie in 2016. And we know the problem hasn’t been on defense—the Cowboys rank third in yards allowed and seventh in points against behind a young and improving core.
The fact is, the Cowboys’ identity runs through their offensive line, and if that isn’t a strength anymore, it’s a major problem. Losing center Travis Frederick was a serious blow, but the problems aren’t limited to the drop-off in play at that spot with backup Joe Looney in the lineup. The group hasn’t played well enough in general under new line coach Paul Alexander.
Maybe it’s not as simple as playing better up front, but that certainly wouldn’t hurt. It’d make it easier for the team to control the pace of games, and accentuate Ezekiel Elliott (who’s playing very well, and averaging 5.7 yards per carry) and the young defense, which would allow Prescott to play point guard with a group of skill players still finding their way.
From Bucky (@BuckyThaG0d): Any chance Le’Veon Bell gets dealt to the Jets? The best way to ease a rookie QB is with a strong running game.
No, I don’t think the Jets are in play. And I think if the Steelers deal Bell, it’ll be borderline impossible to get proper value for him, mainly because the trade market, as I hear it, isn’t exactly hot on him. That may be hard to understand, because Bell is absolutely a great player. So let me explain it.
It’d cost another team more than $855,000 a week to employ Bell the rest of the year, so cap space is a factor. That team couldn’t extend Bell until January (and a third tag would be set at the QB number, around $25 million), which means this is, at best, a rent-to-own situation for any suitor. And since Bell hasn’t so much as been at a practice since January, it’s uncertain how fast he’d get up to speed in a new place, physically or mentally.
Add together the price, the long-term uncertainty, and the short-term questions, and it’s hard to see a team really extending itself to bring Bell in, especially one that’s in building mode, like the Jets are. But it does only take one team (Tampa Bay?) to pull the trigger …
From Matthew Jeronimus (@geronimosince84): Do you think there is any chance we see a change to how roughing the passer has been called the first three weeks??? #notflagfootball
Yes, I do think there’s a chance—and for the reason that we’re in this mess in the first place. The league office is rabbit-eared in situations like this one. That special quality affected the rule going in, with the NFL overreacting to a singular event (Anthony Barr’s hit on Aaron Rodgers). And ultimately those rabbit ears are there again to help us get out of the situation, which is great so long as you value the result over the process.
My guess is that officials are going to be instructed only to flag blatant cases—where the pass-rusher picks the quarterback up and intentionally lands on him. And I know that’s what the coaches want. One defensive coordinator I was texting with Tuesday night said this: “I’m OK to call a foul if they pick the QB up and pile-drive him, but on a normal tackle I think it’s BS.”
We’re going to have more on this on Monday, but I think rolling this one back to only enforce egregious cases makes sense. And to think, we were all worried about the helmet rule.
From Andrew Fisher (@ColtsFisher): What is the deal with Andrew Luck’s drastically low YPA? Is it the new scheme, multiple injuries at the tackle position, receivers who can’t separate down the field (sans T.Y.), Luck’s shoulder, or some combination of the four? Thanks Albert.
You’re right. Luck’s yards per attempt are at 5.34 after three games, more than a full yard behind his career low (6.42 in 2015) and two-and-a-half yards less than his career high (7.78 in 2016). But I honestly wouldn’t read too much into at this point. It’s been three games, and we knew it’d take time for Luck to get comfortable out there in letting it rip, and playing in Frank Reich’s offense.
What I do feel good saying is that there’s nothing wrong with his arm strength. He’s been fine in that department, and the Colts are good with where he’s at physically. So check back with me in a few weeks if that number is still that low, and we can reassess.
From Zach (@zrobhill): How many playoff teams from the AFC North this year?
I love this question, because I think for the first time in forever all four teams are in play. Yes, even the Browns. The Steelers seemed to get some traction on Monday night, the Ravens can ride their defense, and the Bengals’ line-of-scrimmage upgrades are taking. And Cleveland’s D, with Myles Garrett showing potential for the kind of the second-year leap Von Miller and Khalil Mack had, will make it so Baker Mayfield isn’t carrying too heavy a burden.
So I think this is a division where the last place team has six or seven wins, with two getting into the playoffs, and a third knocking on the door into the holidays. (Feel free to print this one out for purposes of calling me a moron on Christmas.)
From Rockies (@NolanBeingNolan): How big an issue is the Saints secondary?
I’d be mildly worried if I were you, Rockies. New Orleans is dead last in scoring defense, and 30th in passing defense, with opposing quarterbacks completing nearly 75 percent of their passes against the Saints (not ideal). It’s hard to put that all at the feet of a single group, but the secondary is without question culpable. Losing veteran nickel Patrick Robinson to IR is no good either.
But there’s a correction coming. Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams are too good for this to keep up—and it’s good that they’re taking ownership for the slow start (Lattimore called how they’re playing “embarrassing”). How much better can they get? A lot of that will ride on how good guys like P.J. Williams, Vonn Bell and Ken Crawley can be around Williams and Lattimore.
From Charlie Yook (@yookc): Prediction in Happy Valley?
Yook! My old producer … isn’t going to get me to slip up here. No jinxing anything in the Game Plan, not this week anyway. And like I said, just keep an eye on Young.
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