All SB Nation NFL team sites are writing about the biggest surprise of the 2017 season thus far. Some are staying in-house, such as Behind the Steel Curtain talking about the play of Steelers first-round draft pick T.J. Watt, while others are looking at division rivals, like Bucs Nation did for the disappointing offensive showing for the New Orleans Saints. Mile High Report couldn’t resist calling the New England Patriots’ shocking loss to the Chiefs as the biggest surprise, compiling several headlines discussing New England’s chances of going 19-0.
The Seattle Seahawks really didn’t do anything surprising on Sunday that we haven’t seen before, whether good or bad. I guess the closest thing was the defense shutting out the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, something that’s not been done since 2010, but all you’re talking about is the difficulty of achieving this on the road, because Seattle’s defense pitched a first-half shutout against Aaron Rodgers and his Packers offense back in 2012.
Scanning the NFL box scores and watching the weekend’s highlights, one major surprise to me is the performance of second-year Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff. By any statistical measure, Goff’s rookie season was atrocious and he was distantly the worst starting quarterback in the NFL. Goff’s DVOA without pressure was -45.2%, which is extremely bad, even with the limited seven-start sample size. His QBR was 18.3, and his adjusted yards per attempt was 4.3.
Under a new coaching staff, with a head coach who is a hell of a lot more offensive-minded than Jeff Fisher, Goff had far and away the most impressive performance of his young career. The 2016 #1 overall pick finished 21-of-29 (72.4%) for 306 yards, 1 touchdown pass, and no turnovers in the Rams’ 46-9 romp over the Indianapolis Colts. What stands out to me is how well Goff did on 3rd down, going 7-of-10 for 80 yards and the touchdown to Cooper Kupp (4 catches, 76 yards), who looks to have already developed nice chemistry with him on the field.
While Goff lit up the Colts defense, the Rams still had a poor running game. Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, and Justin Davis combined for just 57 yards on 27 carries, although Gurley and Brown each scored a touchdown.
We can attribute Goff’s great start to his sophomore season to the Colts being an abysmal team currently without both its franchise QB and their #1 cornerback, or the randomness of week 1, or the fact that Sean McVay seems to have a general idea of what an NFL passing offense should look in the 21st century. Whatever the case, Goff looked very good last Sunday. He’s the first 300-yard passer the Rams have had since current Seahawks backup Austin Davis threw for 375 yards in a 2014 loss at Philadelphia. I know Alex Smith and Sam Bradford were statistically superior and played on national TV, but they were middle-of-the-road QBs performing at an elite level. Goff was objectively lousy last year and was demonstrably better to kick off the new season.
If, and this is a big if, Goff makes major strides in 2017, then the Rams have to be considered the only team in the NFC West that can challenge the Seahawks for the division title. The 49ers are rebuilding and the now David Johnson-less Cardinals are teetering on the verge of total collapse. Wade Phillips is surely going to have the Rams defense looking stellar, even more so when Aaron Donald returns (shudders), so a better Jared Goff means a better Rams offense, and a better Rams offense means they might even be in the hunt for a playoff spot in December.
...Or they could still end up being the Rams. That’s also a distinct possibility, and the preferred outcome from a Seahawks point-of-view.