Monday Morning Rambling: Goff Outduels Wentz as Rams Beat Eagles

Rams

Los Angeles Rams' Jared Goff passes during the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

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With the first pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Los Angeles Rams had a choice to make. It was a choice that would determine the direction of the franchise for the next decade and a half. General manager Les Snead traded away a plethora of draft picks in order to move up to the first overall selection. The decision that needed to be made: Jared Goff or Carson Wentz.

The start of Goff’s collegiate career was a disaster. The Cal Golden Bears went 1-11, their worst record since 2001. Goff showed resiliencey and bounced back, however. As a junior, Goff led Cal to its first eight win season since 2009 and first bowl win since 2008.

Considered the top quarterback prospect for the 2016 NFL Draft, Goff displayued accuracy, field vision, and the ability to distribute the ball.

While there were plenty of positives, there were also areas of concern. Coming from the Air-Raid offense, there was no doubt that Goff would need time to learn an NFL scheme as well as get accustomed to taking snaps under center. He also didn’t have the strongest arm and struggled under pressure.

On the other side of the coin was Carson Wentz. Wentz led North Dakota State to its fifth straight FCS National Title as fifth-year senior and was named the games most-outstanding player. Wentz was an accurate passer who worked in a pro-style system.

Like Goff, Wentz also had his concerns. The Bison quarterback had an extensive injury history and was inconsistent with his accuracy. Also, making the transition from FCS-level competition to the NFL would be huge jump.

When all was said and done, the Los Angeles Rams took Goff with the number one overall pick and Wentz was taken one selection later by the Philadelphia Eagles, forever connecting the two players. Goff struggled as a rookie, but has since bounced back. Wentz played at an MVP-level in 2017 and has yet to return to that form.

Wentz put the Eagles in position to make a playoff run in 2017, but has not finished a playoff game healthy to date. Meanwhile Goff holds a 2-2 playoff record and led his team to an NFC Championship.

Sunday was the second time that the two players have met. In 2017 it was Wentz who came out with a victory. It was also in that game that Wentz tore his ACL after throwing a touchdown to give the Eagles the lead. In that game, the two quarterbacks combined for 490 yards and 6 touchdowns (4 from Wentz)

The Rams and Eagles met again in 2018, but Wentz was unable to play due to another injury. Nick Foles best Goff in that game as Sean McVay fell to 0-2 against Doug Pederson.

Sunday would be the first time that Goff and Wentz have met since 2017 and the first time in Philadelphia. This time, Goff showed up for the occasion. The Rams quarterback started the game 13/13 and he ended with three touchdown passes in a 37-19 win.

On the other side, it was a forgettable afternoon for Wentz. The Eagles quarterback threw two interceptions, including one in the end zone down by five, and had a 56.5 passer rating.

The two quarterbacks will forever be connected and given that both passers signed long-term deals, it seems to have worked out for both teams. However, Sunday was a still a big afternoon for the former number one overall pick as he got the best of the quarterback taken right after him for the first time.

Morning Coffee: The Los Angles Rams are 2-0 for a third straight year. When was the last time the Rams started 2-0 in three consecutive seasons? (Answer Below)

Offense Finds Its Rhythm

The Los Angeles Rams offense was very inconsistent last season and with McVay at head coach, that came as a surprise. So far in 2020, the offense looks like it did in 2017 and 2018. That was made even more clear on Sunday.

The offense was as creative as it’s been and for the first quarter and a half, it had the Eagles’ defense head spinning. The early turnover obviously helped things, but the Rams were able to get the run game going and from there, everything else developed.

This was evident in two key touchdowns. The first came on the Woods touchdown with the Rams leading, 7-3. Goff faked a handoff right to Malcolm Brown with Cooper Kupp coming left on a fake jet sweep. On the backside, Robert Woods came around and took the ball from Goff to essentially walk into the end zone.

The second came in the fourth quarter with the Rams leading just 24-19 and after a Darius Williams interception. Goff faked a handoff to Henderson on the left side and booted out with Woods running in the flat. The entire Eagles defense moves left to follow Woods as Goff has made that throw a lot this season. However, on the backside of the play, HIgbee had two steps on the nearest defender and Goff hit him for a touchdown. Again, the score was set up by the play-action.

