LOS ANGELES — Repeat after Sean McVay: Jared Goff is not a “system” quarterback.
Never mind that Joe Montana, the reason the Rams quarterback wears No. 16, was a so-called system quarterback who won a bunch of Super Bowl rings. Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady; they brought a few systems to life, too.
It’s just semantics. In McVay’s quick-firing, robo-memory mind, calling Goff a product of his prolific, cutting-edge system is back-handed compliment stuff. It’s also a buzzword that has morphed into a locker room joke, while surely annoying the hyper, second-year coach who, well, has his fingerprints all over the development of the quarterback triggering that high-scoring system.
Hey, anything to keep the edge.
“He’s not a system quarterback,” McVay reiterated this week. “The biggest thing is he’s making plays that great players make, and that’s why you feel fortunate to have him leading the way.”
The Rams certainly need their “system” thrower to maintain his consistency — he’s the third quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 350 yards with a 75 percent completion rate in back-to-back games — as a counterbalance to the sudden adversity that has struck before a huge test on Thursday night when the Minnesota Vikings bring one of the NFL’s best defenses to the Coliseum.
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Injuries knocked both of the Rams’ elite cornerbacks, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, out of Sunday’s victory against the Chargers. Talib is expected to have ankle surgery and miss several weeks; Peters is considered day-to-day with a calf injury.
They only formulate the NFL’s best cornerback tandem, essential to coordinator Wade Phillips designs as their man-to-man coverage skills free up blitz possibilities.
“Temporary adversity,” is how McVay put it to USA TODAY Sports.
But serious enough as a threat to the flow the Rams (3-0) have established as perhaps the most-balanced team in the league.
Goff knows. There are no guarantees in the NFL. Every team has some form or another of an issue.
Take the result from Minneapolis on Sunday. The Rams were as stunned as you were in seeing that their next opponent was upset on its own turf by a 17-point underdog, the Buffalo Bills.
What a reminder. It’s still an any-given-Sunday (or Thursday) environment.
“Yeah, we kind of talked about that pregame, seeing that game happen before we got out there — how unpredictable the NFL is,” Goff said. “Everyone thought one thing was going to happen and the exact opposite happened … You can never take anything for granted — even being 3-0, playing the way we are.”
Goff might not be the hottest quarterback in the NFL (hello, Patrick Mahomes), but he’s seemingly playing his best football and making great decisions. His team has won every game this season by a double-digit margin, with an NFL-best 66-point differential for the season. The offense that was the highest-scoring unit in the league last season looks to be even better, with weapons galore, including Todd Gurley, the NFL’s best running back. It stayed on script by rolling the Chargers for 521 yards, with Goff throwing for 354 yards and three TDs.
Yet within all of that, the buzz about Goff going “off-script” to fuel his improvement has substance. Exhibit A on Sunday came on a 53-yard TD pass to Cooper Kupp. Sure, Kupp broke an open-field tackle to pave the final 20 yards to the end zone. But the RAC doesn’t happen if Goff doesn’t feel his way around the heat in the pocket, then step up to deliver a dime.
“That was all him,” McVay said. “But he’s always done a great job of being able to create on his own. Go back to his career at Cal. He’s always had good spatial awareness. Really, it’s him understanding the intent of the calls. Then when things happen off-schedule, you naturally do your deal.”
The Rams surely envisioned what Goff displayed on Sunday, when he was picked No. 1 overall (over Carson Wentz) in 2016. Yet the “system” tag that came into the league with escalated after the dramatic improvement Goff had after McVay arrived last year. Sure, the Rams offense has a certain identity tied Gurley. Yet Goff’s increased confidence is evident as he is making more throws to tighter windows this season, on top of the “off-script” moments.
“I think I’m getting more comfortable with anticipating stuff and anticipating windows, and that may be part of it,” Goff said. “That just happens as you grow and get better.”
The numbers show it, too. Through three games, he’s completed 70.3 percent of his passes (up from 62.1 percent last season), while his average gain-per-attempt of 9.32 yards is up from 7.97 yards.
“It’s just like anything else,” McVay said. “You get better with experience.”
And that learning curve for Goff undoubtedly suggests that labels really don’t matter when compared to the consistent winning that can script championship systems.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
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