How do you stop an offense that averages more than 30 points per game and regularly generates big plays through the air? You get pressure on the quarterback. This isn’t a new concept. Unfortunately for the Rams in 2018, the drop off for Jared Goff when he had time to throw versus when he didn’t was significant. In fact, according to Football Outsiders, he ranked towards the bottom of the NFL against pressure. Goff simply has to get more consistent in this area if the Rams want to get back to the Super Bowl – and win it this time.
The defenses that had success against Goff and the Rams in 2018 clearly had a game plan to bring pressure up the middle. There were several reasons for this. Teams wanted Goff to see the pressure so he would overreact to it. Also, losing contain is less of a concern against a pocket passer like Goff. Even though he is athletic and able to scramble occasionally, he makes his money from the pocket. To the defense, the risk was worth the reward.
It wasn’t just Goff, though. The Rams’ offensive line was most vulnerable inside in 2018. They failed to consistently protect the middle against some of the better pass-rushing defenses.
In Week 8, for instance, the Packers held the Rams without any offensive points until just 25 seconds remained in the 2nd quarter. Green Bay’s success was largely due to their deliberate effort to bring pressure up the middle, as shown on the below sack.
Throughout the game, the Packers often aligned with players in the A-Gaps (the gaps to the left and right of the center) and brought blitzes up the middle, as seen above. Their D-line used lots of stunts and inside moves. They ended up with 5 sacks and had the Rams Offense sputtering for a good portion of the game.
In Week 14, the Bears also successfully game-planned to bring pressure inside. It was clear on their first 3rd down. Below, you can see Khalil Mack make an inside move to get to Goff.
The quick pressure inside wrecked the play. As we mentioned, contain is not as much of a concern against a quarterback like Goff.
The Bears also were able to take advantage of their 1-on-1’s in the trenches against L.A.’s interior line. On the Rams’ first drive of the 3rd quarter, you can see nose tackle Eddie Goldman put center John Sullivan on skates before sacking Goff for a safety.
Goff ultimately played his worst game of the season against the Bears, tossing 4 interceptions and only managing to lead the offense to two field goals.
In Super Bowl LIII, the Patriots similarly targeted the middle of the Rams’ offensive line. They used inside stunts all night, which generated consistent pressure in Goff’s face.
It started on their first 3rd down of the game. The Patriots weren’t even set at the snap, and still they got a free rusher up the middle, forcing a rushed throw.
On the below sack (another 3rd down) you can see more inside pressure. The Patriots put 5 defenders on the line and brought a stunt inside, with the first defender getting home almost immediately.
In each of these games (particularly against the Bears and Patriots) the pressure in Goff’s face led to him playing too fast, making bad decisions, and missing opportunities.
Below, Goff missed a potential big play due to the effects of pressure. Watch the two inside receivers on either side of the formation.
Goff had two open seem balls with a lot of empty space in the middle of the field. He threw the ball out of bounds to the left sideline, though. Why? Because he broke down in the face of pressure. Goff had plenty of time to sit in the pocket and find an open man. Look at the room he had. Also, look at how his feet and throwing base had broken down.
Goff was completely parallel to the line of scrimmage, which cut off much of the field to him.
From the end zone, you can see that Goff was overreactive to a linebacker blitzing up the middle. He saw the blue jersey color and bailed on the play.
Had Goff stood firm in the pocket, he likely would have found an open receiver for a big chunk of yards.
One of Goff’s 4 interceptions again showed how pressure can effect a quarterback in multiple ways. Here, Goff stared down his receiver, was late with the ball, and needlessly forced a terrible pass on a first down.
Pressure makes quarterbacks do strange things. One of them is failing to move through progressions. Quarterbacks have internal clocks in their heads, and when they are repeatedly getting hit or facing pressure, they anticipate not having a lot of time to throw. As a result, they don’t anticipate being able to work through their reads. This can lead to them sticking on receivers too long.
On this play, Goff seemed surprised he had so much time. He stayed on his receiver despite the fact that his route wasn’t open at all right from the snap. This interception was about as inexcusable as it gets. Again, the cumulative effects of pressure on display.
We saw more examples of Goff playing too fast on his critical 4th-quarter interception in the Super Bowl.
Below, you can see that the Patriots were playing “0” coverage (no deep safety).
New England brought more rushers to the offense’s right side than they could protect. The design of the pressure called for Deatrich Wise (#91) and Dont’a Hightower (#54) to split the right guard and tackle with their pass rush.
The Patriots brought the two safeties aligned behind them. With only the running back to take those two blitzers, New England got a free runner in on Goff.
Goff saw the pressure and the coverage. Against “0” there are no progression reads. You pick your matchup and make the best throw to beat the coverage. Goff picked his best receiver, Brandin Cooks, against the Patriots’ best cover man, Stephon Gilmore. Nothing wrong with that. But in response to the pressure coming in his face, Goff once again rushed his throwing motion, lost his feet as a result, and lobbed up an easy interception.
Constant pressure up the middle leads to quarterbacks playing fast. The Rams have to do a better job of protecting Goff and securing the inside against the top pass-rushing teams this season. They made a few changes to their interior line (center John Sullivan and guard Rodger Saffold were let go during the offseason). But this area will continue to be something to watch in 2019.
The best quarterbacks in the league can generally overcome pressure, hang in the pocket, and continue to run their offense. Goff has not shown the ability to do this consistently. We’ve seen glimpses of him responding well to pressure, particularly against the Saints in the NFC Championship Game. This is the area where he needs the most improvement, though. This is the area separating him from the upper echelon of quarterbacks. It is also, perhaps, an area where improvement could yield the greatest rewards for the Rams.