Quick starts have benefitted the Rams. They’ve scored 34 of their 57 points in the first half of games this season. Getting ahead early has allowed McVay to run the ball and work the entire offense around that. In fact, in the first two games, the Rams have run the ball 40 and 39 times. Prior to this season, the Rams had run the ball 39 or more times on just seven occasions in three years under McVay.

The offense is in a rhythm right now and McVay once again has defenses guessing.

McVay 2-0 for a Third Straight Year

Surprisingly, the Rams never started 2-0 or 0-2 under Jeff Fisher. Prior to Fisher, the Rams started 0-2 in five consecutive seasons between 2007 and 2011. 2-0 is not an easy feat and for a third straight year its something that McVay and the Rams have accomplished.

Here’s the answer to your morning coffee. The last time the Los Angeles Rams made the playoffs in three consecutive seasons was 1999-2001.

Starting 2-0 sets a team up for success down the road. In fact, teams that start 2-0 make the playoffs 63.2% of the time and that number could get bigger with the NFL’s new seven-team playoff format. As it stands, there will be 11 2-0 teams in the NFL after Week 2 and three of them are in the NFC West.

McVay has grown a winning culture in Los Angeles. His teams have never had a losing record and have made the postseason in two of his three seasons.

Unlike last year’s 2-0, this year’s 2-0 feels different. It took a blocked punt and three turnovers to beat the Carolina Panthers 30-27 in last season’s opener before a Drew Brees injury helped the Rams beat the Saints.

There’s no Todd Gurley drama, the offense looks much improved from last season, and the offensive line at least looks comfortable. It’s still early and there is a lot of season left, but at 2-0, it’s hard to complain. The Rams and proving everybody who wrote them off, that they were wrong to do so.

Robert Woods A Ram For Life

We wouldn’t be able to get through this column without talking about Robert Woods’ new extension. The Rams signed Woods to a three-year extension that keeps him in Los Angeles through 2023. From USC to the Rams, Woods has played some of his best football in Los Angeles.

When the Rams signed Woods back in 2017, I criticized McVay and Snead and called it the “first failure of the Sean McVay era.” I could not have been more wrong.

Since arriving in Los Angeles, Woods has accumulated back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and scored 14 touchdowns. He’s been one of the best wide receivers on the team and been that number one receiver that Jared Goff can count on.

I don’t necessarily regret writing the original article. After all, not many could have predicted that Woods would have turned out to be a top-20 wide receiver after his time in Buffalo. With the Bills, Woods hadn’t ever eclipsed 650 yards in a season and the Rams brought him in to be their number one receiver. This was after a season in which Goff had one of the most disastrous rookies seasons ever.

At that time, Brian Quick and Kenny Britt were leaving in free agency and Tavon Austin was the best wide receiver on the team. The Rams brought in Woods whose 2,451 yards in his first four years ranked 66th in NFL history among wide receivers also with less than 205 receptions through their first four years.

Woods deserves his payday and I’ll be the first to admit that I was extremely wrong when the Rams first brought him in. For the record, I’m glad I was wrong. After 15 years of losing and the luck that the Rams had at wide receiver after Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, you’re bound to be a little bit skeptical.

Quick Thoughts

1. For receiving as much criticism as they’ve gotten for not having a first-round pick, it’s been Jordan Fuller (6th round) and Darius Williams (UDFA) who have made the two biggest plays in the season’s opening two weeks.

2. I’m not sure why it’s been so difficult for the Rams to find someone who can field punts under McVay. Kupp’s fumble in the second quarter let the Eagles back in the game and a good team will make the Rams pay. This continues to be an ongoing problem. From Pharoh Cooper to Tavon Austin. I have not been a fan of Kupp returning punts as the Rams are one of only a handful of teams that put on of their top receivers back to field punts.

