The Rams have stumbled through an 8-6 season and are on the brink of missing the playoffs only 10 months after playing in Super Bowl LIII. To earn a postseason berth they must close their schedule with a road win against the San Francisco 49ers and a victory at home versus the Cardinals as well as have the Minnesota Vikings lose at home to the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears.
This season hasn't been all Jared Goff
's fault, not by any measure. The defense, while stout at times, has failed to appear on several occasions, and the offense has experienced growing pains, as coach Sean McVay navigates adjusting a scheme that the rest of the league has figured out how to defend.
The offensive line, consistently among the best units in the NFL the past two seasons, has suffered from inexperience and a lack of cohesion, as their pass block win rate has plummeted
from 74.3 percent (ranked 1st) in 2018 to 55.3 percent (24th) this season. Running back Todd Gurley
, the focal point of the offense when he rushed for 1,251 yards and scored a league-high 21 touchdowns a year ago, has experienced uneven usage through this season's ups and downs.
Still, given Goff's four-year extension worth an NFL record $110 million in guarantees that he signed before this season, the Rams must figure out how to bring out the best -- or at least a measure of consistency from game-to-game -- from their franchise quarterback.
"He is the quarterback, so a lot of the weight of the team and the weight of the production does fall on the position," quarterbacks coach Shane Waldron said. "That's the nature of the beast."
As ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry reminded readers, last season Goff helped the Rams to a 13-3 record. He delivered a perfect passer rating in an early-season win over the Vikings, put on a passing clinic in a Monday Night thriller over the Kansas City Chiefs and delivered an improbable come-from-behind effort to win the NFC Championship Game against the New Orleans Saints.
Goff has rated among the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. He has passed for 3,996 yards with 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. His total QBR of 45.7 ranks him 25th in the league, sandwiching him between the Buffalo Bills' Josh Allen
and the Bears' Mitchell Trubisky
Goff says he tries not to put too much weight on the numbers because they can be skewed. So how does he measure success?
"When we win is when I feel the best, and I think that's a quarterback's job is to win," said Goff, who has a 34-15 record, including playoffs, since 2017. "By no means does that mean play bad every week and win and you're happy."
Goff's 15 interceptions exceed the 12 he threw last season and are the fifth most among qualified passers, placing him between the Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton
(13) and the Cleveland Browns' Baker Mayfield
(17). His touchdown-to-interception ratio, 1.13, ranks 29th, between the Los Angeles Chargers' Philip Rivers
Thiry added that Goff especially struggles when defenses bring pressure this season. In such situations, his completion percentage plummets from 63 percent to 28 percent, his yards per attempt drop from 7.5 to 2.5 and his touchdown to interception ratio is 0-5.
"As we've now gone into working through our third year together, there's a lot of things that both he and I, and really a lot of our team in general, can continue to learn from," McVay said.
Throughout the roller coaster season, which included a three-game stretch in November when Goff had five passes intercepted and fumbled four times while not throwing a touchdown, coaches and teammates have praised their quarterback's ability to remain even keeled.
"That's his best strength," Waldron said. "He is unflappable."
Goff appeared as much Sunday evening after the loss at Dallas. He addressed reporters in the same manner and tone he has since the Rams selected him with the top overall pick in 2016, even as he knew the season was grinding to an unfortunate halt.
"All we can do is move forward and try to win each game one at a time," said Goff, in his usual calm and matter-of-fact way. "It's a good opportunity for us to go out and compete and show who we are."
The Rams never gained traction against the Cowboys, who entered the game without a win against a team with a record above .500. Goff had his right hand assessed for injury early but did not leave the game. "My hand is fine," he said afterward.
As for what caused the slow start, and kept the offense from finding any real momentum outside of the final few minutes, after the game was far out of hand?
"It just didn't happen," Goff said. "For whatever reason."
Meanwhile, Tyler Higbee
caught 12 of 14 targets for 111 yards in Dallas last Sunday.
In what ESPN's Mike Clay considers one of the most surprising developments of the season, Higbee has gone from totaling 85 receiving yards as a rookie, 306 yards in 2017, 347 yards in 2018, 212 yards during Weeks 1-12 this season to putting up 334 yards during his past three games.
Higbee has reached 100 yards in three straight games, managing a 26-334-1 line on 33 targets during the span. He's the highest-scoring fantasy tight end by eight points since Week 13.
Granted, Gerald Everett
has been out with an injury, but even with Everett off the injury report this week, Clay advised his readers it's hard to imagine Higbee being phased out of the offense after his recent burst in production.
And what about the forgotten man in this offense, Brandin Cooks
As NFL.com's Michael Fabiano noted, Cooks had eight targets in last week's loss to the Cowboys, and his 46 yards were the most he's had since Week 7. But the volume hasn't been there for the most part with Robert Woods
, Cooper Kupp
and more recently, Higbee, demanding looks on a more consistent basis. ...
And finally, even as he comes off his season high for percentage of offensive snaps played (97 percent) and has had all three of his 20-plus-touch games in the past five weeks, Todd Gurley
is a player who concerns ESPN.com's Tristan Cockcroft from a volume standpoint. His 16.7 touches per game is a far cry from the 22.5 he averaged a year ago.
Meanwhile, the 49ers have been the league's hottest defense against the run and held Aaron Jones
(Week 12), Mark Ingram
(Week 13), Alvin Kamara
(Week 14) and Devonta Freeman
(Week 15) to single digit fantasy scoring over the past four weeks.
Finally. ... Greg Zuerlein
is listed as questionable
with a quadriceps injury; the fact the team has not made a move to shore the position up (beyond having Brett Mahar in for a workout) is an indication Zuerlein will be good to go.