Jared Goff, Sean McVay and Touchdown-to-Interception Ratios

Quarterbacks are regularly defined by their biggest plays. Few quarterbacks with good touchdown-to-interception ratios are considered bad. No quarterbacks with bad touchdown to interception ratios are considered good. Touchdown-to-interception ratios carry a lot of weight in arguments for or against quarterbacks, unless you’re Colin Kaepernick then it magically doesn’t matter for some reason.

Jared Goff threw five touchdowns and seven interceptions during his rookie season. It made it easier to paint a picture of how poorly Goff played.

The first-overall pick in the 2016 draft was truly atrocious. He wasn’t just bad because he was a rookie or because he played in a bad offense, he regularly defeated himself without ever giving plays a chance to succeed. He stared down receivers, turned away from any hint of pressure and constantly missed wide open receivers by large margins.

Now that Goff’s numbers have swung in the other direction the easy answer is that he’s developed into a good quarterback. Goff has thrown 16 touchdowns to just four interceptions while averaging 8.5 yards per attempt this season. He is no longer beating himself before the play even begins. He’s falling over on his own less often and making throws an NFL quarterback would expect to make.

With that said, he hasn’t really developed that much. Goff has gone from an atrocious quarterback to a subpar quarterback. But a subpar quarterback in the ideal situation can be a productive player. And that’s what is happening in Los Angeles.

Goff’s small step forward was part of a complete rebuild of the Rams offense. Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan changed the makeup of the offensive line. Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp gave Goff a diverse and congruent receiving corps. Gerald Everett added an athletic tight end to the already talented Tyler Higbee. With Sean McVay at the helm calling diverse plays that kept defenses off balance and used players appropriately, the Rams were able to let Todd Gurley be Todd Gurley.

All of those changes led to Jared Goff’s bloated output. All of those changes can be consistently seen in Goff’s touchdowns.

 

Touchdown 1:

Goff threw his first touchdown of the season in Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts could do little to contain the Rams offense in that game, Goff threw for 300 yards and the final score was 46-9. This was Goff’s only touchdown of the game though. It was emblematic of the mismatch between the Rams offense and the Colts defense.

This play begins long before our quarterback touches the ball. Sean McVay uses motion before the snap to help his quarterback anticipate coverages. On this play, Robert Woods moves from his wide left position into the right slot, a defender follows him across the field while the linebacker on the opposite side of the field takes a more square-on alignment to the tight end who is stacked with Cooper Kupp.

Kupp and the tight end release from the same area of the field and then run routes that complement each other. Kupp advances downfield for his post route while his compatriot breaks infield on a shallower route. This puts both receivers in the same line of vision for Goff. Goff never takes his eyes away from the left seam throughout the play.

With the routes complementing each other it’s harder for the safety on that side of the field to read Goff’s eyes. He stays in one position as Kupp advances past his outside shoulder. Meanwhile, Goff has reached the top of his drop and is standing like a statue in the pocket. His pass protection is so good that he can stand in the same spot and wait until Kupp has come out of his break.

He even waits for another moment, for Kupp to take another step in behind the coverage.

It appears that the other safety blew his coverage. He was drawn to an underneath defender and his reaction as the play developed suggested he was late to recognize that he was out of position. That left a void in the middle of the field for the Cots. Goff didn’t need to fit the ball into a window or throw with anticipation. His pass protection was so good that he could wait and release the ball late. The coverage was so bad that he wouldn’t be punished for releasing the ball late.

 

Touchdown 2:

The biggest play Goff made in Week 2 was to throw a game-ending interception late in the fourth quarter. He did throw his second touchdown of the season in the third quarter. It wasn’t a play that requires a huge amount of explanation. Goff settled at the top of his drop with no obvious receiver to throw to. When frontside pressure came, he bailed and found Todd Gurley in the flat.

Gurley turned a solid play from his quarterback into a big gain and a touchdown by making a defender miss after the catch.

