With Cal-affiliated athletes kicking butt and taking names in the Olympics, it was almost easy to forget that this month marks the NFL debut for Jared Goff, who played his first preseason game for the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday against the Dallas Cowboys. The matchup was also the first game the Rams have played in Los Angeles since returning from St. Louis this offseason.
Goff only played through two series after a big hit caused soreness in his non-throwing shoulder. Rams head coach Jeff Fisher didn’t deem the injury to be too serious but pulled Goff out as a precaution.
“I’m fine,” Goff said. “I’ve played through much worse.”
The former Cal star didn’t start the game and was subbed in midway through the second quarter, with the Rams already down, 21-7. Fisher expected to play Goff throughout the third quarter as well.
In the two series Goff did get to play, there were mixed results. His opening series was a disaster, as he went 0-2 and threw an interception while getting belted in the backfield. Goff’s first pass fell incomplete on a short crossing pattern when he threw a decent ball to rookie wide receiver Pharoh Cooper, who was being covered tightly on the play.
On the very next play, the Cowboys sent a blitz, Goff waited too long and the defender smashed into him, altering his throw. The result was a flapping duck that was easy to pick off, and Mark Nzeocha did just that. The Cowboys scored a field goal on the ensuing possession to stretch their lead to 24-7.
Given the opening game jitters and the steep learning curve for Air Raid quarterbacks, however, early struggles were to be expected. Goff came back in his second series and looked significantly better as he got into a bit of a rhythm. Though his first pass was dropped, Goff managed to drive the Rams down the field in what was essentially a two-minute drill. He completed four consecutive passes on a series of stick and comeback routes and racked up all 38 of his passing yards.
The drive went south after that, however, as Goff overthrew his receiver on a back shoulder throw deep downfield on his next play. The pass after that, which may have been Goff’s best of the day, was a 30-yard laser down the middle of the field into Cooper’s hands at the 9-yard line, but he was unable to hold on.
The Cowboys’ rookie defensive end Shaneil Jenkins brought Goff down for a sack on the next play, forcing the Rams to punt. The former Cal star exited the game with the Rams still down, 24-7. They managed to come back in the second half to win, 28-24, behind Sean Mannion.
With the starting quarterback job still up for grabs and veteran Case Keenum currently holding pole position, Goff still has some work to do if he expects to take starting snaps in week one. He was in his more natural shotgun position for most of his passes and looked comfortable, especially during his second drive. He was rarely tasked with taking the snap from under center, which is one of the main things he’s been working on after doing almost none of that at Cal.
Until Goff does more of that in the preseason, it may be hard to convince the notoriously conservative Fisher that his young quarterback is ready for the starting job. Additionally, Goff will need to work on making better decisions in the face of pressure. On his interception, Goff could have taken a sack instead of trying to do too much with the ball. And on the sack, looking to throw the ball away may have been the prescient move, as the play took the Rams out of field goal range.
All in all, a mixed debut and opening jitters are about what can be expected for a rookie making such a big transition to the NFL. The coming weeks will be more telling for Goff, as he vies for the starting job most think is inevitably his.