Jared Goff Has A Play-Action Problem

The Los Angeles Rams are 3-0, but not a particularly dominant 3-0. A Week 2 win against the New Orleans Saints aside — one that saw Drew Brees leave early with an injury — the Rams have played some close and sloppy games. Much of this comes from an offense that has yet to really take off through three weeks.

Los Angeles currently ranks 16th in offensive DVOA and that is brought down by a passing game that ranks 20th, a year after they were fifth on the way to a Super Bowl appearance.

A big key to that success was the play-action game. Since Sean McVay took over as the head coach, there has not been a team that has used play-action to a bigger advantage.

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Last year, the Rams used play-action on a league-leading 36% of pass plays and their 9.4 yards per play with play-action was second to the New England Patriots. This year, the Rams are still using play-action at a high rate — 34%, which ranks fifth — but the production hasn’t been there. They’re averaging just 7.8 yards per play with play-action, which ranks 19th. It doesn’t help that the offense has been even worse on straight drop backs, where their 5.9 yards per play ranks 23rd.

Among 32 quarterbacks with at least 10 play-action attempts this season, Jared Goff ranks 24th in Expected Points Added and 28th in Adjusted Yards (weighted for touchdowns and interceptions) per attempt. If the offense is going to hit its stride, this play-action game is going to have to improve.

All Figured Out

Midway through the 2018 season, the Detroit Lions laid the foundation of a blueprint to slow the Rams offense. The strategy was then adopted and adapted by the likes of the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears in the regular season and famously the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. The most basic takeaways of this defensive plan is a heavy 6-man front to stop the run and late-shifting coverage on the back end of the secondary to confuse what Goff believes he sees pre-snap.

The run fits haven’t been much of an issue. It’s been something McVay has already started to figure out. It hasn’t completely slowed down the run game, either; despite a lack of big gains from Todd Gurley, the Rams still rank fifth in rushing DVOA so far this season.

However, the coverage and how Goff has responded to it remains an issue. All three of Goff’s interceptions this season have come on play-action passes. Last year, Goff only had two total interceptions off play-action for the entire season.

One piece of the coverage blueprint against the Rams’ play-action was to sit back in coverage and allow the routes to develop in front of the secondary before breaking on the ball. This has happened on two of Goff’s 2019 interceptions.

Against the Panthers in Week 1, Goff thought he would have Robert Woods open on a deep dig in front of cornerback James Bradburry. But when Woods made his cut, Bradberry broke in front of the receiver and was able to intercept the pass.


Also, notice how the linebackers on the Panthers didn’t break on the play-fake. All of them stood their ground to watch for the run then backpedaled into coverage on the ground. This took away the shallow routes for Goff to target.

Another strike on Goff for this play is the window for Cooper Kupp on the deep cross in front of the safety, one much bigger than what he tried to hit with Woods.

Against Cleveland in Week 3, a zone drop by the Browns’ defense took away Goff’s first read to his right and as he turned to the left, he drifted in the pocket and waited too long for Brandin Cooks to break to the sideline. Goff’s arm strength doesn’t hold him back on things like deep passes, but he doesn’t have the arm to fit a ball that late into a closing window. Cornerback T.J Carrie was able to jump in front of Cooks for the interception.


A potential silver lining is despite the interceptions, Goff is slightly above average in positive play rate (the percentage of plays that produce positive EPA) on play-action. He’s at 51.2% through three weeks, just slightly behind his 55.2% figure last season, per Sports Info Solutions.

It’s not like Goff has suddenly lost all ability to take advantage of play-action, but the big plays have been replaced to this point with bad ones. 

Under More Pressure

While Goff has certainly struggled on these play-action passes, he hasn’t gotten a lot of help from the players in front of him on the offensive line. Pass protection, especially on play-action, was a strength for the Rams last season when they ranked first as a team in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate. This season, the Rams aren’t even a top-10 team by PBWR through three weeks.

Last year, Goff was under pressure on 53 of his 212 play-action drop backs, per SIS, a 25% rate. So far this season that has increased to 17-of-37 drop backs, a 46% rate. But impressively, Goff has held up fairly well under pressure — much better than he did last season.

YearAttComp%On-Target%YPAEPAPositive Play%

Of course, the problem here is performance under pressure isn’t stable and if a big part of Goff’s play-action success so far has been under pressure, that doesn’t bode well for predicting future play-action success.

Goff’s play under pressure is far more likely to get worse than stay at this rate and that’s concerning when his play from a clean pocket has been dreadful on play-action passes. 

YearAttComp%On-Target%YPAEPAPositive Play%

At this point, it looks like Goff is stuck between taking too long to process what’s happening in front of him and then rushing everything once he’s figured it out.

Take this play against Cleveland on a 1st and 10. Goff wants Woods on a deep crosser. He has to sidestep pressure and by the time he shuffles multiple times to set for the throw, the window closes and the pass is broken up. Meanwhile in front of Goff, Kupp has a ton of open space to run on a check down.


Goff’s second interception of the game was also forced into a closed window while he had a check down opening up on a 3rd and 3. 

This shouldn’t doom the Rams for the remainder of the season. Overall Goff isn’t forcing balls into tight windows at an abnormally high rate — he’s at just 12.4% per Next Gen Stats — but it’s certainly something that needs to be fixed. McVay can add in some more short and intermediate options on these passes that allow Goff to process more quickly and create more separation when these defensive backs are staying back on the routes.

However McVay chooses to fix it, the sooner a solution is found, the better. Play-action success is the key to how this offense functions and as long as that isn’t at full capacity, the Rams will struggle to reach their full potential as a contender.