Jared Goff came a long way in his first three NFL seasons, evolving from a struggling rookie in 2016 to an MVP candidate last year.
But the quarterback who helped guide the Los Angeles Rams to a 24-8 record over the past two regular seasons has been replaced by an imposter of late. Goff has struggled royally under pressure going back to last postseason (including Super Bowl LIII) and hasn't had nearly the success on intermediate or deep passes that we've become accustomed to seeing.
Over his last four starts, dating back to the 2018 NFC Divisional Round, Goff has a 29.8 passer rating when under pressure, completing just 33.3 percent of his passes for zero touchdowns and two picks, per Next Gen Stats. While not necessarily known for his production under duress, Goff's track record while playing for head coach Sean McVay the previous two seasons (12:6 TD-to-INT ratio, 42.4 completion percentage, 67.6 passer rating) clearly suggests the QB is currently in a funk.
One of the reasons that appears to be holding back the former No. 1 overall pick more recently is the team's reduced use of play action. Goff has performed far better under pressure when throwing out of play action over his last four games, but against the Panthers on Sunday, the Rams ran play action on just 26.8 percent of their dropbacks -- down about 18 percent from the two-year average in 2017 and '18, per Next Gen Stats. Calling more play action won't alleviate all of Goff's struggles under pressure, but the data and tape show he's more comfortable, composed and effective throwing out of action concepts during those situations than taking traditional three- and five-step drops.
His recent regression on intermediate and deep throws has been more head-scratching and concerning, as the Rams often relied on these chunk plays as a catalyst for their offense. Next Gen Stats reveal that in his two full seasons under McVay, Goff completed 50.9 percent of his passes of 10-plus air yards (ranks 10th among qualifying QBs during that span), for 4,249 yards (4th), 11.4 yards per attempt (T-5th) and a 97.4 passer rating (15th).
Where has that quarterback been? In his last four games (2018 playoffs and Week 1 of 2019), the Rams passer has mustered a disappointing 59.3 passer rating on those throws while managing just 8.7 yards per attempt and zero touchdowns against two picks, per NGS. In fact, Goff had the worst passer rating (18.8) of any quarterback in Week 1 on passes of 10-plus air yards, going 4 of 13 for 72 yards, including 0 for 4 on deep passes (20-plus air yards).
A lot of his miscues downfield are a direct result of poor mechanics. When taking a closer look at Sunday's performance, Goff's hips weren't open to the throw on a lot of his incompletions. His hips are naturally open to the right as a right-handed thrower, so he must be mechanically sound on throws to the left. On incompletions to the left -- there were several against Carolina -- Goff airmailed throws over open receivers because he didn't get his hips completely open to his target. When your hips are the issue, the throw feels good coming out of your hand and feels like it's right on the money -- until it's not.
Another area that gave Goff fits Sunday was the timing of his throws, most notably on his fourth-quarter interception. The fourth-year pro threw the ball afterRobert Woods broke his route, so the ball was delivered behind the receiver, making it easier for Panthers cornerback James Bradberry to make a play. Goff must throw with more anticipation, and the way to do that is to make a conscious effort to do it in practice. Peyton Manning used to talk about how he'd push the anticipation on throws to uncomfortable levels during practice because then the ball wouldn't be late in games.
In fairness to Goff, it was like Bradberry knew Woods was running a dig route. There's more than enough film on McVay at this point that he has to keep advancing his route concepts so they don't become stale. If defenders have an idea of what the Rams will run -- despite the smoke and mirrors -- McVay's unit won't produce numbers even close to last year's. The coach has the talent to innovate and push the envelope -- he just needs to continue to do what got him the job in the first place.
I'm confident that if McVay can continue to be the creative offensive mind that he is and Goff can work through his mechanical issues, the quarterback can get back to the level we saw during the 2018 regular season. Sunday's rematch of last year's wildly competitive (and controversial) NFC title game with the Saints should be quite telling about the direction Goff's season could go.
Entering the 2019 NFL season, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr takes a look at all offensive players and ranks his top 15. For the first quarter of the season, the rankings are based on a combination of:
1) Player accomplishments prior to the 2019 season.
2) Weekly performances, while considering strength of opponent.
Rankings will be solely judged on this season's efforts following Week 4. With Week 1 already in the books, here is Carr's list:
A year ago, the Jaguars were the only opponent to deny Mahomes a passing touchdown. But the reigning league MVP took care of business this time around and threw for nearly 400 passing yards, three TDs and a 143.2 passer rating. Even with a bum ankle and losing Tyreek Hill early in the first quarter, Mahomes raised the level of those around him and led the Chiefs to victory.
McCaffrey has done nothing but impress me since the beginning of the 2018 season, and if anything, Sunday's performance proved why he should be considered the best back in the NFL. McCaffrey did everything for the Panthers (again) vs. the Rams by gaining 128 rush yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries and 81 receiving yards on 10 catches. He looked like the Hulk during his second score of the game, hoisting himself in a plank just inches off the ground while defenders struggled to bring him down. If THIS is the Christian McCaffrey that came to play in 2019, league MVP could be within reach.
Barkley fumbled the ball on his first touch of the 2019 season -- luckily, it was recovered by the Giants. On the very next play, the second-year back rushed for 59 yards. He constantly looks to the next play no matter what happened on the previous play. Pat Shurmur gave Barkley 15 touches against the Cowboys, and I'm hoping he decides to double his touch count going forward. I'm sure I'm not alone in that.
