This game really could have gotten away from the Rams early.
Through L.A.’s first few drives, their offense was not handling the situation well. The crowd noise was disrupting the communication at the line of scrimmage as well as the rhythm of the offense. Todd Gurley was not moving like his normal self, and the running game was ineffective. Jared Goff had thrown an early interception deep in his own territory. We’ve seen early negative plays in a game of this magnitude get to young quarterbacks and ruin the rest of their day. Goff didn’t let the rough start keep him from rallying the Rams to a Super Bowl berth.
Yes, the defense kept the game close with two red zone stops early. Yes, the fake punt helped the Rams finally get a first down. But with 53 seconds left in the half, trailing 13-3, and facing a 3rd-and-10, Goff made the plays that truly turned this game around.
The first was a 17-yard bullet to Brandin Cooks, aligned at the top of the screen on the image below.
Cooks built up speed until the top of his stem, selling that he was running a go-route, before stepping on the cornerback’s toes and coming back to the quarterback. This was a great route by Cooks, and it created the needed separation for Goff to complete the pass.
Watching from the end zone, you can see that Goff made a slight move to his left just before throwing to buy a split-second more time to deliver the ball. He then fired a strike to Cooks. This is one of the subtle traits of playing the quarterback position at a high level.
Shout out to Todd Gurley for throwing a great block on a blitzing slot corner, keeping the pocket clean to Goff’s left.
The second throw that turned this game around was the 36-yarder Goff tossed down the left sideline to Cooks on the very next play. Watch Cooks create separation immediately at the line against press-man coverage and then get on top of cornerback P.J. Williams quickly.
The Rams cut the lead to 13-10 on the next play. As you can see on some of these throws, Cooks’ ability to create separation was a key factor in the Rams ability to get their passing game going.
In the second half, the Rams also got their aerial attack going by attacking with more of the misdirection we’ve seen all season. Specifically, they utilized their play-action boot passing game. L.A. utilized both outside zone and power-run action to get the defense flowing away from the play. They generated a 25-yard pass to Branding Cooks (who else?) and then a 1-yd touchdown pass to Tyler Higbee to cut the Saints’ lead to 20-17.
Still, so much of the Rams’ success down the stretch came from Goff executing in key moments. It was the type of execution that would get many other quarterbacks a lot more notoriety and credit for coming through in the clutch.
Down 20-17 in the 4th quarter, and facing a 3rd-and-2, Goff remained poised and scrambled to find tight end Gerald Everett for 39 yards. This set up a game-tying field goal.
Then, trailing by 3 with the season on the line and less than 2 minutes remaining, Goff calmly led the Rams into field goal range to, once again, tie the game.
This first completion was the one that got L.A. moving. Watch how Goff immediately looked like he would be throwing to the flat by turning his feet, shoulders, and head to the right. This moved the underneath defender to that side, which set up the throwing lane on the dig route behind him.
Again, these are the subtle traits that lead to high-level quarterbacking.
In overtime, Goff connected on two passes (play-action boots again) with defenders bearing down on him to put the Rams in Greg Zuerlein’s field goal range.
Goff did a great job just by getting rid of those balls quickly.
Many of the plays above may seem unspectacular. Yet they showed Goff doing many of the little things that some of the great quarterbacks in the NFL do. Goff remained poised throughout the day and settled the offense down in the absence of their normally dynamic running game. The Rams are going to their first Super Bowl in 17 years as a result.
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