Jared Goff’s Preseason: Don’t Touch that Panic Button Just Yet

As preseason comes to a close, people rush to sort things, sufficient information be dratted, and Los Angeles Rams #1 pick Jared Goff is not immune. Jon Ledyard takes a look at Jared Goff’s preseason to contextualize this struggles and concludes that there is no need to hit the panic button yet.

When the Los Angeles Rams made Jared Goff the first overall pick in the 2016 draft, trading away a plethora of picks in the process, the selection came with the expectation that the former California Golden Bears passer would become the face of the newly relocated franchise.

What the Rams didn’t specify, of course, was when that transition would occur, or how soon they wanted Goff to helm the offense that finished dead last in passing yards per game last season.

Many long-suffering L.A. fans obviously expected (Read: hoped) the move would come immediately, eager to see their young signal caller at work in the same backfield as 2015 offensive rookie of the year Todd Gurley. Jeff Fisher had other ideas, however, naming Case Keenum the starter in June and saying Goff would start “whenever he was ready.”

Still, one would have assumed that Goff would get a fair shot at the starting spot, if for no other reason than the fact that Keenum has proven very little over his four-year NFL career, completing 56 percent of his passes for just over 3,000 yards. As we exit the preseason however, Keenum ran nine drives with the first team offense in comparison to Goff’s two, and was recently confirmed as the starting quarterback for when the Rams take the field for Week 1 against the 49ers. In fact, Jeff Fisher said last night after Los Angeles’ 27-25 loss to the Vikings that Sean Mannion would be his second string option if the season started today.

This was never a quarterback competition, and it is important to understand that here at the outset. Keenum was placed at the table with a full house in his hand (or whatever the most compatible version of that the Rams can scrape together is), while Goff was left with a pair of deuces. The Rams wanted to sit Goff to start the season regardless of what was shown on the field and, because Keenum hasn’t completely imploded, they now have the ability to do so.

The predictable imbalance between the two quarterbacks’ supporting casts was evident throughout the preseason, particularly when Goff went under center to deal with, well, this:

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The sad part is: That isn’t even all of the poorly run routes or drops that Goff had to endure. As poor as it was, though, perhaps none of of the miscues were quite as egregious as this gaffe by Pharoh Cooper in the Rams’ first preseason game against the Cowboys.

Goff faces a 2nd-and-10 situation with the ball on the Cowboys 37-yard line and just 35 seconds left in the first half. With all three timeouts at his disposal, the Rams quarterback knows he can challenge any area of the field in his attempt to navigate his team into at least field goal range before the end of the half.

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At the snap, Dallas drops into a Cover 2 zone with safeties J.J. Wilcox and Kavon Frazier manning the two deep halves of the field. Rookie Michael Thomas is isolated on the backside of the Rams’ 3X1 look, but the receiver falls asleep on the snap and is far too slow off the line of scrimmage, prompting Goff to look elsewhere.

Cooper’s deep post, on the other hand, carries him to the Cover 2 hole between the safeties, and Goff places a perfect laser right on the receiver’s numbers. Wilcox does a good job of closing the window to put a hit on Cooper, though, and the pass catcher can’t hang on for what would have been a huge completion to give the Rams a first-and-goal.

That’s a big boy throw by a rookie quarterback playing with all backups in his first NFL game, and an encouraging sign for Goff’s development. There were questions about his arm strength and velocity entering the draft and, while that aspect of his game may never be elite, Goff’s tools appear more than adequate when observing him against NFL secondaries.

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Note the excellent pace on this throw to Higbee on a deep comeback route, fitting the ball in to the receiver before Wilcox can close over the top. Some have knocked Goff for not making many high degree of difficulty throws in his first three games, but those complaints ignore the context of the system in which the rookie is performing. The Rams offensive approach features many West Coast principles with short timing patterns designed to stretch the field horizontally before attacking it vertically. Accuracy and ball placement are paramount to a quarterback’s success in a West Coast offense, two areas of the game that are Goff’s greatest strengths.