 

Touchdown 3:

Gurley was the target again for Goff’s first touchdown of Week 3. This Thursday Night Football game against the San Francisco 49ers was by far Goff’s best game of the season so far. He made a handful of very impressive plays, highlighted by a perfectly placed and flighted deep ball to Sammy Watkins down the left sideline.

McVay plays a big role in this play. He has clearly instructed the Rams to hurry to the line and snap the ball instantly, which they do, so the defense never has an opportunity to get itself set.

The result sees Goff get an easy pick play touchdown to Gurley. Because the Rams isolated their tight end on the near side of the field and put three receivers on the wide side, the defense was stretched towards the opposite side of the field. The defender covering the Rams’ tight end was in a press position, aligned square on, meaning he wouldn’t factor into the play unless he dropped outside at the snap.

With that alignment, Goff knew that Gurley would be open. The linebacker who would need to track Gurley would either cut behind the pick play or in front of it. Had he cut in front of it Goff would have had a tougher throw to push the ball outside with a higher trajectory. Once the linebacker went behind the pick, Goff only had to release the ball on time.

 

Touchdown 4:

Packaged plays were a staple of Kyle Shanahan’s success with the Atlanta Falcons last season. A packaged play is a running play where the quarterback has the option to throw the ball based on the alignment of the defense. These are typically easy reads where the quarterback only has to check if a cornerback is lined up inside or outside of his intended receiver. This play is almost a carbon copy of Julio Jones’ touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs last year.

By bunching two receivers together, McVay forces the defensive backs into a more predictable alignment. When Goff sees the inside defender is square to Cooper Kupp, he knows Watkins will be open underneath.

The pass Goff throws isn’t a great one but Watkins holds on for the score.

 

Touchdown 5:

For the second time in the same game, Goff throws a touchdown off of a quick snap play. This time the quick snap has an even greater impact as the defense’s coverage is disrupted. When Goff looks to the right flat initially, he can see three defenders, one of whom is covering the wrong receiver, so he brings his eyes back to the middle of the field.

Goff’s pocket stays clean and Watkins is left wide open over the middle.

Watkins is open because the linebacker playing zone coverage underneath reacted to Goff’s initial eye movement and because the coverage outside of him was blown. Watkins had initially lined up at the top of the triple bunch to the left. The outside cornerback is responsible for him so he follows him infield but when Watkins settles the defender stays deep, as if expecting someone else to take over his assignment.

That never happens. Goff delivers an accurate short pass and Watkins beats multiple defenders to power his way into the endzone.

 

Touchdown 6:

This is Goff’s best touchdown to this point of the season. Motion is again used before the snap to get a hint of what coverage the Cowboys are going to play. When the cornerback follows Woods from left to right, Goff anticipates man coverage. At this point he knows that he is going left with the ball, but he needs to figure out which route he is going to throw to.

Figuring that out requires looking at the middle of the field. Goff checks the linebackers lingering over the middle, when they don’t move he understands that his slant route from the left will have a defender in the passing lane.

He whips around quickly to keep the timing of the play before delivering a perfect fastball past the defensive back trying to undercut his out route.

 

Touchdown 7:

Jeff Fisher used to use Tavon Austin as a wide receiver. He would give him carries also but Austin’s role was too broad. He can’t run routes and offers a tiny catch radius. McVay has reduced Austin’s role to that of a gadget player, something he should have been in from the start of his career. Austin now has legitimate value to the Rams offense because he helps to distort defenses.

That is what happens on this play. The threat of Austin on an end-around pulls the linebackers out of position and Goff hits Gurley on a vertical route out of the backfield.

For Goff, timing this pass and hitting the wide window was important. But it’s a throw you’d expect every starting quarterback in the NFL to make. That is because McVay created a wider window with Austin but also by making Gurley look like a lead blocker before running a route nobody expects a running back to run. Again, Kyle Shanahan used vertical routes from the backfield with great effect last season, but it’s a sparsely used concept in the NFL.

