This is part two of a multi-part series, reviewing each and every one of Jared Goff’s incomplete passes in Super Bowl LIII.
Incompletion #3 (pressured) - Under Rt Yo Tight Fake-25 94 R-block
On Jared Goff’s third incompletion, the Rams were facing a 1st and 10 at midfield. Again, they had “11 personnel” on the field. (The first digit refers to the number of runningbacks and fullbacks, and the second digit refers to the tight ends. The number of wide receivers is implied. With 11 personnel, the Rams have 1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WRs on the field.)
Goff is under center. The tight end, Higsbee is off the line of scrimmage. The wide receivers are all in tight.
The Patriots are in a 4-2 nickel. Patriots linebacker #42 Kyle Van Noy is lined up in the offense’s left C-gap, taking away any possible weak-side run. (The offense’s weak side is the offense’s left because the strength of the offense’s formation is to the right, where the tight end is located.)
The play call is a play action pass. Goff will fake a handoff to runningback Todd Gurley to the offense’s left (the “play side”). Wide receiver Brandin Cooks on the play side will run a clear-out go route straight up the field. Wide receiver Robert Woods on the backside will run a dig route across the middle of the field. There are only two players to throw the ball to. Slot wide receiver Josh Reynolds and tight end Tyler Higbee will stay in and block. With an additional TE and WR staying in to block, this is a max protection scheme. The success of this play hinges on the Rams fooling the Patriots defenders into believing that runningback Todd Gurley is going to run the football.
After the snap of the football, things are already not looking good. The Patriots defenders are not fooled at all. The linebackers barely take one step up the field, but then stop, recognizing the play action pass. (Linebackers circled in red.) As the linebackers, and the cornerback drop into coverage, it leaves only the original four defensive linemen on pass rush. Those four pass rushers against seven Rams pass blockers should be no match.
The Patriots LB #54 Dont’a Hightower and DB #23 Patrick Chung recognize the play action, and start getting depth to take away the passing lanes.
Goff actually has a little over a second at the top of his dropback before the pass blocking begins to break down. Tight end Tyler Higbee lets the Patriots left defensive end split him and Rams right tackle Rob Havenstein. Rams offensive center John Sullivan stumbles, perhaps losing his balance, and allows the Patriots nose tackle to penetrate the pocket.
Although we can’t see what is going on with Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods off the screen, I presume they are not open. Remember, the Patriots weren’t fooled by the play action and dropped six men into zone coverage after the snap. (Four defensive linemen rushed the QB, and LB Van Noy covered RB Gurley, leaving six defenders in the secondary.) Those six defenders only had two wide receivers to cover. Goff is pressured, and is forced to quickly throw the ball to avoid the sack.
Goff throws a low pass into the field towards wide receiver Robert Woods who looked like he managed a little bit of daylight by bringing his route back towards the line of scrimmage towards a whole in the zones. But Goff’s hurried pass is low and hits the field a few yards in front of Woods.
Most casual Super Bowl viewers watching this play probably will only see Goff’s short throw. They’ll miss the fact that the Patriots had excellent play recognition. They’ll miss the fact that Higsbee and Sullivan couldn’t maintain their blocks. They’ll miss the fact that the Rams seven man max-protect scheme failed against the Patriots’ four man pass rush.
Did this play fail because of anything Goff did? Again, I don’t think so. Perhaps he could have made a better throw under pressure to Robert Woods who was bringing his route back towards the line of scrimmage for Goff, but Goff had two defenders in his face — two defenders who really should not have gotten close to Goff at all.
Incompletion #4 (bad read) - Gun left Doubles R-swap weak X-8 max pro quick out
Goff’s fourth incompletion occurred on the same drive a few plays later. The Rams are facing a 3rd and 3. They have “11 personnel” out on the field. The Rams approach the line of scrimmage in a 2x2 formation (2 receivers left of center, and 2 receivers right of center). Goff is in shotgun. Runningback Todd Gurley is split to Goff’s right.
Pre-snap motion sends wide receiver Brandin Cooks in motion from the offense’s left to the offense’s right. Patriots defensive back #24 Stephen Gilmore follows Cooks on the motion, signaling that he is playing man coverage. The rest of the Patriots defense is showing man coverage as well. The Patriots are in a 3-2 dime defense (3 defensive linemen, 2 linebackers, and 6 defensive backs).
Here is the pre-snap look after the motion.
The Rams are running a max protect quick-out play. The tight end to the offense’s left, and runningback Todd Gurley will stay in to pass protect, giving the Rams seven pass blockers. Wide receiver Josh Reynolds will run a go route, essentially clearing out the outer-most defender from that side of the field. Wide receiver Robert Woods will run a whip route to the outside of the field. Wide receiver Brandin Cooks is the primary read on this play, running a quick out underneath the Reynolds and Woods. Reynolds and Woods will act as a natural pick against Patriots cornerback #24 Stephen Gilmore who is man coverage and responsible for covering Cooks. That’s the easy read and throw for a first down.
Post-snap everything is looking great. Gilmore gets “picked” by both wide receiver Josh Reynolds and the defender covering him. Cooks will be open on the quick out for an easy pass and easy first down. Goff sees Cooks and should make the throw, but doesn’t. It doesn’t show in these still-frame photos, but in the actual game, Goff sees Cooks open, hesitates, and then decides not to make the throw. It’s strange considering Goff has a clean pocket, he’s not being pressured or rushed, and he has a clear passing lane. (There is a pass rusher getting blocked by the right tackle in front of Goff, but they’re not in Goff’s face and quarterbacks pass over defenders all the time so this shouldn’t be unusual.)
Instead, Goff re-gathers himself, and passes the ball to wide receiver Robert Woods on the whip route. Woods is open for the first down. Perhaps Goff’s decision won’t make a difference.
Goff throws a perfectly placed bullet right into Woods’ hands, but the Patriots safety, Patrick Chung, had incredible anticipation and play recognition, and makes contact with Woods right as he makes the catch.
The ball gets knocked out of Woods’ hands from the contact, for an incompletion. Look how open Cooks is at this moment. There isn’t a defender within 3.5 yards of him. If Goff had made the pass to Cooks, it would have been a completion for a first down.
Why did this play fail? It failed because Goff, strangely, decided not to make the throw to Cooks even though Cooks was going to be open. Cooks was the primary receiver on this play. He’s the first receiver that Goff is going to look at. If he’s not open, then Goff will look to Woods on the whip route. The quarterback reads the receivers in that order, because it allows the QB to read the area in front of the receivers back to the receivers, so that the QB will know if there are defenders in front of the route who can potentially jump the pass for an interception.
At this point in the game, Goff is 2/6. If you just look at that stat line alone, it’s not a good start for Goff at all. But let’s remember how these incompletions happened:
Incompletion #1 - throw away (Goff pressured)
Incompletion #2 - dropped pass (Goff pressured)
Incompletion #3 - incompletion (Goff pressured)
Incompletion #4 - incompletion (bad read)
Three out of four of Goff’s incompletions he was under pressure. Unfortunately, on the fourth incompletion when he wasn’t pressured he made the wrong read.
How did the rest of Goff’s incompletions happen? Please check back in a few days, and join me in more posts breaking down Goff’s incompletions in Super Bowl LIII.