Column: Can Rams quarterback Jared Goff win big games like Tom Brady? The jury is still out
The Rams’ Week 8 loss against Miami was so poetic. Jared Goff turned in his worst performance of the season shortly after freshly minted World Series champion Cody Bellinger told him “it’s your turn” to bring a championship to L.A. And just when the debate about whether Chargers rookie sensation Justin Herbert was the best quarterback in town was escalating, Goff outplayed Russell Wilson in the Rams’ 23-16 victory over Seattle in Week 10.
The Rams defense gave up a total of three second-half points in those two games, a clear sign it’s ready to meet Belli’s challenge. It’s the Goff tease that’s frustrating.
“[The Rams] are one of the most balanced teams in the league when they play their brand of football,” Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner said. “When you have balance and you have ways to win on both sides of the ball, it gives you a chance to compete for a championship. I think the biggest thing with Jared is when they play their game — run the football, play action— he runs that stuff extremely well and we’ve seen that throughout the course of his career. If teams can take them out of that, then the question becomes what this offense is when they have to play a drop-back game. That’s not his strength. I don’t believe that’s this offense’s strength.
“Oftentimes good teams force you to go away from what you’re really good at and force you to beat them with your weaknesses. That’s really, through the course of Jared’s career, where he struggles.”
In short, when the going gets tough, can Goff still get it going?
Fresh off a standout game against Seattle, the Rams’ Jalen Ramsey on Monday will face a Tampa Bay offense that features Mike Evans, Antonio Brown and more.
It’s a counterintuitive question considering how successful Goff is. Even including his stinker of a rookie year, in which he went 0-7 as a starter, he has won 62% of the games he’s started. He’s a two-time Pro Bowl player. The Super Bowl appearance. Of the 15 quarterbacks taken in his draft, he’s been the most durable starter, having not missed a game because of injury. There’s so much to love and yet the eyeball test makes it hard to believe we’re married.
“People will always, no matter what, look at him through the prism of his rookie year,” said ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, a former NFL quarterback. “We do that with players all of the time. It’s the first impression. Ryan Tannenhill, no matter what he does in Tennessee, people think he still stinks because of what he did in Miami. So Goff has to deal with that.
“And then there are a handful of quarterbacks in the NFL, maybe a little more, that will elevate above the Xs and O’s. It’s a good play call but the defense wins the rep. Those guys win the play simply because of their own performance. Jared does not do that. He’s not one of those guys. He executes the Xs and O’s really well but he doesn’t go above the Xs and O’s often. And if you’re not one of those guys in the NFL right now, fair or not, some people will say you suck.”
Ouch. But there is a lot of truth there and it starts with his decision-making when the defense pins its ears back. For example, last season he was just as likely to throw a touchdown when pressured (seven) as he was a pick (six), according to the website PFF Elite. The casual manner in which he holds the ball also is troubling considering he has more fumbles (40) than regular-season wins (39).
To be clear, Goff isn’t some manufactured star propped up by inflated garbage time stats or media-driven narratives about his work ethic. No, Goff is good. Really good. He’s just in a city with an affinity for greatness.
“All quarterbacks are who they are to some degree, but I also believe all quarterbacks can improve,” said Warner, who also believes the Rams can win a Super Bowl with Goff, although he worries about Goff’s ability to process the game faster. “Jared also doesn’t have a really quick release, which can hurt you in the drop-back game. When you’re playing play action and you’re out on the edge and running naked [bootlegs] or taking big shots down the field, that doesn’t come into play as much.”
Are these things Warner believes Goff can improve on?
“Of course, but will he develop into that great passer in terms of reading the field, playing the drop-back game and picking teams apart?” Warner asked. “I don’t know the answer to that.
“I’ve seen guys that aren’t that good that early in their career that develop into great passers, and then there are other guys where that just doesn’t become their strength and they’ve got to find other ways to win. And that’s the point, you can win other ways, but it just takes more components.”
Warner pointed out that the Tom Brady he lost to in the Super Bowl became a much-improved player over time. While it’s never a good idea to compare young guys to GOATs, it is important to remember that at barely 26, Goff is not a finished product. Brady was 30 before he threw fewer than 10 interceptions in a season as a starter; Goff was 23.
A win Monday against Brady and Tampa Bay puts the Rams back in first place in the NFL‘s toughest division, one in which 10 wins might be good for third.
And, by the way, Goff isn’t the only one who prefers a clean pocket. In Tampa’s humiliating 38-3 defeat to the New Orleans Saints in Week 9, Brady was pressured on 46% of his drop backs, leading to three interceptions and three sacks. In the Buccaneers’ three losses this season, Brady has been sacked nine times. The Rams come into the contest with 31 sacks, tied for third entering Sunday. Unfortunately for Goff, the Buccaneers are second with 32.
Playing opposite lockdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey, the Rams’ Darious Williams has intercepted four passes, including two Sunday in a win over Seattle.
“It’s always a fine line between not panicking when pressure gets around you and a sense of urgency when you feel that pressure around you,” Warner said. “When I watched [Goff] at Cal he was really good at manipulating the pocket and being able to reset and get the ball out of his hands quickly. We need to see more of that.
“The level of feel you have in the pocket is different for everybody. Some guys are great at it, some guys are good at it and some are not very good at it. He’s not a finished product but the question is what will Jared Goff become?”
If he can get rid of the ball quicker, Super Bowl champion would be my guess.
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