 

Touchdown 8 and Touchdown 9:

These plays came in back-to-back weeks. Sean McVay uses a variety of different screen designs to great effect. Although these plays are very different, they are both screens with designed blockers on a play where the quarterback doesn’t have to read the defense after catching the snap.

 

Touchdown 10:

NFL teams tend to drop eight players into coverage and only rush three defenders after the quarterback in the endzone. It’s typically a smart move but not so when they drop a run-stopping defensive tackle into the middle of the field. As a rookie Goff would have panicked and beaten himself on this play. He has gotten used to holding the ball in clean pocket snow though.

Goff holds the ball long enough for someone to come uncovered in the spot where the Giants defensive tackle should have been. It’s important that he moved his eyes and his feet to force the coverage to react to him.

 

Touchdown 11:

A Third-and-33 give-up screen going for a touchdown tells us a lot more about Ben McAdoo’s defense than it tells us about the Rams quarterback.

 

Touchdown 12:

Sammy Watkins’ value to the Rams has been significant. He is creating offense and forcing defenses into more predictable coverages because of his big-play threat in single coverage. Goff hasn’t consistently connected with him on deeper throws, limiting Watkins’ production, but he found him on this play.

What made this an impressive play for Goff was less the throw, once Watkins was isolated on Landon Collins it was relatively easy, and more the acumen shown. Goff audibled into this play call and released the ball at a perfect time to exploit the coverage.

 

Touchdown 13:

A hard play fake, a big lead and smart route combinations helped the Giants blow a coverage on this play. Goff had just enough time to wait for Woods to clear any defender who could have reacted to him in space.

 

Touchdown 14:

The Houston Texans largely did an excellent job of containing the Rams offense. The Rams had three drives in the first quarter and didn’t move the ball once, they finished with three points because one of those drives started in the redzone. It wasn’t until the third quarter when the Rams really did anything, but it was a significant thing.

McVay searches out big plays with aggressive play fakes and smart route combinations. He got some help from the Texans on this play.

With Goff close to his own endzone, the Texans decided to be more aggressive than they had been to that point. They went in search of a safety, leaving the back-end of the defense in perilous positions. Cooper Kupp, the slot receiver, was doubled from the beginning of the play, a curious decision that made Goff’s read easy. He hit Robert Woods in stride with no safety over the middle for a 90+ yard touchdown.

 

Touchdown 15:

Andrew Whitworth and Sammy Watkins combined on this screen. Another touchdown on another different screen design.

 

Touchdown 16:

Likely because he recognized the deep safety tipping to Watkins’ side of the field and the shifting the defensive backs made on the opposite side of the field when reacting to pre-snap motion, Goff audibled into this play for a touchdown. The hard play fake and reverse end-around for Robert Woods created space for the receiver to run in a touchdown after a simple throw from Goff.

 

Goff’s 16 touchdowns all highlighted excellent execution around him and extremely diverse play calling.

There aren’t examples of Goff evading pressure, delivering the ball into the endzone with hands in his face or just before absorbing a big hit. He doesn’t throw receivers open into tight windows. He’s executing as a piece within an outstanding offense rather than an outstanding piece in any offense.

He’s further helped by three plays (excluding screens) where one of his teammates made a defender miss to run the ball into the endzone, two plays with blown coverages and one play where he got a huge mismatch with Watkins running against Landon Collins.

Goff’s 16 touchdowns play a huge role in determining his perception as a good quarterback. He’s an improved quarterback over last season, but when you go through his snaps so far this season it becomes evident that there’s a real risk of him being overrated because of his production. He is so rarely moved off of his spot or asked to make difficult throws that it’s hard to assume he would be effective without a great supporting cast.

 

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Jared Goff’s Growth

It was a running play.

Sammy Watkins lined up just inside the numbers. He was roughly six yards to the left of Jared Goff, who was under center. Todd Gurley was behind Goff. He had just gained two yards on the Rams’ opening play of the season. The plan was to give Gurley the ball again on second down. It was an outside-zone run to the right side. Robert Woods searched out a defensive back instead of running a route at the snap. The offensive line shifted towards Woods while Jamon Brown advanced downfield to take out a linebacker. Everything on the field said it was a running play. Everything except Sammy Watkins.

