How Does Jared Goff Match Up Against the Patriots' Defense?
To say that Jared Goff had a great year would be an understatement.
In his second season in coach Sean McVay's system, Goff compiled 4,688 passing yards and 34 total touchdowns, helping the Los Angeles Rams to a 13-3 record that earned LA a first-round bye in the playoffs. It's hard to believe that just two seasons ago Goff was winless through seven games under then-coach Jeff Fisher's "tutelage."
This matchup features two top-tier head coaches and innovators, and they each have had two weeks to prepare their teams. Will McVay's quarterback-friendly schemes work for Goff against a defense masterminded by Bill Belichick?
Tale of Two Goffs
To attempt to predict how Goff will fare, it's a good idea to analyze his 2018 season through the lens of our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. NEP is the metric we use to track the efficiency of both teams and players, with the team side being adjusted for strength of opponent. A three-yard completion on 3rd and 2 is wildly different than a three-yard completion on 3rd and 4, and NEP helps account for that by tracking the expected points players add to their team's total over the course of a season.
Goff's year-long numbers look great. Among passers with at least 500 drop backs in 2018, he finished fourth in Passing NEP per drop back, checking in with a clip of 0.25. He bested everyone not named Patrick Mahomes, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees.
But it's not that simple, because Goff was pretty volatile on a week-to-week basis. There are some distinct areas in which Goff performs drastically differently: home and road, under pressure versus clean pocket, with and without Cooper Kupp, second down versus third down, facing zone or man coverage. Let's go through all five splits and see how those are impacted by New England's defense.
Home and Road
For example, in Week 4, Goff torched the Minnesota Vikings, the league's third-best D, per our schedule-adjusted metrics, in a home game, throwing for 465 yards and 5 scores on his way to 39.3 FanDuel points. However, he struggled mightily in a road game against the Detroit Lions, a defense that sat 24th by our numbers, going for a meager 207 passing yards with a score and a pick (8.1 FanDuel points). That dud -- his worst outing of the season -- came a game (and a bye week) after he rocked the Kansas City Chiefs, a defense similar to Detroit's, per our metrics, an outing in which he went off for 413 passing yards, 4 scores and 35.2 FanDuel points.
The two big games in that example came at home while the bad outing was on the road. That's a trend that stayed true all season as Goff averaged 342.1 yards per game with 22 scores and 3 interceptions at home, compared to 243.9 yards, 10 touchdowns and 9 picks in his travels.
But it's not all home-road splits -- and that isn't much of a factor in the Super Bowl anyway -- as these coin-flip fantasy outcomes also make some sense because McVay is known for keeping defenses guessing. For goodness sake, he gave C.J. Anderson 80 carries in his first four games as a Ram. Part of Goff's inconsistency may have been game-flow and game-plan related, though he was clearly much better in the LA Coliseum.
Clean Pocket Versus Pressure
With a clean pocket, Goff was exquisite, and fortunately for him, he's got a great offensive line in front of him. He had the fourth-highest quarterback rating of qualified passers from a clean pocket. The Rams' offensive line and scheme have done an excellent job at keeping him clean. Football Outsiders ranks the Rams' O-Line first overall and sixth in pass-blocking.
However, Goff under pressure is very different from clean-pocket Goff. Under duress, his quarterback rating drops to 28th. What’s worse is that the Patriots have done quite well this postseason in applying pressure. Adrian Clayborn and Dont'a Hightower lead all players with 14 postseason quarterback pressures. The Patriots pressured Philip Rivers on 45.3 percent of drop backs in the Divisional Round and Patrick Mahomes on 50 percent of his drop backs in the AFC title bout. If Belichick can scheme up consistent pressure on Goff, things could go poorly for the Rams' attack.
