Jared Goff is the hottest quarterback in the NFL, and the Lions are making a playoff push. Not a typo. The Lions have won five of their past six games, and Goff leads the NFL in EPA per dropback over that span.
Goff is having a career year and one of the best seasons by a quarterback in the NFL this year. Also not a typo. He ranks fourth in EPA per dropback this season and sixth in ESPN's total quarterback rating (QBR) -- both the best ranks in a season in his career.
Just over a month ago, those statements sounded like an impossibility. The Lions were 1-6 and Goff had a 4-16-1 record up to that point in his career with Detroit.
Just over a month ago, he was still the struggling quarterback the Rams paired with two first-round picks to offload his contract and acquire Matthew Stafford in pursuit of a Super Bowl.
Like most people, I assumed the Lions would stumble to the finish line, draft a quarterback in 2023, and Goff's career would fizzle out. Now, the Lions are still expected to draft a QB in 2023, but the narrative has completely changed around Goff. Maybe he can lead the Lions to the playoffs this season and be a solid starter in 2023.
So, what's changed? Well, one of the biggest reasons the Lions are winning lately is their improved defense. But, Goff has also been more efficient because they are leaning into his bread-and-butter: play action.
|Jared Goff Lions career||First 21 games||Last 6 games|
EPA per dropback
31% of Goff's plays have used play action in his last six games, the fifth-highest rate in the league. He was using play action at the 18th-highest rate (24%) in his first eight games of the season. Seven of his 10 touchdown passes in his last six games have come off play action.
|Jared Goff play action this season||First 8 games||Last 6 games|
Percent of dropbacks
This is the same formula that made him successful with the Rams. Goff leads the NFL in touchdown passes (12) and ranks fourth in EPA per dropback on play action this season. In 2018, when he helped the Rams reach the Super Bowl, he led the NFL in touchdown passes and ranked fourth in EPA per dropback on play action.
Credit the Lions for leaning into Goff's strength from his Rams days and for the design on these plays. This fake pitch sucked the linebacker in and left Josh Reynolds wide open for a touchdown against the Vikings.
And here, two Jaguars defensive backs were absolutely fooled on this play fake, leading to Amon-Ra St. Brown's easy score.
You can see why the Lions lead the NFL in red zone efficiency this season. Jamaal Williams has been piling up short touchdowns, and the play action has worked perfectly off of it.
One of the (unflattering) comparisons made between Goff and Matthew Stafford after the trade was their arm strength. It was warranted, too. Stafford made big-time deep throws to lead the Rams to a Super Bowl that Goff didn't consistently make during his Rams tenure.
While Goff is never going to lean heavily on the deep ball, he has thrown a few dimes in recent weeks. Week 14 was his first career game with multiple touchdown passes thrown 30-plus yards downfield. His deep touchdown to Jameson Williams was on a broken coverage, but this one to D.J. Chark was perfectly thrown.
He also threaded a ball right into the bread basket to Chark against the Jaguars.
Those are the throws Goff will need to make for Detroit to finish off a miraculous turnaround. Don't forget, the Lions could easily be looking at a six-game win streak (instead of winners of five of six) had Goff completed this deep ball late against the Bills on Thanksgiving.
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2018 Goff vs. 2022 Goff
What Goff is doing this season has to be considered the best season of his career. He's never ranked this high in Total QBR (sixth) or EPA per dropback (fourth). His ranks are similar to 2018 across the board.
|2018 vs. 2022 Jared Goff NFL ranks||QBR||EPA/Dropback||Comp pct||Yards/Att||TD-INT ratio|
Most would consider his 2018 Super Bowl run with the Rams his best season. There are certainly some similarities in offensive styles to that team, but Los Angeles' supporting cast was flat out better than Detroit's.
- The 2018 Rams had one of the best offensive lines in football. It ranked first in ESPN's pass block win rate metric and seventh in PFF's pass-block grade. The 2022 Lions are 17th and 25th, respectively, in those metrics.
- At RB, Todd Gurley had 1,831 scrimmage yards and a league-high 21 touchdowns in 2018. Jamaal Williams and D'Andre Swift both rank outside the top 30 in PFF's RB grades this season.
- At WR, 2018 Robert Woods (29th) and Brandin Cooks (35th) rank better than 2022 Amon-Ra St. Brown (33rd) and D.J. Chark (65th) in ESPN's pass catching metrics. Those metrics use NFL Next Gen Stats technology to see each player's ability to get open, catch passes and get YAC. Don't forget, Detroit also traded TE T.J. Hockenson before this hot stretch.
- Finally, the 2018 Rams ranked 14th in defensive EPA per game. The 2022 Lions rank dead last. That explains the disparity in team success to this point.
It's certainly a nice stretch, but full disclosure, I'm not completely sold that the peak Rams' version of Jared Goff is back. Goff's hot streak has come against five struggling defenses. The Lions' five wins since Week 9 were against the Packers, Bears, Giants, Jaguars and Vikings, who all rank in the bottom half of the league in defensive EPA per game. Minnesota, in particular, has one of the worst secondaries in the league.
Next up, Detroit travels to MetLife Stadium to play the Jets, who have the second-best coverage unit and best defense in the league, according to Pro Football Focus grades. Goff has thrown just two touchdown passes on the road this year and notably lost, 29-0, to the Patriots on the road in Week 5, probably their toughest matchup of the season prior to this one.
If they can win, they'll likely be a half-game back of a playoff spot with three games to go, all against teams with a losing record. I want to see Goff and the Lions deliver in New York, and then beat the teams they should beat, before crowning him, but he's certainly put himself in a good position for the stretch run and beyond.