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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
The Observer

O'Boyle: The Rams are for real this season

Before the NFL season began, few expected the Los Angeles Rams to be favored over the New York Giants.

Very few could have seen the Rams blowing out the Giants by 34 points to move to 6-2 and take sole ownership of first place in the NFC West.

Yet that’s exactly what happened. Injuries on the Giants’ end certainly played a part in their early struggles, but the success of the Rams this year has been among the most surprising storylines in football this year.

And, maybe most surprising of all, leading that turnaround is Jared Goff.

Yes, Todd Gurley is in the conversation for the best running back of the season so far, but he was always known to be one of the league’s best ball-carriers and still wasn’t expected to be able to lift the Rams to a playoff spot.

What the Rams needed to turn things around was their former first-overall pick having arguably the best season any Rams quarterback not named Kurt Warner has ever had. Aside from one poor game against the famed Seahawks defense, Goff has been among the league’s top signal-callers this year, highlighted by his four touchdown passes Sunday.

That’s incredible when you remember the Goff of 2016.

The former Cal product looked like he was on track to be the next great NFL bust, as he completed less than 55 percent of his passes and seemed incapable of finding the endzone. On his way to an 0-7 record, he posted a passer rating of just 63.6, one that would have dropped into the 50s if not for impressive stats in a blowout loss to the Saints. His team was almost never even competitive, and he managed to blow a 14-point lead in five minutes against a 49ers team that were even worse than the Rams. In his seven starts, they averaged less than 14 points per game, on their way to a last-place finish in scoring.

And now, here he is suddenly playing like one of the league’s best, taking snaps in an offense averaging 33 points per game, on pace to match Warner’s 1999 team for the 10th-highest-scoring offense in NFL history.

What’s changed?

Well on Goff’s end, maybe not that much. Yes, he’s been hitting receivers more consistently when they’re open, but maybe he was always good. He just didn’t have the chance last year.

The 2016 Rams’ offensive line was awful. They couldn’t protect Goff, and they couldn’t led Gurley break plays that would have taken attention off the quarterback. Goff was sacked on 11.3 percent of dropbacks, sometimes a sign of poor awareness, but in Goff’s case his line just didn’t give him a chance.

But in the offseason, the Rams shored up their offensive line with veterans like Andrew Whitworth and John Sullivan. That made a huge difference. They also drafted receiver Cooper Kupp to give Goff more pass-catching options, and head coach Sean McVay retooled the offense to better-suit the gifts that made Goff succeed in Cal’s spread system.

If one lightning-quick redemption story doesn’t do it for you, how about one that takes place over more than a decade?

Alex Smith had one of the worst rookie seasons of all time. Through his first 120 attempts, his passer rating would have been 10 points higher had he thrown every ball into the dirt. Gradually he improved, earning a reputation as a solid game-manager before a surprising breakout this year as Andy Reid built Smith — who earned first overall pick status at Utah under Urban Meyer — one of the most spread-influenced offenses the NFL has ever seen.

These stories are nice redemption tales, but they’re also lessons for other teams. Deshaun Watson lighting the league up before his injury doesn’t mean that first-season struggles can’t be excused. Teams like the Browns and the Bears need to recognize that if their rookie quarterback’s numbers aren’t immediately great, it doesn’t mean they’re a lost cause. Take a step back, recognize what these quarterbacks do well and put them in a position where they can succeed.

Don’t be so quick to write off a struggling rookie quarterback, they may just be a couple of changes away from leading the league’s best offense.