A little over two years ago, I referred to Jared Goff as a “powered exoskeleton for Sean McVay.” Ten days later, Bill Belichick would confound him to the tune of four sacks, an interception, and 4.8 adjusted yards per attempt in what was one of the ugliest Super Bowl games in recent memory.
Offseason postmortems traced his struggles back to the post-bye stretch; Goff’s inadequacy on the biggest stage in football began germinating as early as the Lions game in Week 13, but certainly by the following week against Chicago. For all intents and purposes, though, that Super Bowl loss was a harbinger of doom.
The Rams nevertheless extended Goff earlier than they needed to, inking him to what was then a record-breaking contract. To say their show of faith went unrewarded would be an understatement. Try as he might, McVay was unable to save Goff from his demons. So, they sent him to Detroit—the place that industry left behind.
But, what happens to Goff is not nearly as compelling as what happens to his replacement, Matthew Stafford, who has been relieved of the Sisyphean task of quarterbacking the Lions to relevancy. Stafford came with a hefty price tag, in part due to how bad Goff’s contract is. Naturally, this invites assessments of the return. Personally, I would argue that McVay and Rams GM Les Snead are effectively symbiotes who were captaining a sinking ship and that the organization itself will bear the brunt of the worst-case scenario, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Instead, we’ll focus on how much of an upgrade Stafford is over Goff. Whatever the latter was in 2018, he hasn’t been that the past two seasons. If he were, then the Rams wouldn’t have mortgaged their future to replace him. There’s no sense in reminiscing about what was, so this article will evaluate them based on their performance the past two seasons.
Comparing Goff and Stafford on the basis of expected points added (EPA) is a poor way of framing whether or not the Rams markedly improved their quarterback situation. EPA is ultimately a team stat. Just as a running back is not solely responsible for the rushing yardage on a play, a quarterback—or any player for that matter—is not solely responsible for the EPA on a play. Total Points, Sports Info Solutions’ proprietary player value metric, helps apportion expected points-based credit using charting data. And since the beginning of 2019, Stafford (9.6) has been substantially better than Goff (6) on a Total Points/Per 60 Snaps basis. Total Points is more robust because it accounts for things that EPA does not—uncatchable passes, drops, air yards, YAC, offensive line play, etc.
But, just looking at blanket efficiency metrics is insufficient.
There’s an interesting dichotomy that currently exists with respect to passing discourse. Play-action is often billed as a panacea, but we’ve yet to collectively examine how our understanding of its efficiency relative to dropbacks should affect quarterback evaluation. If play-action passing is truly a cheat code, then EPA will favor quarterbacks who have the benefit of frequently utilizing it.
As has been previously alluded to, Goff has been perfectly fine when he’s adhered to McVay’s formula. When the training wheels come off, it’s another story. And unfortunately, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde can be incredibly frustrating when he’s not playing on rookie difficulty.
Fortunately, we can also use Total Points to compare how effective the two quarterbacks have been in suboptimal splits, be they schematic or situational. Stafford (9.6) has been twice as efficient as Goff (4.8) outside of PAR downs—pass and run downs (1st & 10/2nd & 1-6). Although ‘running to open up the pass’ is a tired coaching proverb, this can be interpreted to mean that Goff is less effective when the defense can sell out to stop the pass. Stafford (9) has likewise been more effective than Goff (4.8) when not using play-action. Furthermore, Goff’s ineptitude out of the gun hamstrung the Rams in some aspects, and Stafford (10.8) once again laps the incumbent (5.4) in this regard.
McVay got tired of babysitting Goff. This trade is more about what Stafford can do that Goff can’t—succeed on passing downs, execute the dropback game, pass out of the gun—but it also helps that he’s been effective doing some of the things the Rams love to do. Los Angeles led the league in usage of formations that featured bunches, stacks, and/or condensed splits at a whopping rate of 62%, and Stafford (10.2) has been more efficient passing out of such formations than Goff (6.6).
Of course, there is relative agreement whether or not Stafford is an upgrade over Goff. However, there are questions about the extent to which he improves their Super Bowl prospects. Thinking about why Goff was traded should inform us of how the Rams expect Stafford to improve their team.
|Split||Matthew Stafford||Jared Goff|
|Non-PAR downs||9.6 Total Points/60 Snaps||4.8 Total Points/60 Snaps|
|Shotgun passing||10.8 Total Points/60 Snaps||5.4 Total Points/60 Snaps|
|Non-PA passing||9 Total Points/60 Snaps||4.8 Total Points/60 Snaps|
Being able to utilize more shotgun formations, employ dropback concepts when necessary, and dig out of holes now and again, is a big deal. The Rams’ window is closing fast. Fortunately for them, there are few quarterbacks in the NFL better at accessing tight windows than Stafford.