Coming off a career performance in Week 3, Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff continued his upward trajectory against the Minnesota Vikings. His Week 4 performance vaults him into the early MVP race.
Even after breaking out in 2017 after head coach Sean McVay saved the Los Angeles Rams franchise from Jeff Fisher, quarterback Jared Goff didn’t seem to earn much respect. Some of that was fair; McVay relied on Todd Gurley and Sammy Watkins to be the primary creators, simplifying the roles of everyone else to maximize their impacts.
What was overlooked was Goff’s growth to become a masterful role player throughout the course of his first season with McVay. His line and protection calls sharpened, his accuracy and consistency improved, and his reaction to adverse situations became less chaotic.
Through four games in 2018, Goff has taken a primary creator role himself and it’s thrust him into the early NFL MVP discussion. He had social media buzzing as he compiled 465 yards, five touchdowns, and a perfect 158.3 passer rating on 78.8 percent completion rate.
Sometimes stat lines like those get inflated from dump-off passes and offensive design. While the Rams continue to lap opponents with offensive scheming, Goff’s simply hitting indefensible throws that transcend scheme.
His ability to make rare, tight window throws has been on display since his days at Cal, but his Thursday Night Football performance was truly special.
In charting Goff’s throws, he was a perfect 13/13 for a touchdown on play-action passes. His ability to reset his eyes and link his shoulders to his feet is an area of great improvement from last year.
Normally stoic in the pocket and relying on subtle movements to buy time when needed, the Rams were able to get more out of him in this primetime matchup as he carved up a talented Vikings defense. He attempted six passes outside of the pocket, all caught. He won’t sustain quite that rate, but it’s notable because even last year he was a mixed bag when trying to deliver accurate passes on the move.
As the Rams stretched the Vikings vertically like the Eagles did in the 2017 NFC Conference Championships, they were able to manufacture considerable running room. But the Vikings didn’t roll over despite the insane production. They were simply the victim of Goff hitting throwing lanes that had little margin for error.
All it takes is a quarterback hitting three or more of those haymakers and most defenses can’t withstand the effect of those chunk plays. They’re devastating because they’re often the difference between three and seven points on the scoreboard.
Goff hit no less than five of these game-breaking throws this week after hitting several last week.
It’s fair to point out the struggles of the Vikings’ defense. Linebacker Anthony Barr was caught way out of position on Cooper Kupp’s touchdown early in the game, but he shouldn’t have been in that situation. He was then just one-step behind Todd Gurley on this go-route from the backfield.
He was later made victim on Goff’s fifth touchdown pass of the game. Late in the third quarter, this score ended up giving the Rams the wiggle room needed to hold off the Vikings’ comeback bid.
The Rams ran four verts from the 31-yard line against the Vikings’ four-man rush. Instead of having nickel personnel on the field, Minnesota was again caught with Barr in coverage. He ran step-for-step with Robert Woods, but the ball was as close to hand-delivered from Goff as it could have been.
The go-to for Goff’s detractors is to say he’s a system quarterback. He is in the sense that he’s maximized by an efficient and explosive offensive ecosystem. But his ability to make the throws highlighted above is what makes him special and why he was the No. 1 overall pick.
Ranking quarterbacks is always difficult because we know what we see in current situations, and projecting others into something our brains haven’t physically seen before is a challenge. How would Matthew Stafford, Andy Dalton, or Joe Flacco play with the Rams? We don’t know, and isolating their performance within their respective offenses can be difficult when none of them benefit from what Goff benefits from.
Meanwhile, Goff, Patrick Mahomes, Carson Wentz, and Tom Brady have phenomenal systems that help each of them reach their peak play. It shouldn’t be held against them that they have elite staffs and they mesh well with the visions of their offensive designers, but it muddies the water.
What we can say definitively is that Goff and Mahomes have blown away expectations in 2018. Some of that is scheme and surrounding cast, and a majority of it is their own dynamic playmaking talent. I’d argue they’ve been the two best quarterbacks in the NFL as we hit the quarter-pole of the season after isolating just their play.
The NFL is a rollercoaster though and things change quickly. What happens in September can be long forgotten by December.
Still, Goff has been everything and more than what the Rams were hoping for in his third season. He has the talent and momentum needed to win the 2018 NFL MVP award, and his claim to it just became much stronger on his record-breaking night.