Goff saw it before the snap. The outside linebacker to Watkins’ side of the field was pressed onto the line of scrimmage. The inside linebacker next to him was too far forward. Assuming Watkins could beat press coverage off the line, a safe assumption, Goff knew that he would have an easy pitch to his receiver on his slant route. Goff sold the run by turning towards Gurley before whipping back around to release the ball to Watkins. The receiver gained an easy 13 yards.

It was a running play. It was also a packaged play.

A packaged play is a running play where the quarterback has the option to throw the ball based on the alignment of the defense at the snap. On this specific play Watkins was running a slant route on the backside of the play. He wouldn’t be involved in an outside-zone run to the opposite side of the field so it’s an added wrinkle that costs the running play nothing. Packaged plays essentially allow you to audible the play without calling an audible. It’s like a read-option that occurs before the snap rather than after the snap. They are typically simple reads for the quarterback.

Sean McVay understands this. While Jeff Fisher probably doesn’t even know what a packaged play is, McVay understands their value the same way Kyle Shanahan did with Matt Ryan last season. McVay understands how to set a quarterback up for success. He sees the value in varying his play calling, working to be unpredictable rather than relying on the same three or four misdirection plays that make the offense predictable the way Jeff Fisher did. McVay features his running backs as receivers, puts his tight ends in different positions to attack different coverages and has put together a congruent receiving corps.

Last year, Kyle Shanahan and Matt Ryan relied on play action more than any other quarterback. Ryan threw a play action pass on 21.99 percent of his passes. The next closest quarterback was Dak Prescott at 18.11 percent, Ryan Tannehill was the only other quarterback to eclipse 17 percent. Goff has used play action on 23.38 percent of his attempts so far this season after using it on only 11.8 percent of his attempts last season.

Ryan gained 31.37 percent of his yards on play action passes, Goff has gained 27.78 percent of his yards on play action passes so far this season.

A good play action passing game is an unpredictable one. It’s one that mixes subtle and hard play fakes while moving the quarterback out of the pocket in both directions or keeping him in the pocket with different play designs. When the play fake is less predictable, the linebackers and defensive linemen are more likely to hesitate. Hesitating linebackers leads to distorted coverages. Hesitating defensive linemen lead to a slowed pass rush. Goff is benefiting from both things in McVay’s offense.

Play action alone can’t create clean pockets. Adding Andrew Whitworth at left tackle and John Sullivan at center gave the Rams something their line has been lacking for a decade: Established starting-quality veteran players. Whitworth is one of the best tackles in the NFL while Sullivan offers Goff a teammate who can help identify blitzes and set protections. Those two pieces ease the pressure on the young right side of the line both on the field with assignments and off the field with continuity/development.

Goff has spent much of this season bailing out of the back of the pocket and breaking into the right flat to throw the ball downfield. He’s afforded those opportunities because of the quality of his protection.

Take Gerald Everett’s 69-yard gain against Washington from Week 2.

Washington sends a five-man rush after the quarterback, a blitz. The Rams release all five eligible receivers into routes so the offensive line is trusted to win one-on-one matchups across the board. Goff’s processing is slow on this play. Washington is playing a form of Cover-3 with one deep safety in the middle of the field. Goff has an out route open to his left for a first down, then Sammy Watkins’ curl route comes open underneath on the same side of the field. When he works his eyes back to the right seam, he has a chance to hit that receiver if he leads him infield.

As he tends to do, Goff buffers in the pocket. His processing speed doesn’t allow him to recognize his opportunity to release the ball. Doing this against a five-man rush should result in a sack. But Goff’s line holds up so he has time to go through his progression, miss all the receivers, then drop backwards. Everything about this play to that point is bad for the quarterback.

Once he breaks into the right flat, the play has extended passed the point the defense expected it to. Gurley draws the zone defender underneath, the cornerback has followed the other receiver infield, leaving Gerald Everett wide open for a huge play.

