Publicly, Sean McVay has been one of Jared Goff’s biggest supporters. He frequently credits the job his quarterback does week in and week out, even saying at one point there’s no quarterback he’d rather have. The Rams’ commitment to Goff with a $134 million contract showed their faith in him, but how much does McVay really trust his quarterback?
Watching the Rams this season, it’s hard to feel completely sold on the fact that McVay has 100% trust in Goff. It shows up in situations where coaches often give their quarterbacks a chance to make a big play. But not McVay – not with Goff.
Take third-and-long, for instance. How many times have we seen McVay call a screen to a running back or wide receiver on third-and-15, essentially giving up and waving the white flag? Ask any Rams fan and they’ll tell you, “Way too many times.”
This season, the Rams have faced 16 third downs where they needed at least 15 yards. On 10 of those plays, they threw it. Six times, they ran it. Based on Stathead’s play tracking, not a single one of those 10 passes was a deep throw, and all of them were classified as “short.”
Of Goff’s eight completions on third down needing at least 15, only three went to Cooper Kupp, Josh Reynolds or Robert Woods. The others went to Gerald Everett, Cam Akers and Malcolm Brown – running backs and a tight end.
As you might’ve suspected, the Rams haven’t converted once on third-and-15 or more. Only seven other teams have failed to convert a single time on third-and-15-plus.
If you compare the Rams’ play selection to that of the Chiefs’, there’s a massive difference. Kansas City hasn’t run the ball with a running back a single time in 18 such situations. Patrick Mahomes has thrown 14 passes, was sacked once, kneeled it down once and scrambled twice. Of his 14 pass attempts, Stathead classified five as deep throws.
Need I remind you, Goff has zero deep pass attempts on third-and-15-plus and the Rams have run the ball six times on those plays – tied for second-most in the NFL, behind only the Seahawks.
Even on second down when the Rams need at least 15 yards, McVay favors short passes and runs. On 19 plays where the Rams needed 15-25 yards, they ran it six times, which is tied for fifth-most, and only one of Goff’s 13 passes was classified as “deep.”
McVay simply doesn’t give Goff the chance to take shots on second- or third-and-long. He’d rather throw a quick screen to avoid disaster, which is an obvious sign of distrust in his quarterback.
He admitted he wanted to play it safe and avoid a turnover after the Rams’ win over the Giants when he called back-to-back screens in the red zone, which infuriated fans.
With the Rams leading 7-3, they faced second-and-goal from the Giants’ 12-yard line after Goff took an 8-yard sack on first down. McVay proceeded to call a screen to Malcolm Brown on second down, which lost 2 yards. Then on third down, McVay called another screen, this one going to the right for Woods, gaining no yardage.
On the screen to Brown, the Giants played man coverage across the board – the slot corner passed off Kupp to the safety – but McVay didn’t want to take a chance to one of his receivers by calling something other than a screen.
After the game, McVay gave a candid answer to a question about why he got so conservative in the red zone. He admitted he just wanted to avoid disaster.
“Those are situations that I’m not worried about being predictable there. I just wanted to take the points,” he said. “Both those situations the last couple of weeks were third-and-long. Didn’t want to do anything where you’ve got a chance for a good reward and a low risk in those situations. It’s kind of like a two-minute drive-starter. That’s a big alert for the screen. I’m OK with that because in those two specific situations you’re referring to, it was more about, ‘All right, let’s not turn the ball over or go backwards at all, we’ll take the three.’ A little bit more of a conservative approach in both of those situations, but sometimes those are decisions we have to make as coaches.”
Do you really think Andy Reid would have second-and-goal from the 12 and force Mahomes to throw back-to-back screens? Do you think Matt LaFleur would call consecutive screens for Aaron Rodgers in that situation?
It comes down to trusting your quarterback to not make a colossal mistake, and McVay simply doesn’t trust Goff to take care of the ball. He acknowledged Goff’s penchant for giving the ball away after the Rams’ second loss to the 49ers, saying very flatly, “our quarterback has got to take better care of the football.”
If you expand the sample size beyond just third-and-long, there’s an obvious lack of deep passes overall. Here are Goff’s stats on passes that traveled at least 20 yards since the Rams’ Week 9 bye.
Week 10: 3/6
Week 11: 0/1
Week 12: 1/5, 1 INT
Week 13: 0/1
Week 14: 0 attempts
Week 15: 0/2
TOTAL: 4/15, 1 INT
Not only is Goff failing to connect on deep passes, but McVay isn’t even calling them. The majority of Goff’s throws come within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, taking easier completions and hoping his receivers gain yards after the catch – which Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp typically do.
That worked early in the season when defenses were still figuring out the Rams, but teams have been more aggressive lately. They’re stacking the line of scrimmage, daring Goff to beat them. And in recent weeks, he hasn’t.
Look at Goff’s passing charts this season from Next Gen Stats, which illustrates a severe lack of deep pass attempts, especially since the bye.
Some of this comes down to McVay not trusting the Rams offensive line, either. It takes time for deep shots to develop, and if Goff can’t get time in the pocket, those plays don’t work. So rather than straining the offensive line with deep drops and long-developing plays, McVay has opted for shorter, quicker passes to make life easier for the linemen.
That’s understandable, but at some point, he has to open up the offense and take some shots deep. They may not work all the time, and Goff will face pressure, but the offense has become so condensed that defenses are sitting on short passes without any threat of throws being made over their heads.
Until McVay begins to trust his quarterback in crucial situations – like in the red zone, or on second- and third-and-long – the Rams offense is going to rely on quick passes and yards after the catch. Against smart defensive coaches, like Brian Flores and Robert Saleh, that won’t get it done.