Jared Goff finally realized he doesn’t have to do it all.
Sean McVay, the Los Angeles Rams’ new head coach, spent the entire year talking about the need for his quarterback to make sound decisions, distribute the football and do little else. But Goff has never been anything but the best player on his team, all the way up to the time he became the NFL’s No. 1 overall pick. He always carried the load, always put it on himself. But as the year went on, he started to understand McVay’s message. He started to simplify.
“My whole career, a lot of the times it’s been if we don’t score however many, it’s not going to work,” Goff said Sunday, after leading his team to a thrilling, uplifting, 46-9 opening win against the Indianapolis Colts. “I think that’s something I’ve learned in the NFL — you don’t need to do everything yourself. Those guys get paid, too, and there’s a reason those guys are on your team, and there’s a reason that they are who they are and are drafted and all that.”
That kind of maturity is a product of being in his second NFL season, but also of having better people around him. Goff has a brilliant offensive mind calling his plays and is operating behind a better offensive line. He can hand it off to an elite running back and can throw to a deep, talented, versatile group of receivers. And Goff used all that to his benefit in his first NFL victory.
Goff — 0-7 throughout a horrific rookie season — completed 21-of-29 passes for a career-high 306 yards and a touchdown in the Rams’ season opener. He didn’t commit any turnovers, absorbed only one sack and spread the ball around, with four of his receivers making at least three catches for at least 50 yards.
“That’s what every quarterback wants to do — just continue to distribute, get the ball out of my hands, don’t take sacks, don’t turn it over, distribute the football,” Goff said. “If we do that, we should be pretty successful.”
The Rams were as successful as they could’ve imagined at the onset of their season. Their defense dominated a Colts offense with an uncertain quarterback situation and a shaky offensive line, even without Aaron Donald. But it was their offense that provided the most positive signs, simply because recent history provided so little of them.
The Rams ranked dead last in the NFL in yards each of the last two years and finished outside of the top 20 in offensive DVOA every year for the last decade. But they reached 30 points by the midway point of the third quarter and finished with their highest scoring output since November of 2014, not to mention their most points during a season-opening game in the Super Bowl era. They gained 373 yards from scrimmage, just 14 short of their best from a 2016 season that finished with a 4-12 record.
And it all started with Goff, as it always will.
“It’s going to be a big rebound year for him,” Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson said, “and I’m excited for him.”
The Rams struggled to run the ball — Todd Gurley and Malcolm Brown combined for only 56 yards on 26 carries — but the holes should open quickly once teams begin to respect Goff.
“You hope so,” McVay said. “We talk about it all the time — we want to be able to maintain a level of balance where you’re running it, throwing it and making people defend both. If you do that, then you kind of mix up what you’re seeing defensively because they’re trying to take one thing away and then you can kind of try to make them pay, hopefully, with the counter to it.”
The counter worked wonderfully. Goff’s three new targets — vertical threat Sammy Watkins, possession receiver Robert Woods and slot guy Cooper Kupp — combined to make 12 catches for 187 yards. Gurley, who continues to prove he can be a major threat as a receiver, made five catches for 56 yards. And rookie tight end Gerald Everett hauled in a 39-yard catch on a beautiful, over-the-top throw from Goff, who had plenty of time to throw and open receivers all over the field.
“Expected of him,” Woods said of Goff’s performance. “We see it at practice. We see him making these throws, calling these plays. Very poised and confident.”
Sometimes it seemed as if the entire world was down on Goff. He finished his rookie year with a NFL-low Total QBR of 22.2 and didn’t win a single game. The personnel around him was lacking, but Goff himself didn’t play well, either. He wasn’t great on Sunday. He still missed some easy targets, still left plays on the field. But he spread the ball around, avoided the backbreaking turnover, and when he threw downfield, he connected. Goff went 7-for-8 on passes that traveled at least 15 yards, after going 10-for-28 in that department last year.
He entered the year expecting a better offense.
“It is a new offense, and Sean has had the success he’s had in the past not by accident,” Goff said. “You know that coming in.”