How is it that the Rams still aren't starting Jared Goff at QB?
It’s time we started asking a different question about the Los Angeles Rams’ quarterback situation: Namely, how bad could Jared Goff be?
Three wins in a row after an ugly beatdown on opening weekend bought Rams head coach Jeff Fisher and the team some breathing room and an acceptance of the party line that Case Keenum was the best option for the team under center, given that Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft, needed more time to be ready. But those wins have now been exceeded by four losses in a row, three of which have come at home.
The team has only avoided a turnover once this season on offense, and has had five in the past two games — a run during which Keenum has been near-disastrous.
On HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series this preseason, Fisher made a point of not wanting to be a 7-9 team, and the Rams right now are not on course to be — they’re going to fall short. At the halfway point of their season they are on track for a 6-10 record, and the No.1 overall pick of the draft has still yet to step foot on the field.
Over the past two weeks, Keenum has had PFF grades of 40.7 and 41.1 — which are terrible marks. The obvious counter would be that a rookie would be even worse, but looking at every game played by a rookie QB this season, there have only been two games graded below 40. Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz and Dallas’ Dak Prescott have each had poor performances in recent weeks when they went up against an elite defensive front that put them under all kinds of pressure.
The Rams don’t have a good offensive line, but 16 QBs have been pressured on a greater percentage of their dropbacks this season than Keenum, including Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, who leads the league in passing yards, touchdown passes and is second in passer rating and PFF grade.
Against the Giants, Keenum’s passer rating under pressure was 10. This week it was 27.6. For the season, his passer rating when kept clean is actually 95.8. If the Rams could guarantee him a perfect pocket to throw from each week they would be fine with him at the helm, but the wheels fall off when the heat is applied like few other QBs in the league. Over the entire season he has a passer rating of 31.2 when pressured and has completed under 40 percent of his passes on those throws, tossing five interceptions compared with just one touchdown pass.
Keenum’s drop in passer rating from a clean pocket to being under pressure is the third-steepest in the league in 2016, trailing only Miami’s Ryan Tannehill and Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles, both of whom are having poor seasons.
Every rookie with meaningful snaps has a better relative drop in passer rating than Keenum this season. Cleveland’s Cody Kessler – a third-round pick – drops just 14.8 points when pressured and still has a passer rating of 87.2 when the heat is applied, which is very close to the league average on all throws overall.
So again, the question must be asked: Just how not ready can Jared Goff be?
Over his final two college seasons Goff was under pressure plenty — 29.7 percent of dropbacks in 2015 and 31.6 percent the year before that — and while playing college defenses certainly help with this, his passer rating those two seasons on those plays was 87.1 and 90.6.
Goff showed the ability to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball under pressure and with rushers in his face, and while he undoubtedly needed time to learn an NFL playbook and looked anything but ready to go during the preseason, we are now halfway through the year, and he has had another two months to absorb the playbook.
In the preseason, Goff’s performance was ugly, but so was Kessler’s, and Kessler has stepped up in a significant way once the lights came on in the regular season, and done so with a comparably weak supporting cast.
At this point the Rams season is likely over from any practical standpoint. This team isn’t good enough to challenge for the playoffs, even with some standout performances on defense, so there isn’t any great need to play Goff. If he sits on the bench for the entirety of his rookie season, they will be no worse off in 2017 if he is finally ready to take the field and is the player they believed him to be when they drafted him.
But at this point with the success of so many rookie QBs that were deemed worse pro prospects than Goff just months ago, and a QB ahead of him who is playing his way desperately to the bench, each week the Rams dig their heels in and keep Goff on the bench only makes them look worse.
Keenum has been poor over the past two games, and average at best this season despite a situation surrounding him that is not prohibitively poor. Unless putting Goff out there would irreparably harm his future development, it’s time for Goff to take the field. And if throwing him out there would do that harm to his future career, you have to raise serious questions about just what kind of QB he can ever become at this level.