Jared Goff is in his head. He’s overthinking it. He’s second-guessing himself. The Cali cool that has come to define the Rams’ perpetually chill Pro Bowl quarterback is cracking.
Considering his unflinchingly even keel on the football field, it’s a rare sight to see Goff grapple so unsuccessfully with his own frustration. He’s not usually one to let things fester. “He operates with such a quieted mind all the time,” says wideout Brandin Cooks. But on a golf course, with driver in hand, Jared Goff’s mind is frenetic and full of doubt, his trademark cool compromised.
“I’m a huge headcase,” Goff said of his golf game. “People can talk about even-keeledness, but on the golf course, I get in my own head pretty easily. People can tell.”
Andrew Whitworth has seen that frustration manifest on more than a few fairways. They’ve played together plenty since Goff picked up the sport a couple years ago. “For as even-keel as he is, he gets kind of upset,” the Rams veteran left tackle describes. “Then, he overthinks.”
Whitworth smirks. That image is so contrary to the calm, collected one Goff has cultivated as the ascendant star quarterback at the helm of a Super Bowl contender. His effortless nonchalance is inevitably the first thing anyone says about him. At quarterback, Goff is the living personification of that well-worn sports cliche — “never too high, never too low” — a quiet field general whose in-game enthusiasm rarely ventures past semi-passionate fist pumps.
His swing may still need work, but as the Rams prepare to face the Cowboys this Saturday, Goff’s steady hand is the most critical – and, some would say, uncertain – element of the Rams’ most anticipated playoff push in nearly two decades. How far he can guide them remains to be seen, especially in light of his less-than-steady performance over the final month of the season. But in the Rams locker room, teammates say their quarterback’s quiet confidence has never wavered, no matter the circumstance. And this time of year, that command can speaks volumes.
“He’s always in total control,” said wideout Robert Woods.
“He’s the same guy all the time,” said center John Sullivan.
To prove their point, both Woods and Sullivan point to last month’s loss in Chicago, when Goff was battered by the Bears pass rush and picked off a career-high four times, sending him careening into a late-season slump. It was a demoralizing defeat, one everyone knew would be blamed on Goff’s poor play. The next day, though, the quarterback appeared completely unaffected. As Whitworth remembers, “Jared just joked that (during) his rookie season, it was like that every single week.”
Back then, no one could’ve foretold the heights Goff has reached this season. His 4,688 passing yards rank second in franchise history, just 142 yards short of Kurt Warner’s single-season record. His 32 touchdowns rank third. Until the Rams’ bye week in late November, Goff was a leading contender for league MVP, silencing those who suggested early on in the season that he was merely a “system quarterback”.
No system, though, could’ve possibly computed the kind of performance Goff put together against Minnesota at the end of September. It was that night that he seemed to announce to the world his newfound command of the Rams offense. Goff completed 26 of 33 passes for 465 yards and five touchdowns becoming just the 23rd quarterback ever to compile a perfect passer rating (158.3) with 20 or more attempts in a game.
His control was so complete that on one throw, late in the first half, Goff seemed to openly defy the laws of physics. As he rolled right, launching a risky throw off one foot, his pass followed a near-impossible trajectory towards the corner of the end zone, slicing through two defenders, before somehow landing in Cooper Kupp’s outstretched arms.
“He was doing that all night, putting balls wherever he wanted,” Kupp said at the time.
On another throw, earlier in the second quarter, Goff faked a handoff, watching out of the corner of his eye as Kupp faked a block, then wheeled up the field. They’d tweaked this particular play during the week, and Goff knew exactly where Kupp would be as he cut left. He skied a perfect pass down the field, and Kupp reeled it in for a 70-yard touchdown. As he did, Goff ran towards Sean McVay on the sideline, where they met mid-air for a chest bump.
There weren’t many other bumps on the way to a 10-1 start this season, but after the bye week, the sense of command never quite returned. Over the next three weeks, Goff completed just 55 percent of his passes, while throwing six picks – the same amount he threw over the season’s other 13 weeks.
So, what happened to Goff over that stretch? For the Rams – and the defenses tasked with stopping them – that question is paramount as the playoffs begin. Teams are certain to use lessons learned from tape of that stretch, in hopes of rattling the Rams signal caller.
“The more you play, the more is expected of you, the more pressure you’re under, you really get to test that even keel,” Whitworth said. “Sometimes being young, having less expectation, it’s a little easier to be that way.”
Against the Bears, more than half of Goff’s dropbacks resulted in heavy pressure, leaving him no time to go through his reads or find his rhythm. A week later, Goff struggled against Philadelphia’s 3-deep zone coverages, repeatedly missing open throws as the Eagles challenged him to settle only for routes on underneath. For the first time all season, defenses were forcing him into mental mistakes that negated the benefits of McVay’s system. No longer were the Rams’ long-developing, big plays getting the necessary time to develop.
On a 3rd-and-1, late in the third quarter against the Eagles, Goff appeared to lose his cool. After stepping on his lineman’s foot, he dropped the snap, then tried to retrieve it for a desperation throw. Instead, he fumbled again, and the Eagles recovered. Two plays later, they scored the deciding touchdown.
After the fumble, McVay approached Goff on the bench, for a brief conversation that was captured by NFL Films. “You OK?” the coach asked.
Goff nodded. “I’m fine,” he said. “Just frustrated.”
The next day, no one around the Rams could detect any difference in their quarterback. But as the Rams dropped consecutive games for the first time with McVay as coach, the reality of the situation was impossible to ignore. The Rams’ offensive vulnerabilities had been laid bare.
Even as their offense seemed to get back on track over the season’s final two weeks, it’s still unclear if the issues exploited by the Eagles and Bears were ironed out entirely. Doubts about Goff still persist, in spite of his brilliance in the first three months of the season. As such, the Rams are far from Super Bowl favorites. “Nobody is talking about us,” veteran guard Rodger Saffold said.
“For a two-game stretch, a lot of people lost a lot of faith,” Whitworth added. “Being the quarterback, that ends up centered on him.”
Goff understands this, and, as you might imagine, he shrugs at the notion. But as the Cowboys invade the Coliseum on Saturday, their suffocating front-seven will likely aim to pressure Goff as much as possible. They’ll try to take away his first read and neutralize the Rams’ play action.
How Goff responds could very well decide the Rams’ postseason fate – and more. “Guys that win in the playoffs are usually the ones that are remembered,” Goff says.
It’s an interesting thought for a quarterback who doesn’t often consider such things. But as the Rams set course for a possible Super Bowl run, there’s no need to overthink that just yet.