3. It would be difficult to go through this column and not talk about Tyler Higbee. The Rams tight end had three touchdowns on Sunday and proves that he has really good chemistry with Jared Goff. He’ll have a good chance to have another good game against the Bills. The Buffalo defense allowed eight receptions for 137 yards to Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki and six receptions the week before to the Jets’ Chris Herndon.

4. Through two games the Rams have managed to stay pretty healthy. Joe Noteboom and Cam Akers were the team’s first injuries this season and the Rams have guys that can step up in those spots. On Sunday, the 49ers lost Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas to ACL injuries. The Giants also lost Saquon Barkley. The Rams are healthy and for that, fans should be grateful.

5. Brandon Staley’s defense continues to show just how good it is. Prior to Kupp’s fumble, it had allowed just nine points in the first half. After allowing zero second-half points against the Cowboys, they allowed just three points on Sunday against the Eagles.

Quotable

“Saw Wentz turn around, aim at him, and I just raced to go get it.” – CB Darius Williams

Wentz will get criticism for the throw, but Williams made a great play on the ball.

From the illustration above, you can see why Wentz made the throw. He has JJ Arcega Whiteside with inside leverage. Williams made a great play on the ball and changed the game. A touchdown there and the Rams go from leading 21-3 at one point to losing potentially, 26-24. The offense scored on the next drive to take a 31-19 lead.

“I’ve always had faith in our front office. Every year they make moves and people question and doubt. Every year it seems to be the right move. I don’t know why they keep getting questioned and doubted about it. They’ve been doing a great job.” – Jared Goff

The Rams front office gets criticized a lot for the moves that it makes. However, a lot of those moves end up paying off. They gave up a lot for Jalen Ramsey, but he allowed zero receptions against the Eagles. Kenny Young has become a contributor on defense. Leonard Floyd has played well. The Rams front office continues to make moves that give the Rams a chance to be competitive and it’s good that the players recognize that.

Numbers To Know

0 – The number of receptions allowed by Jalen Ramsey against the Eagles.

13 – The number of consecutive completions by Jared Goff to start the game.

80 – The conversion percentage in the red zone. After going 2-5 the week before against Dallas, the Rams went 4-5 on Sunday.

Around The Horn

Game Ball: Darrell Henderson gets my game ball. He came in and took over for Cam Akers and played very well. As mentioned, a more accurate Goff throw, and he has two touchdowns on the afternoon. After a forgettable rookie season, many wrote him off. On Sunday, he showed what he is capable of.

Impressive Rookie: Van Jefferson had a very good game on Sunday. The rookie wide receiver had three receptions, including two on third down. One of those went for a conversion and the other set up a fourth-down quarterback snead.

Play of the Game: Higbee’s touchdown receptions with the game close at 26-21 in the fourth quarter deserves consideration, but Darius Williams’ interception set that up and changed the game. The Eagles score there and it’s a much different ball game. That play swung the momentum.

The Good: The Rams ran the ball 39 times for 191 yards. This was a week after they ran the ball 40 times for 153 yards.

The Bad: It was assumed in the offseason that the Rams could let Dante Fowler walk and get production from any player off of the edge because of Aaron Donald. The Eagles allowed eight sacks to Washington. The Rams didn’t get to Wentz a single time on Sunday. Ebukam clearly is not the answer and Floyd isn’t necessarily a pass-rusher. The Eagles had a banged-up offensive line and the Rams were unable to take advantage.

The Ugly: Cooper Kupp’s fumble turned a game that should’ve been a blowout into a very close one. Kupp made the right decision by fielding the ball. He had space to give the offense an opportunity to score before halftime. However, Kupp’s main role on the team isn’t to field punts. JuJu Hughes should be an option that is considered.

Rams Mailbag

Every week, I will answer mailbag questions. Be sure to send your questions to @bgrisakDTR on Twitter. Our first comes from C.D.

Henderson had a great game on Sunday. The second-year player had 14 touches for 121 yards and a touchdown. Had Goff been more accurate, he may have had a second touchdown. Henderson’s role was certainly affected by Cam Akers’ injury, but he showed that if his number is called that he can rise to the occasion.