With and Without Kupp
In Week 10, Kupp was lost for the season with a knee injury, and Goff was worse sans Kupp. (Success Rate is the percentage of drop backs that resulted in positive NEP.)
|Split||QB Rating (Playoffs Incl.)||Pass NEP (Reg. Season)||Success Rate (Reg. Season)||Fantasy Points (Playoffs Incl.)|
In addition to this, as our JJ Zachariason pointed out, Goff’s deep-ball completion percentage was significantly worse after Week 10, dropping from 58.46 percent to 34 percent.
Second-Down and Play-Action Passing
Two areas in which the Rams have excelled with Goff all year, especially in the postseason, are on second down and in play-action passing. On second down in these playoffs, Goff owns a passer rating of 101.9, averaged for 108 yards per game, and posted a 72.7 percent completion percentage. Unfortunately, for the year, when Goff has six or more yards to go on third down, he has six turnovers (second-most among all passers) on 81 attempts.
Goff has a tendency to take risks. He ranks first in money plays (defined as a pass requiring exceptional skill), danger plays (plays where the quarterback took an unnecessary risk) and interceptable passes, per PlayerProfiler. The Patriots' defense compounds this with five turnovers (eighth-most) on third downs of six-plus yards.
The Rams have also utilized play-action passing on 35.2 percent of Goff’s snaps during the regular season, more than any other qualified quarterback. Goff averages 3.4 additional air yards per attempt on play-action drop backs. The Patriots allow 13.5 air yards per play-action attempt (most) while the passer rating they allow increases by 28.4 points (sixth-most) on play-action passes. However, as odd as it sounds, teams used play-action passes on only 17.9 percent of their throws against the Patriots, which was the third-lowest rate in the league.
Man Versus Zone
This season, the Patriots' defense led the league in man coverage usage (54.6 percent). They also allowed the lowest completion percentage from man (53.7 percent).
New England can use so much man coverage because they have a secondary full of talented players -- Stephon Gilmore (top-ranked cornerback, per Pro Football Focus), Jason McCourty (6th-ranked cornerback) and Devin McCourty (16th-ranked safety) -- who usually win one-on-one matchups. Patriots cornerbacks missed only 26 tackles on 339 attempts during the regular season, a 7.7 percent rate that is far better than the league average of 14 percent, which is another reason their man coverage works so well.
But the Pats' reliance on man coverage plays right into Goff’s hands.
|Coverage||Quarterback Rating||Yards Per Attempt||TD-to-INT Ratio|
Some of Goff's success versus man was due to Kupp's wizardry in the slot, a place now often occupied by Robert Woods. If Kupp was in the lineup, the Patriots would have to worry about scheming against three quality wide receivers, in addition to Gurley coming out of the backfield. Without Kupp, Gilmore and the McCourty twins might be able to handle Woods, Brandin Cooks and Josh Reynolds -- especially after they fared very well against Kansas City's Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce.
It's not a given that the Pats play a lot of man coverage against the Rams, but if they do and have success with it, that'll be a big blow to Goff and the Rams' offense.
Lastly, we have to remember Belichick and the Patriots' defense have found ways to frustrate the Chargers and Chiefs -- the fifth- and top-ranked offenses, respectively, per our metrics -- in these playoffs. It's a really stout unit.
When no other team this year could hold Hill and Kelce to fewer than 100 combined yards, the Patriots bottled them up to the tune of 65 yards in the AFC Championship Game. Belichick has done this for years -- taking away the other team's best option.
With the Rams, they don't have a clear-cut top option at receiver, with both Woods and Cooks being big factors. In the Super Bowl, though, the Rams' best option in the passing game may be throwing the ball to Gurley as New England's linebackers don't thrive in coverage. In the regular season, the Pats gave up the ninth-most receiving yards to running backs, and nearly 20% of the receiving yards New England allowed went to running backs, a top-10 clip in the league.
While Gurley has been sharing time with Anderson since coming back from an injury, I don't think it would it surprise anyone to see Gurley jump back into a workhorse role in the biggest game of the year. Whatever Gurley's role is, you can expect the Rams to try to utilize him in the passing game, which could be a big boon for Goff.
Our projections have Goff throwing for 257 yards, 2.02 touchdowns and 0.7 interceptions.