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Rams

Column: Jared Goff makes his debut, but the Rams don’t really let him play

Bill Plaschke, Lindsey Thiry and Gary Klein break down the Rams’ 14-10 loss to the Dolphins in rookie quarterback Jared Goff’s regular-season debut.

The collapse ended with Jared Goff wandering aimlessly across the middle of the soggy Coliseum field Sunday afternoon, eyes skyward, helmet perched on the back of his head.

If he was confused, he was not alone.

His Rams had just suffered their most disheartening setback in a desultory season when their vaunted defense allowed the Miami Dolphins to break up a shutout by scoring twice in the final    4 minutes 2 seconds in a 14-10 defeat.

But the Rams really lost because they were afraid to let Jared Goff win.

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In the most trumpeted sports premiere in this town this fall, the Rams didn’t roll out a red carpet for Goff as much as they wrapped him tightly in it.

The celebrated, long-delayed debut of last spring’s No. 1 overall draft pick was dampened not only by a steady rain and Dolphins defense, but also by a Rams brain trust that didn’t trust him.

After incredibly waiting 11 weeks to let him play, they incredibly didn’t let him play.

As a leader he was fine — no turnovers, no huddle implosions, no rattling after big hits. But as a big-time quarterback worthy of trading six draft picks? We still have no idea, because Goff never had a chance to be a big-time quarterback.

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By the time he finished slanting and screening and dumping the Rams to their sixth loss in 10 games since returning to Los Angeles, their quarterback question had been answered in a different sort of way.

Turns out, it doesn’t matter who plays quarterback, because the problem is not the quarterback, it’s the coaching.

“There was nothing from an offensive standpoint that was minimized because of Jared,” claimed Ram Coach Jeff Fisher.

That statement is either very false, or very scary.

Imagine the Dodgers ordering Corey Seager to make his debut by drawing walks, or the Lakers telling a debuting D’Angelo Russell to shoot only layups.

That’s what it felt like during a glittering coronation that became a three-hour slog into madness. The Rams aren’t just mediocre, they’re boring, and on a day when Goff was supposed to change everything, he was allowed to change nothing.

Goff completed 17 passes, but none covered more than a couple of handfuls of yards in the air, and only one was a true downfield pass, until the final moments.

Heck, Case Keenum could have done that.

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Goff averaged just 4.3 yards per pass on 31 attempts, and compare that to this season’s debuts of two other renowned rookie quarterbacks.

Dak Prescott of Dallas averaged five yards per pass on 45 attempts, and Carson Wentz of Philadelphia averaged 7.5 yards per pass on 37 attempts.

“I would like to throw some balls downfield and I think that will be in the plan every week,” said Goff. “It’s up to them.”

Whatever, it wasn’t the plan on a day when it needed to be the plan. The Rams mortgaged their future because Goff had that Hollywood arm, but the moment it was time for the big reveal, Fisher and his staff tied that arm behind his back and wound up directing another bust.

“Our goal was to stop the run … and make the quarterback try and prove he can beat us,” said the Dolphins’ Ndamukong Suh.

And the Rams played right into their padded hands.

Fourth quarter, Rams leading 10-0 and beginning a potential game-clinching drive at midfield, and how do you think they schemed it? Try three Todd Gurley runs sandwiched around three short Goff passes that wound up one yard short of a first down on the Dolphins’ 30-yard line. Greg Zuerlein then clanked a 48-yard field-goal attempt and the Dolphins turned that momentum into their first scoring drive.

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Later in the fourth quarter, Rams now leading 10-7 and beginning another potential game-clinching drive, and how do you think they schemed it this time? Two Gurley runs, a short Goff pass, and a punt that led to the Dolphins’ game-winning scoring drive.

“The design is to pick up four or five yards then quick passing game, it’s not to take your shots, and that’s what we tried to do so we could complete drives,” said Fisher.

At this rate, the only thing they’re completing is an early alienation of Los Angeles sports fans who demand, and deserve, better. A few days after breaking ground on their Inglewood sports palace, they dug themselves a deeper Coliseum hole. On an afternoon when Goff was cheered on the video board by everybody from Snoop Dogg to snowboarder Shaun White, the crowd wound up soaked, and the Rams’ season continued to sink.

“Probably one of the most disappointing losses I’ve endured over the years,” said Fisher, and that’s saying something.

This is the fifth time in Fisher’s five seasons as the Rams coach — every year! — that his team has reached the 10-game point with six losses.

Fisher has tied Tom Landry for second place in coaching losses with 162 defeats, reaching that figure in 82 fewer games. If the Rams lose four of their last six, a very real possibility considering the difficulty of their schedule, Fisher could end the season as the losingest coach in NFL history.

In keeping with the afternoon’s muddy theme, Fisher coached some of the game with his baseball cap turned around. It wasn’t the only thing that was backward.

As the game ended, the Coliseum filled with its first loud and fervent chant of the day. But the words were being sung by Dolphins fans cheering their defense.

Too bad Rams fans couldn’t have resurrected their popular chant of recent weeks. Even though their request now seems moot, a reprise would have been perfect, its meaning a tad different but explicitly clear.

“We want Goff.”

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Twitter: @BillPlaschke


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