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Jared Goff can silence his critics by beating 49ers on Sunday

Returning to the Super Bowl would disprove narratives surrounding the QB since 2018

NFC Divisional Playoffs - Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Detroit Lions Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Jared Goff’s rookie season for the Los Angeles Rams under then-head coach Jeff Fisher was one of the worst debuts we’ve seen for any rookie quarterback, let alone one selected with the first overall pick. Goff’s introduction to the professional football world on Hard Knocks that covered LA’s training camp didn’t do much to help his cause either—and he’s still taking flak for being from a coastal state like California and not knowing which direction the sun sets in.

Many people in football wrote of Goff after his first season. So when Sean McVay joined the Rams as the youngest head coach in modern NFL history and found immediate success with a quarterback that didn’t show much in his first year, naturally McVay garnered all the credit and Goff was never regarded as much more than a system quarterback.

Most parts of the Rams, Goff, and McVay have been well litigated and rehashed over and over. They aren’t worth talking about anymore. The reason I’m writing today is to point out that is might be time to revisit a few narratives surrounding Goff’s career that we’ve always held close to facts and consider them for what they may have been all along: fiction.

Jared Goff can disprove key criticisms that have plagued his NFL career by taking down the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game on Sunday. His comeback arc is in full swing and most won’t be able to appreciate it until the run is complete.

NFC Championship - Los Angeles Rams v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Sean McVay failed to develop Jared Goff to his full potential

Don’t read this as McVay failed to develop Goff, because that’s 100% not accurate. Goff may have flamed out quicker than any quarterback selected first overall based on his first season if McVay didn’t come to Los Angeles and install an offensive scheme that caught the league off guard on day one. There were a number of “easy buttons” embedded in McVay’s offense that lowered the degree of difficulty for quarterbacks, and that ultimately helped Goff grow comfortable and become confident at the next level.

But apply a filter from the corporate realm or parenting to the dynamic between McVay and Goff and it becomes easier to understand. How can you be disappointed with the performance of an employee or the maturation of your child if you only ever give them the short-term answers they need to do their job or fill immediate needs? The most valuable lesson you can teach someone is how to find the answers or draw up solutions on their own.

McVay spent his time with Goff diagnosing defenses at the line of scrimmage and changing plays before the speaker in the QB’s helmet shut off. McVay’s offense was over reliant on play action and the Rams never really developed a sound drop back passing game. When one cog in the machine malfunctioned, it seemed like the whole system was moments away from spinning apart—and that’s ultimately the boiling point we reached in the 2018 Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots.

Rams offensive personnel deteriorated from 2018 to 2020

One under the radar fact from the 2018 Super Bowl is that Cooper Kupp suffered a knee injury and missed the second half of that season. We know how important Kupp was to the Rams offense, and he reached the pinnacle of his heights in Super Bowl LVI against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Staying in 2018 for a little longer, the offensive personnel without Kupp in the big game against the Patriots also didn’t have their best night. While Josh Reynolds was credited with the only official drop in that game, Brandin Cooks converted only two of five contested catch opportunities and Robert Woods was one of three in the same area. Cooks came up short on a throw to the goal line and then couldn’t come down with the infamous throw from Goff to the back of the end zone, which we can of course debate that he was late to identify Cooks on that play.

That’s simply not a strong enough performance on football’s biggest stage from a receiver duo that was playing as well as anyone coming into the game. We also know the running game was not effective behind a hobbled Todd Gurley and journeyman CJ Anderson.

Goff played two more years with the Rams before being traded at the conclusion of the 2022 season. The surrounding offensive personnel was never as strong as it was before Kupp’s injury in 2018. Gurley, who was once the focal point of the offense and never truly replaced by the Rams until Kyren Williams’ 2023 breakout, continued to decline and was cut after the 2019 season. Cooks battled his history of concussions and missed a slew of games in 2019 before being traded to the Houston Texas. The Rams drafted Van Jefferson in 2020 and he had a minimal impact as a rookie. All while the offensive line crated in 2019 and marginally bounced back in 2020.

The tensions between McVay and Goff reached their boiling point while Brandon Staley’s defense was the NFL’s first ranked unit but Los Angeles couldn’t string production together on the offensive side of the ball. Ultimately we know the two were headed towards a separation.

