Where Did All the Deep Balls Go, the Bad Sequel

Not This Again

Towards the end of the 2020 season, I wrote a long fanpost discussing how the deep passing game had almost entirely disappeared from the Rams offense. Today, I was looking at some NFL next gen stats and was stunned. They have a category called Intended Air Yards, measuring how far the QB's intended pass travels down the field in relation to the LOS. A pass behind the line can go for negative yards.

Back in 2020, Jared Goff averaged 6.5 IAY per pass, which ranked 38th in the NFL. Last year playing for a Detroit Lions that had a very weak WR group, he again ranked 38th in the NFL in IAY, this time with 6.6 IAY.

Meanwhile, Matthew Stafford his final season in Detroit had 9.0 IAY, ranking 6th in the NFL. Playing for the Rams in 2021, Stafford again ranked in the top 10, as his 8.5 IAY was 8th highest in the NFL.

Through the first 4 games of 2022, Goff is averaging 9.1 IAY, 7th highest in the NFL. That mark is even barely higher than Stafford's 2020 number. In contrast, Stafford's 6.4 IAY this season places 29th in the league. The number is so low that it is even slightly behind Goff's 2020 level.

How did we get here? It is like the same bad movie all over again, just with a slightly different cast of characters.

Hope Not All Lost

Before we panic too much, consider that Aaron Rodgers ranks even lower in IAY this year than Stafford. ARod is next to last (Kyler Murray is dead last) in IAY in 31st place with 6.1 IAY. Even more, Josh Allen and Justin Herbert are both tied with 6.9 IAY, not too far ahead of Stafford.

You might to surprised to discover that last season Patrick Mahomes only ranked 32nd in IAY at 7.3. So, there isn't necessarily anything inherently great about having a high IAY number or bad about having a relatively low IAY mark.

Still, the dramatic dropoff in IAY for the Rams in 2022 compared to 2021 is jarring and I feel not part of an intentional plan by McVay. I suspect the Rams would prefer to hit more deep shots with Stafford, they simply can't accomplish it right now, whether it is due to shaky offensive line pass protection, not having a speedy deep WR that they trust, not being able to set up play action with an effective run game, playing against strong defenses, or some other factor.

I'm not going to repeat all the reasons an effective deep ball game is important for helping a QB's stats or having an effective offense, because I already discussed the issue at length back during the 2020 season, but the bottom line is I think the Rams need to fix this problem. I don't know how they are going to do it, but something needs to change.

I'm surprised that the Lions and Goff can throw it deep effectively, because Jameson Williams, the WR who was supposed to be the key to unlocking that area of the field, hasn't played at all this season and isn't expected to enter the lineup anytime soon. So, I'm not convinced Goff can sustain that level of downfield passing as we head deeper into the season.

What is holding the Rams back at the moment? Why aren't the Rams able to attempt deeper passes?