Here’s the deal with the Rams’ run game. There isn’t one specific guy that’s always going to get the lions-share of the carries. If Brown is having a good game like he had last week, he’ll get the touches. In short-yardage situations, Brown is probably going to be the guy as that’s where he excels.

However, fast-forward to Sunday and Henderson had 12 carries, but averaged 6.8 yards on those carries. The 2018 third-round pick also gave the Rams some speed in the run game which Brown doesn’t offer. Henderson was effective and therefore against the Eagles, he was the guy.

The story might be different next week against Buffalo. When it comes to Akers, Brown, and Henderson, they each have their specific roles and if one is being more effective than the others, that’s the player that will most likely see the majority of the carries. That’s frustrating for fantasy teams obviously, but that’s how a committee approach works.

I wouldn’t say ‘good Goff’ is back. As of right now, the Rams are making things very simple for Goff. He has a run game and the offense is able to function on that run game by utilizing screens, play action, and bootlegs.

Goff averaged just 4.4 yards per target last week and had an OSM (offensive share metric) of 13. A good OSM is 40. Against the Cowboys, Goff had six throws that traveled farther than 10 yards. Yes, he had 275 yards against Dallas, but a lot of that came after the catch. Robert Woods is currently number two in the NFL in yards after the catch.

Things were still pretty simple again for Goff against the Eagles. The run game was working early and therefore the offense was able to move him around on play-action and bootlegs. Goff made his share of good throws on Sunday. The long touchdown to Higbee was a really nice throw. However, he still gets flustered by pressure and the consistency in accuracy goes downhill. After starting 13/13, Goff completed just seven of his next 14 passes.

Goff hasn’t been “good” through the first two weeks of the NFL season, but he’s been exactly what the Rams need. He’s executed the offense and the system well and efficiently. In fact, he’s been one of the most efficient passers in the NFL.

The Rams are going to need more from Goff moving forward, but as of now, the Rams are 2-0 and Goff has a lot to do with that.

I’m assuming this question is referring to David Edwards when he took over for Noteboom. I’ll have to go back to the tape, but the offensive line certainly didn’t take a hit and Henderson hit a big run on the left side in the fourth quarter. The fact that the Rams do have that depth though is a good thing.

I’ll answer this question more as a whole though. McVay has been game-planning around the offensive line. Against Dallas we saw a lot of screens to negate the Cowboys’ pass rush and then this week it was a lot of play-action and misdirection. When Goff just has to drop back and throw, he’s dealing with pressure more than he usually is. The worst case for this offensive line is for the Rams to get in a situation in which the team has to drop back and throw the ball 40 times.

To answer the last question, I’ll have to go back and look at the tape, but I haven’t noticed it as much. A lot of that has to do with the Rams offense being different as they’ve run more 12 personnel. It also has to do with McVay adjusting to the NFL’s adjustments. Defensive coordinators adjusted to McVay and now McVay has had an opportunity to adjust and add to his scheme accordingly.

Looking Ahead

The Rams will have a big test on Sunday when they travel to the east coast for a second consecutive week to take on the Buffalo Bills. It’s also going to be a test for the Bills who have two wins against the Jets and Dolphins. Unlike past years in which the Rams could stay on the east coast, due to COVID-19 restrictions, they have to go back to Los Angeles. That’s a lot of traveling.

The Bills are also 2-0 and Josh Allen is playing at an MVP-caliber level. He’s inconsistent at times, but he threw for over 400 yards on Sunday, 153 of which went to Stefon Diggs.

The big matchup in this game will be Diggs vs. Ramsey. The Dolphins put Noah Igbinoghene on Diggs after Byron Jones left the game and he got torched.

An underrated matchup will be Sean McDermott vs. Sean McVay. These are two of the best coaches in the game and will be a chess match. McDermott will be scheming his defense to stop McVay while McVay does the same on offense.

This is going to be one of the better Week 3 games. However, given the amount of travel and this being a road game, the Rams might come up on the short end of the stick. This is going to be a good battle between two good teams either way.

Prediction: Bills 30, Rams 27

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