Jared Goff’s time with the Detroit Lions began the same way that it ended with the Los Angeles Rams, disappointing. By Week 7 of his first season with the Lions, Dan Campbell looked at the media, took a deep breath, and criticized Goff during a postgame press conference. At that point in the season, the Lions were winless.
Five games into the 2023 season and the Lions are 4-1 with the fourth-best Offensive DVOA in NFL. Also, Goff is Pro Football Focus’ highest-rated quarterback. That’s right, eat your heart out Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and even Tua Tagovailoa, Goff is currently playing quarterback at arguably the highest level in the NFL.
It’s feeling like 2018 for Goff in Detroit. The weather might be chillier in the Motor City this time of year than it is in Southern California, but he is playing almost as well for the Lions this season as he did for the Rams back then.
Goff was an MVP candidate through five games of the 2018 season. He completed 72.3 percent of his passes for 1,727 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging more than 10 yards per attempt, and had only thrown four interceptions. That was his second season in Sean McVay’s offense.
That season ended with a Super Bowl appearance for the Rams, but Goff’s play declined in the playoffs. A decline that coincided with Todd Gurley’s injured knee. Gurley was the only player on the Rams’ offense who was playing even better than Goff. He played in 14 games and totaled better than 1,800 yards from scrimmage and scored 21 total touchdowns.
Knee arthritis would limit Gurley in the playoffs and ended his NFL career two seasons later. Goff struggled in the playoffs and was ineffective against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. In both 2019 and 2020, he resorted back to the interception-throwing ways of his Jeff Fisher-coached 2016 season. The Rams traded their 2016 No. 1 overall draft choice to the Lions in 2021 for Matthew Stafford and went on to win the Super Bowl.
While the Lions only won three games in 2021, Goff began to grow after being called out by his coach. They lost an ugly game to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8 and tied the Pittsburgh Steelers the following week. Goff didn’t throw any interceptions in either game, but his play still left a lot to be desired. Against the Steelers, he threw for 114 yards with a 56 percent completion percentage and averaged less than five yards per attempt.
Changes were made after the tie. Campbell took over play-calling duties and Goff found his game. He threw only two more interceptions the rest of the season, and would not go another week without a touchdown pass. From Weeks 5-9, Goff threw no touchdowns in four of five games, and four total interceptions. From Weeks 11-17, he threw for multiple touchdowns in four out of the five games he played during that stretch, and only two total interceptions.
Last season, the Lions hired Ben Johnson as offensive coordinator. Goff returned to the Pro Bowl and threw for more than 4,000 yards for the first time since that 2018 year of glory with the Rams. The Lions finished the 2022 season with a record above .500 for the first time since 2017.
Through five games this season, Goff sits atop the PFF quarterback rankings, largely because he is not turning the ball over. Through five games, per PFF’s turnover-worthy metric Goff only has three. He has the fourth-most passing touchdowns, the fourth-highest yards per attempt, and has the highest adjusted completion percentage in the league.
Goff wasn’t able to string together three consecutive strong seasons in Los Angeles, but appears to be well on his way to two, and a half with the Lions. He is playing with poise and letting the ball rip in responsible ways. And this time around, Goff is making plays regardless of who is on the field. On Sunday the Lions were without top pass catcher Amon-Ra St. Brown. Goff still lit up the Carolina Panthers for three passing touchdowns, no interceptions, and completed better than 70 percent of his passes. He even scored a rushing touchdown for good measure.
The Rams gave up on Goff after the 2018 season. Early on with the Lions, it appeared that they would need to go find a quarterback as well but Goff turned the oil tankard that was his quarterback play around. He is leading a Lions team that is playing some of the best football in franchise history.
Goff may not be Mahomes or Allen, but he has left his Rams struggles, and that press conference criticism in his rearview mirror.