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Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings for quarterbacks under pressure reiterate how important it is for Los Angeles Rams to protect QB Jared Goff

Goff is essentially two different quarterbacks. The one with a clean pocket? One of the best in the NFL. The one under pressure? One of the worst.

Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff calls a play at the line of scrimmage during the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Nov. 26, 2017.
Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff calls a play at the line of scrimmage during the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Nov. 26, 2017.
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

...The bigger issue is with Goff struggling against pressure. In 2018, Goff has posted an 83.8 Total QBR when he’s unpressured, the fifth-best mark in the league. When he is pressured, though, Goff’s QBR falls all the way down to 11.3, which is just between Marcus Mariota and Josh Rosen for 25th in the league. That 72.5-point slide is the biggest drop-off for any quarterback in the NFL.

That was ESPN’s Bill Barnwell in mid-December talking about Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff and the two starkly differing levels of play he offered to that point.

When he was protected and allowed to operate in a clean pocket, Goff had proven himself able to produce as well as nearly any QB in the NFL. When pressured though in spite of the brilliance of Head Coach Sean McVay and the personnel around him, he was among the worst.

Over at Football Outsiders today, Scott Spratt has posted updated DVOA rankings for 34 quarterbacks and how they performed both when under pressure and not. It tells the same story for Goff.

When he was protected (and Goff had the fifth-best protection rate per their evaluation), Goff was the fifth-best QB in the NFL. But under pressure? Goff finished 24th in DVOA leaving him with the fifth-biggest difference between his performance when protected and when under pressure.

That volatility is perhaps the center of the attention for the offense heading into the season with the only personnel changes on the starting offense coming on the offensive line.

The Rams’ offensive line in 2018 was fantastic. The loss of LG Rodger Saffold III and C John Sullivan should not be underestimated. That’s not to say that presumptive starters OL Joseph Noteboom and C Brian Allen should be expected to perform below adequacy. It simply means the bar set by the 2018 line was set extremely high. I mentioned that they left Goff with the fifth-best protection rate per Football Outsiders, but FO also ranked them the best run-blocking line in the entire NFL.

And while the run game offers some unpredictability itself thanks to the saga surrounding RB Todd Gurley’s knee and the addition of RB Darrell Henderson via the 2019 NFL Draft, the downside isn’t as stark as it is with Goff.

For all of his skills and despite a phenomenal performance late in the NFC Championship against the New Orleans Saints where he was brilliant dealing with pressure, Goff simply has not been good under pressure on the whole.

Here’s Spratt’s thoughts on Goff:

It is an incredible story that Goff turned [his performance while not under pressure] around. But Sean McVay makes Goff’s pressure splits the most fascinating part of this analysis. With McVay, Goff went from worst to nearly first in DVOA without pressure, but he has made only modest improvements to his DVOA with pressure. It’s hard not to read those splits as evidence of McVay’s brilliance rather than Goff’s. McVay famously communicates his pre-snap reads to help simplify Goff’s responsibilities, and when the Patriots switched defenses after communications cut off with fewer than 15 seconds on every play clock in the Super Bowl, Goff struggled. After throwing to the same receiver running the same route on the previous play, Goff put the final nail in the Rams’ coffin when he panicked in reaction to the Patriots’ fourth-quarter blitz and threw an easy pass for Stephon Gilmore to intercept. That decision punctuated a season full of similar mistakes.

Clearly, Goff’s poor play under pressure is not a dealbreaker or the Rams would not have been in the Super Bowl in the first place. McVay has done an excellent job in limiting the amount of pressure Goff sees, cutting the team’s pressure rate from a league-leading 40.4 percent the year prior to his arrival to 30.7 and 25.5 percent the last two seasons, both bottom-10 in football. And the offseason should provide McVay the time to create strategies like a hurry-up offense to counter the blueprint that Bill Belichick’s play-switching provided for other teams.

Meanwhile, Goff has a more realistic role model for his potential improvement than Rosen does in Goff. Kirk Cousins was a bottom-third performer under pressure in each of his first two seasons as a starter and has climbed all the way to the top 10 as of 2018. One could argue that Goff is even ahead of that pace given that Cousins spent the first two years of his career on the bench.

So for Goff himself, there’s reason for optimism. He’s continued to improve individually every offseason, and there’s cause to believe he’ll continue to do so especially with as much room as he has to improve under pressure.

But perhaps more important is the performance of the offensive line. As good as they were in 2018, they didn’t make Goff’s struggles under pressure a frequent feature. The 2019 line will be tasked with the same.

Given how poorly Goff was under pressure last year, that’s a tall task.