Ready or not, Jared Goff must guide the inconsistent Rams’ playoff push
If this was about the Rams waiting until their rookie quarterback was “ready” (however they defined that abstract term), we’re about to find out if patience will pay off. If this was about picking a favorable matchup, Los Angeles probably could have done better.
Jared Goff, the No. 1 pick of the 2016 NFL draft, reportedly will make his long-awaited first start Sunday against a surging Miami team.
The Dolphins have won four consecutive games, and their defense has held three of the past five quarterbacks it has faced to fewer than 200 yards passing. The two to top that total: Tyrod Taylor, who threw for 221 yards but was sacked four times in a 28–25 Miami win, and San Diego’s Philip Rivers, who put up 326 yards through the air but tossed four interceptions, including a game-sealing pick-six.
So, Goff will have his work cut out for him against one of the NFL’s hottest teams Sunday. The follow-up question, if we’re playing the matchup game, is where Los Angeles could have found him a better spot. Perhaps the Saints next week, but that game’s on the road. Definitely the 49ers at home, but that’s not until Week 16.
In other words, if the coaching staff deemed Goff finally ready for action, there was no point in holding him back. How prepared he is remains to be seen.
“Could he be playing right now? Is he capable of playing in the National Football League right now? My answer would be yes,” Rams QBs coach Chris Weinke told The MMQB’s Emily Kaplan earlier this month. “But if we’re being truly honest with ourselves, and we knew when we went through the process of drafting him, we knew it was going to take some time, and we were O.K. with that.”
Weinke also reiterated during that interview that the Rams had no plans to change their offense for Goff, which both helps explain the delay in Goff’s debut and possibly sends up an alarm about how he will fare.
Goff’s transition from Cal’s Air Raid offense to the Rams’ more conventional, pro-style system always was going to be a challenge. It appeared to be slow going in the preseason, too, as Goff struggled while saddled with the second-team offense. Weinke cited footwork as one of the trouble spots upon arrival for Goff, who was almost exclusively a shotgun QB in college.
But bigger issues may await within the offense. Displaced starter Case Keenum did little to elevate the Rams’ attack, other than forming a connection with Kenny Britt. He also was far from the only problem L.A. had. The offensive line has been overmatched for much of the year, and offensive coordinator Rob Boras has found no surefire way to free up running back Todd Gurley.
Coach Jeff Fisher himself even claimed, repeatedly, that Keenum was not the issue. “I don’t believe it’s quarterback play,” he said. “I think it’s collectively we’re making mistakes.”
This is a flawed offense. Will any of that change with Goff at the helm?
In theory, it could, if he is better able to spread the football around to the Rams’ receivers. Britt is on pace for 1,000 yards but no other player has hit the 500-yard mark yet, while Tavon Austin is wallowing with 8.6 yards per catch. Forcing defenses to defend the perimeter would provide Gurley better odds inside.
However, if the game plan is going to be more or less the same, as Weinke hinted, Goff will have his work cut out for him.
How this decision affects Boras, Fisher and the rest of the Los Angeles staff takes on a subplot here, too. There were rumblings earlier in the season that the Rams were on the verge of signing Fisher to a contract extension, but Goff—at least from outside looking in—was viewed as a bit of a safeguard for the coach should his team struggle. Can’t fire him before seeing what the team looks like with Goff, right?
And the Rams may be committed to Fisher, for whatever reason, regardless of how this all goes. With Goff entering the lineup as his team stands 4–5, though, there is not much room for error as it pertains to 2016. If the Rams plan to finish above .500 or make a push for the playoffs, their No. 1 pick has to excel immediately. If he doesn’t, Fisher will be staring at his fifth straight season at 7–9 or worse with the Rams.
Either way, Goff is the Rams’ future. Now he is the present, as well. Time to see what the kid can do.