This is the quintessential example of a good result, bad process play.

Because of the newfound quality surrounding him in his supporting cast, Goff is now able to be productive on bad process plays. He wasn’t able to do that last year in Jeff Fisher’s defunct, talent-deficient offense. Over the first two weeks of the season, Goff didn’t really do anything spectacular. He had still taken a step forward from his rookie season because he was executing easier plays at a higher rate, but the quality of his opponents’ play had a lot more to do with his success than his own play.

In Week 1 he was accurate on 65.52 percent of his passes, to put that in perspective Goff was accurate on 65.24 percent of all his passes last season and ranked last in the NFL for accuracy. Cooper Kupp catching two inaccurate passes to create 52 yards and the Colts complete lack of coverage and pass rush made him look good. In Week 2 he was similarly inaccurate, 65.22 percent, but showed off better reactions to pressure at different times, peak plays that he hadn’t shown off as a rookie.

Getting excited about that Week 2 performance was still a challenge because of his two worst plays of the game.

It’s Third-and-11 late in the second quarter, the Rams are trailing by 10. McVay isn’t trying to punt. He sends all five receivers out into patterns again. His four receivers release vertically downfield while Gurley waits underneath for a checkdown. It should become apparent quickly to Goff that none of his receivers will be open. Washington is playing Cover-3. Goff initially looks to Watkins on the left side who has a cornerback above him, another beneath him and a linebacker inside of him. His eyes linger on Watkins too long while he steps up in the pocket.

Goff’s initial movement to step up in the pocket is a good one. He isn’t a fast mover but he does enough to avoid the initial rush. From there he is oblivious to the pursuing defender and tries to locate one of his other receivers. Goff exposes the ball for the strip sack instead of flipping it to Gurley for a modest gain. His center fell on the ball, saving Goff from giving up a turnover deep in Rams territory that would have set Washington up to end the game as a contest with a touchdown.

Washington would eventually end the game, but not until Goff made his worst play of that particular game.

Besides being horrendously inaccurate, Goff had three main issues during his rookie season. His processing speed in the pocket invited pressure. When that pressure arrived his reaction was to panic, turn around, drop his eyes and try to run away. Those two things destroyed the design of passing plays, made it impossible for him to throw with any timing and took away his platform to throw the ball. The third issue was a commitment to staring down receivers, leading linebackers to the ball for interception opportunities.

The third issue ended the Week 2 game as a contest.

When asked after the game, Mason Foster told reporters that he anticipated Goff leading him to the ball. It was something he knew the quarterback had a tendency to do. Goff did that on this play but he still could have gotten away with it had he released the ball earlier and shown off greater velocity. Goff isn’t a big-armed passer so his passes can never catch up if he’s late releasing the ball. If you pause the above gif at the moment Goff begins to release the ball, the receiver is already coming out of his break. That can’t happen. The ball should have been arriving at the receiver when he turned, not leaving Goff’s hand at that point.

Monitoring these problems will be crucial to understanding Goff’s development over the course of this season.

Development is the key word for Goff because for as much as his overall numbers are misleading right now, he has taken a step forward. He has gone from someone who didn’t look like he belonged in the NFL, probably the worst starter in a league that boasted Blake Bortles and Josh McCown, to a competent player. He’s likely still a below-average or bottom five or six quarterback, but that’s progress. As a 22-year old quarterback, progress is enough.

That progress can be best measured in Goff’s accuracy. While his accuracy percentages in the first two games of the season were poor, Goff’s performance against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3 was undeniably excellent. He was accurate on 21 of 25 qualifying attempts while primarily working in the 1-5 yard range, 13 of his passes went into that range. More significantly, Goff was accurate on all three of his deep attempts in the game.

Goff’s deep accuracy has been excellent so far this season. It’s a relatively small sample compared to a full season but he is pushing the ball downfield at a high rate. 15.58 percent of his passes have travelled more than 20 yards downfield, that would have been the second-highest rate in the NFL last year.. He has almost doubled his eight percent rate from last season. Goff was accurate on eight of those 12 attempts, a 66.7 accuracy percentage. The best deep passer in the NFL last year was Sam Bradford at 65.85 percent.