The veteran quarterback was business as usual and was never rattled, even when trailing with less than a minute left in the game. Brees orchestrated his 49th career game-winning drive, which was capped by a drilled 58-yard field goal by Wil Lutz as time expired. At 40 years old, Brees looks as good as he's ever been.
The Seahawks QB1, who had a career-high 35 touchdown passes last season, was efficient in his 2019 debut, going 14-of-20 for 196 passing yards, two TD passes and a 134.6 passer rating against an impressive Bengals defense. Wilson is the steady player and leader this young team needs, and they'll be competitive as long as he's there.
Zeke joined the Cowboys less than a week before the season opener, but you couldn't tell by his Week 1 performance. Sure, he only had 14 touches but his presence alone took the Cowboys' offense to a different level. We'll start to see Dallas lean on its two-time league rushing leader going forward no matter how well Dak Prescott plays.
After having zero drops on 163 targets last season, Hopkins had three drops in Monday night's loss. It's not ideal but it feels minor considering everything he does for Deshaun Watson and the Texans' offense. The team's best offensive weapon, Hopkins accounted for 44.8 percent of the Texans' targets and 40 percent of the team's receptions in this game.
Questions about Gurley's knee circulated all offseason, and we got our answer Sunday. Like my colleague Maurice Jones-Drew said in June, less is more when it comes to Gurley. And against the Panthers, the star running back had just 14 carries with a majority of those coming in the second half, when he racked up 89 yards on nine carries for a whopping 9.9 yards per carry. Yeah, he's gonna be fine.
Brady's endless list of accomplishments almost puts him on this list by default, but the veteran quarterback can still ball at 42 years old. He was on a mission Sunday night against the Steelers as he dissected the defense for 341 passing yards and three passing touchdowns. I can only imagine what his numbers look like once Antonio Brown takes the field.
Kamara looked like a bat out of hell Monday night, running all over Houston's defenders. According to Pro Football Focus, Kamara forced nine missed tackles on 20 touches and finished with 169 scrimmage yards. As expected, Kamara proved he can handle being the Saints' starting running back right from the start.
Kittle quickly became one of my favorite players to watch last season and the league's best overall tight end. After a record-setting 2018, I'm interested to see how he handles the pressure of being one of the best at his position. He handled it well and would have gotten in the end zone if it hadn't been for penalties.
The Vikings pressured Matt Ryan all game long, which hindered his connection with the league's highest-paid receiver throughout the contest. On 11 targets, Jones hauled in six receptions for just 31 yards -- the fewest receiving yards on 10-plus targets in his career -- but I was happy to see the star wideout get in the end zone, an area that he's struggled with at times in the past. Let's not forget, though, that Jones has logged at least 1,400 receiving yards in each of the last five seasons. He belongs on this list, period.
Thomas gets better and better every season, and he started 2019 with a bang by logging 10 receptions for 123 receiving yards in Monday's win. The newly paid wideout has seven games of 10-plus receptions over the last two seasons (most in the NFL), so don't be surprised when he puts up these numbers every week.
Rodgers and the Packers' offense got out to a shaky start against the ferocious Bears' D, as Rogers was sacked twice and only threw for five yards in the first quarter. Although the veteran QB was sacked five times in the contest, he found a way to get it done by taking advantage when he had the chance.
Jackson's throwing ability was doubted all offseason, so throwing for 324 yards and five touchdowns in Week 1 had to feel good. Like he said after the win, "Not bad for a running back." It seems the Ravens have the whole package when it comes to the quarterback position, and now that we've seen what Jackson is capable of in the pass game, this offense looks like a nightmare to defend.
JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 15
Carson Wentz, QB, Eagles: Once again, Wentz played well in his first game back after returning from injury. He led the Eagles to a comeback win against the Redskins by overcoming a 17-point deficit. The fourth-year quarterback is 8-2 against the NFC East since the start of 2017. I'd take Wentz leading my team any day of the week.
Derrick Henry, RB, Titans: The Titans RB1 finished the 2018 campaign on a tear and didn't let down in Week 1 against the Browns. He had himself a day with 19 carries for 84 yards and a touchdown and a 75-yard touchdown catch and run.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts: Hilton is one of the more underrated receivers in the league, but I'm guessing people will begin to realize how talented he is now that Andrew Luck is gone. On the road against a good Chargers defense, Hilton hauled in eight catches for 87 yards and two receiving touchdowns, including the game-tying score with 38 seconds left in regulation. Expect more outings like this.
Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs: Kelce has been great for the Chiefs for years. He started his 2019 campaign off with three receptions for 88 yards against the Jags, and he should've had a touchdown but Mahomes got too cute.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Chiefs: The former first-rounder has yet to prove he can be a team's go-to receiver, but he stepped up in a major way in the opener with nine catches for 198 yards and three touchdowns on 11 targets. I wanted to acknowledge Watkins' HUGE day, but he'll have to consistently produce for the Chiefs now that Tyreek Hill is sidelined for a few weeks. And, to stay with the names on this list.
Darren Waller, TE, Raiders: Waller surprised some people in his debut with the Raiders with seven receptions for 70 yards. We saw his big-play ability against the Broncos and why I put him in my top 10 tight ends list earlier this summer.