It’s no coincidence that Goff has saved his career and become one of the most consistent and reliable quarterbacks in the NFL behind a top Detroit Lions offensive line. It’s a failure by the Rams to never invest in this position group with Goff under center between 2019 and 2020.

Jared Goff could have gotten Rams back to the Super Bowl

I asked shortly after LA’s world championship “how many QB’s could have won the Super Bowl for the 2021 Rams?” It’s a fair question because it’s true that the Rams had a superstar-caliber roster and were strong nearly across the board. Andrew Whitworth was one of the best left tackles in football. Kupp had a historic year and was complemented at times by Jefferson, Woods, and Odell Beckham, Jr. The Rams traded for Sony Michel before the onset of the regular season when Cam Akers tore his Achilles.

On the defensive side of the ball it all revolved around Aaron Donald. Jalen Ramsey had one of the best seasons for a corner we’ve seen. Von Miller was a stellar late addition that took the Rams’ defense from good to elite—I don’t think we appreciate this unit for their greatness enough because of Miller’s contributions and not seeing them for a full season. Leonard Floyd, Greg Gaines, Eric Weddle, Nick Scott, A’Shawn Robinson, and Ernest Jones were all role players that had their moments too.

The bottom line is that there’s much more to the 2021 Rams than the offseason trade that swapped Goff and Matthew Stafford. The Stafford acquisition also wasn’t the only trade Los Angeles made, as they also added Miller and Michel. OBJ was signed as a free agent around the trade deadline as well.

That isn’t to discount Stafford’s efforts over his first season in Los Angeles; however, if we’re being realistic his play wasn’t much different from the first 12 years of his career in Detroit. The highs are obviously high and exciting, but Stafford has always had a tendency to be streaky—and that was evident midseason when the Rams dropped three games in a row that were trademarked by costly turnovers and offensive ineffectiveness.

But it wasn’t Stafford that pulled the Rams out of their midseason slump. It was Michel and a renewed focus on a physical running game. Stafford didn’t regain his momentum until the playoffs when he went on a heater and maintained the streak through Super Bowl LVI.

Jared Goff isn’t the same player we saw in Los Angeles

Yes, the Lions have an elite offensive line, play makers to boot, and one of the most highly regarded play callers in the NFL currently. Still, Goff is no longer a quarterback that is buoyed by the scheme—he’s become the system.

There’s nothing inherently flashy about Goff’s game. If you don’t understand what you’re watching you probably think it’s boring, but he’s developed such subtleties that has made him amongst the most efficient at the position.

Look no further than the wildcard matchup against the Rams to see the difference in what Goff is now and what he used to be.

The Lions quarterback was near-perfect (don’t just take my word for it) aside from a turnover-worthy play that came while he was within Aaron Donald’s grasp. After accounting for drops and unaimed throws, Goff finished against the Rams with an astonishing 88.0% adjusted completion percentage. The box score doesn’t do his performance justice at 22/27 (81.5%) for 277 yards and a touchdown, but he effectively suffocated Stafford and the Rams offense by making the degree of difficulty so high. If the Rams didn’t come away with points on nearly every drive they were falling behind—and that’s why LA was forced to play comeback from the first drive.

On the flip side, as Rams fans, we are left wondering what could have been. Stafford’s performance in the game will be remembered in a positive light, as it should. However, he made at least two key mistakes that the quarterback on the opposing sideline didn’t—and that’s missing a 50+-yard throw to Kupp along the sideline and another miss at the back corner of the end zone on an open fade.

Stafford finished the Lions game with an adjusted completion percentage of 78.8%, which is one of his better performances this season. Still, that marginal 10% was effectively the edge that put the Lions in the win columns.

Big picture, Jared Goff is now playing quarterback the right way in Detroit. He’s learned how to play the position as it’s intended and is taking his performance to new heights. While Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson operate in their own world for the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens, respectively, Goff is still the best quarterback remaining in the NFC side of the playoffs and will put up a strong fight against his former division rival 49ers.

A win would be transformative for Goff’s career and cause us to rethink several key narratives surrounding the quarterback’s time with the Rams.