Where Goff has struggled is in his progressions, by no means an unusual weakness for a rookie quarterback still adjusting to the pace of the NFL.

The Rams came out in 11 personnel to start the second half against the Chiefs in Goff’s second preseason game, one where the quarterback looked to rebound from a frustrating first half. The Chiefs show man coverage right away off the snap, but Goff locks onto his first read anyway, zipping a throw to Brian Quick despite the fact that the receiver has gained no separation on his comeback route.

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First, this is a really poor route by Quick, who stops at the top of his pattern rather than coming back to the football, generally considered a no-no when running a comeback route. Still, the decision isn’t a good one for Goff, who has to recognize when the window isn’t there and move to his next progression, especially given the time he has in the pocket. If he had, he would have seen the outside receiver to his left, Thomas, come open underneath against Steven Nelson for what could have been a big gain.

Similarly, against Denver the Rams come out in 12 personnel with rookie tight end Tyler Higbee in the slot to Goff’s left. Please note that, for the second consecutive drive, the Rams reserves are in the game with Goff against most of Denver’s starting defense. Again, right off the snap Goff’s eyes are locked onto his target, allowing safety Darian Stewart an easy read and break on the ball.

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Stewart drops the easiest pick-six he’ll ever see in his life here, as Goff, in his eagerness to hit his route on time and get the ball out of his hand, forgoes his progressions and dispenses with any sense of field awareness.

These are common mistakes for a rookie that are nothing to be concerned about right now; In addition, Goff’s supporting cast has been dreadful, and the Los Angeles coaches have not put him in the best position to succeed.

Granted, Goff has not been perfect either. Nevertheless, I’ve counted 9-12 drops (depending on what you expect to be a catch) and two interceptions that came as results of poor protection – mistakes that have had disastrous effects on Goff’s preseason numbers. Nine more catches on those dropped passes would elevate Goff’s completion percentage from 45 percent to just over 63 percent, a far cry from the bleak statistical results that have been paraded all over social media for the past few weeks.

In the final preseason game against Minnesota, Goff looked excellent on the opening drive, marching the offense down the field on just his third possession of the entire preseason with the starters. He made plays inside and outside of the pocket before capping the drive with an extremely well-placed touchdown pass to Kenny Britt’s outside shoulder despite tight coverage from Mackensie Alexander. If not for a Brian Quick drop to begin the drive, Goff would have finished a perfect 4-4.

Then things began to unravel. Goff took a few shots and started rushing and sailing passes. The low point came when he dropped a shotgun snap at his own 7-yard line, a mistake that several Minnesota defenders pounced on after the quarterback took his eyes off the ball to survey the secondary a tad early. Goff will need to be better than these mistakes moving forward, even as a rookie, but nothing he’s put on tape so far is unusual or worse than your typical young quarterback mistakes. Unfortunately for Goff, those mistakes have only been exacerbated by the extremely low level of play around him, to say nothing of the expectations that accompany being the number one overall pick at the game’s most important position.

In the proper context, we can see that while Goff certainly has aspects of his game that need work, the Rams’ franchise quarterback has not been close to as bad as his numbers or the common media narratives (or even his head coach?) would suggest. Had he been given an equal opportunity to win the starting quarterback job over Case Keenum, Goff might certainly have done so – but we’ll never know given the situation and personnel with which he was asked to perform.

Few would claim Goff is ready to be a successful starting quarterback in the NFL, but is Keenum? In short, let’s not bury Goff just yet, as the young quarterback will receive much better opportunities from which to judge his caliber of play than the ones he has been given thus far this preseason.

Follow Jon on Twitter@LedyardNFLDraft. Check out his work here, including on where Atlanta FalconVic Beasley needs to improve as a rusher, where San Diego Charger Melvin Ingram excels,  sweet sacks by guys like New Orleans Saints‘ Nick Fairley, and more and more.

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All video courtesy of NFL Game Pass.

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