Expectations for Jared Goff and the Rams' offense really can't get any lower.
One year after the former Cal quarterback was selected with the first overall pick by the Rams, Los Angeles' offense is widely anticipated to be one of the worst -- if not the worst -- in the NFL. ESPN's FPI thinks even that is generous.
Under the hood in FPI are two offensive strength predictions for each team: one assuming the starting quarterback is playing and the other assuming the backup is playing. Both measurements incorporate expected points added per play and are derived from a combination of the team's offensive performance the year before, a version of the quarterback's Total QBR history and a team's Vegas win total.
With 32 teams and two quarterbacks apiece, that means 64 theoretical offenses are ranked. The Rams with Jared Goff under center? They're behind the Colts with Scott Tolzien, the Jaguars with Chad Henne and the Jets with Bryce Petty. That's right: The Rams with Goff are predicted to have the 64th-best offense among the group -- dead last. That's the kind of forecast that probably leaves Rams fans yearning for the days of guaranteed mediocrity under Jeff Fisher.
But being 64th means something else, too. It shows that FPI thinks the Rams, at this moment, would have a better chance of winning with backup Sean Mannion -- he of 13 career pass attempts -- instead of Goff. While FPI doesn't project the Rams' offense with recently signed veteran Dan Orlovsky because he is the third-string quarterback, it's safe to assume that FPI would also predict Los Angeles to have a better chance with the 33-year-old manning the offense, based on the Lions' predicted EPA/P with him as their backup last year and how little the metric thinks of Goff.
This, of course, comes on the heels of a disastrous rookie season in which Goff couldn't even beat Case Keenum for the top spot on the depth chart until the 10th game of the season and then posted a QBR of 22.2 in his seven starts.
Optimists will point out that the situation Goff walked into wasn't ideal. It's true -- his teammates did not ease his transition to the pros.
Goff was constantly under duress during his seven weeks as a starter. He was sacked a league-high 26 times in that span and dealt with pressure on 35.6 percent of his dropbacks, third-most in the NFL. Opponents blitzed him like crazy -- more than anyone else in the league during those weeks. Interestingly, despite his offensive line allowing pressure on 53.8 percent of dropbacks when blitzed (the second-highest rate in the NFL during that span), Goff was actually better when opponents brought five or more pass-rushers. When he wasn't blitzed, Goff's protection was better, though, as the Rams allowed him to be pressured at only the 10th-highest rate in the league.
Once/if Goff got rid of the ball, his teammates still didn't help him much. Rams receivers dropped the rookie's passes 5.4 percent of the time during those weeks -- the seventh-highest rate in the NFL in that span and what would have been the fifth-highest rate among qualified quarterbacks over the course of the season. Unfortunately for L.A. fans, QBR is not blind to the shortcomings of the other players on last year's Rams offense. It recognizes when receivers drop the ball and when a quarterback is under duress and tries to debit or credit accordingly. Because QBR is an input into FPI's rating of the Rams' offense with him at the helm, it helps limit unfair punishment of Goff for his teammates' limitations.
But all is not lost for Los Angeles and its young quarterback. The Rams can pin their hopes on three factors that could positively affect their offense and Goff, the latter two of which are not considered in FPI's prediction:
While the level of Goff's play in 2016 was damning, it did come in a small sample. That means there is a wider range of outcomes for him going forward than, say, a 10-year starter. As such, if Goff and the Rams' offense started to click, their predicted EPA/P would probably adjust rather quickly.
Goff played in an "Air Raid" system in college and therefore was always going to face a schematic transition. Perhaps he simply needs more time to adjust. Unfortunately for him, there isn't exactly a great track record of former Air Raid-style quarterbacks making said transition successfully.
Sean McVay. The Rams' new head coach is charged with developing Goff after Kirk Cousins blossomed into a franchise quarterback in Washington with McVay as his offensive coordinator. If you look closely, there are parallels here. No, Cousins wasn't drafted with the No. 1 overall pick, but at the start of 2015, he had had limited experience on the field and hadn't been particularly successful to that point. In fact, heading into that season, FPI saw the Redskins' offense with Cousins as the starter as the 41st-best theoretical offense in the league. Not quite Goff levels of bad but not a ringing endorsement of Cousins as a starter, either. And, in fact, it did not start out all that pretty. In his first eight games in 2015, Cousins posted a Total QBR of 58.6. From Week 10 on, he was second-best in the NFL with a QBR of 82.5. He followed that by finishing sixth in QBR in 2016.
Was McVay critical to Cousins' development? Rams fans are hoping so.
But like Goff, McVay enters 2017 with what is effectively a small sample size. Even given the benefit of the doubt that Robert Griffin III was a lost cause by the time McVay took over the offense in Washington in 2014, the new Rams head coach is essentially 1-for-1 in developing quarterbacks.
Ultimately, Goff's ability as a quarterback looks awfully bleak at the moment but maintains plenty of uncertainty going forward. No one knows if Goff still can become the quarterback the Rams envisioned -- by virtue of McVay, a better offensive line or otherwise -- but at least at this early stage it is still conceivable, even with FPI's dour forecast. Although uncertainty might not sound like much, at least the Rams have that.
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