It’s not just that he’s been accurate either. At least three of those eight accurate passes have been throws into tight coverage.

Again, the first thing we have to note on this play is the quality of the protection. Goff gets a completely clean pocket with Whitworth perfectly repelling the defender trying to get to his blindside. Goff uses that pocket to deliver a pass into Tyler Higbee. You could nitpick the placement and say it wasn’t completely perfect but it did hit the window. Importantly, Goff showed off a command of his velocity to push the ball past the trailing defender confidently. He cleared that defender without overshooting his tight end.

Higbee drops the ball but there’s nothing the quarterback can do about that. It was still an impressive throw.

That was a good throw. The next throw is a great one.

Watkins does a phenomenal job on this play. Tracking this ball through the air and controlling your body to catch it the way he did is extremely difficult. Even though it’s a difficult play for the receiver, it’s still a great throw. Goff puts a lot of air on the ball but he pushes it deep to nullify the cornerback who Watkins has beaten through his route and he pushes it wide towards the sideline to nullify the safety. Goff made sure that this ball would be caught by Watkins and nobody else while putting it in a spot where his receiver had the best chance of catching it cleanly.

Furthermore, Goff didn’t have a completely clean pocket this time. The pressure was closing in around him. He had to get rid of it and he had to do so with bodies engulfing him.

It wasn’t a Tyrod Taylor type of deep ball or a Ryan Tannehill type of deep ball. It didn’t sustain huge velocity to travel on a lower trajectory, but the placement and timing of the throw made it an accurate one. Goff didn’t show this kind of quality last year. He was a 26.67 percent deep passer last year, only Blake Bortles was worse than him. The league average was 44 percent. Goff has been 40 percent more accurate on his deep passes this season, obviously it’s a tiny sample but at this point we should still consider it growth.

Goff’s accuracy was abhorrent as a rookie. When you have so many other problems with your process in the pocket it’s very hard to be accurate. He was a bottom three passer to every level passed the line of scrimmage last year. He was dead last in the 6-10 and 11-15 yard ranges. He was the only quarterback in the league who missed more than half of his throws that travelled further than five yards downfield. It was so bad that it was hard to imagine it ever getting better. But, so far at least, it has gotten better.

Because of that performance against the 49ers, Goff is three percent more accurate in the 1-5 yard range, 16 percent more accurate in the 6-10 range, nine percent more accurate in the 11-15 yard range and 40 percent more accurate on deep throws. He is only worse so far on throws behind the line of scrimmage (where he ranked sixth in the NFL last year) and in the 16-20 yard range (where he has only thrown four passes).

He is now accurate on 61 percent of his passes that travel further than five yards downfield, far more than half of his throws.

The sustainability of Goff’s efficiency is unclear. He is gaining more than 50 percent of his yards after the catch, only seven quarterbacks did that last season. Todd Gurley’s success out of the backfield has been a source of easy offense while Robert Woods has been missed on a couple of open throws that should have been made. He has only lost one reception to receiver error, that Higbee play, and has gained three receptions on inaccurate throws that resulted in 75 yards gained. He only has one interceptable pass at least, which is promising.

What gives you pause about Goff’s performances so far is the opponents he has faced. The Washington defense dismantled the Raiders on Sunday Night Football in Week 3 but that wasn’t close to how they played in Week 2. The soft schedule and Goff’s need to take at least another step forward in his development to become even an average passer as an individual allows for skepticism.

The Cowboys secondary has been disastrous over the past two weeks so Goff should be productive this week. It’s after that game when the real tests begin. The Seahawks at home, the Jaguars in Jacksonville, the Giants in New York, the Texans at home and the Vikings in Minnesota is a combination of the best defenses in the NFL. Should Goff perform adequately over that stretch, the Rams will really have reason to get excited about their young quarterback.