FOXBORO -- In three of the Rams’ past five games, they scored just 10 points. In the other two, they scored nine (and won) and 21 (and lost by 28).
They are converting 34.5 percent of their first downs, have 17 offensive touchdowns and, well, you get the point.
They are “playing the kids” and in this instance the primary kid is No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff. A 6-foot-4, 215-pound, 22-year-old who spent three seasons at Cal before departing for the NFL. Sunday will be Goff’s third start after losing 14-10 to Miami and 49-21 to the Saints.
The skinny on the skinny Goff?
“You have a big guy, he’s a tall quarterback, he’s long,” said Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. “He has an extremely strong arm and a very accurate arm in a lot of the different throws that they ask him to make. He’s a very good quarterback from the standpoint of arm strength and the ability to get the ball downfield.”
He’s also getting some latitude to make calls at the line, said Patricia.
“From the passing game you see a lot of those throws (requiring reads), you see a lot of decisions, you see what they’re trying to do from a philosophy standpoint with him. I think game-plan-wise (offensive coordinator Rob) Boras is doing a great job of trying to control it with him so he doesn’t have to put too much on him. But then if you take a look at the run game, there’s quite a bit in the run game where he obviously is, whether it’s a ‘check with me’ type of play or he’s looking at the defense and he can change the play at the line of scrimmage, it’s very subtle, it’s very quick but he is doing a lot of that at the line, which obviously with the run game that they have and the back [Todd] Gurley of course, he’s doing a good job of putting them in some of those situations or trying to get them in the right situation. You can see his development from that standpoint starting to increase.”
Gurley, the 10th overall pick in 2015, is a horse (6-foot-1, 231 pounds) whose outstanding rookie season (1,106 yards, 4.8 YPC, 10 touchdowns) has given way to a disappointing 2016. Through 11 games, Gurley’s carried 200 times for 641 yards (3.2 average) and four touchdowns.
Obviously, the fact the Rams tethered the early portion of their season to quarterback Case Keenum meant there weren’t a lot of defenses sweating out death from above. As a result, they’ve been able to load up against Gurley.
He keeps coming, though, said Patricia.
“He’s really, he’s a workhorse guy,” Patricia described. “He’s a bigger guy, he likes to get the ball downhill into the defense, he runs with really good pad level, protects the ball, he has good vision, and he can set up a lot of blocks. I would say the thing that is really impressive is his burst to get vertical. When his pads are facing downhill and he can just get downhill quickly and really you see it in a couple routes that he has in the passing game where he’s catching the ball on the move. It’s like, ‘He’s coming’. It’s a big, strong, powerful back that’s coming downhill with low pads. Those are tough guys to tackle.”
With the way the Patriots scheme and switch personnel up front, they have a challenge with Gurley. When the Patriots go to sub-defense and take out Malcom Brown or Alan Branch and go skinny and fast on the defensive line, the Rams could be looking to counter.
I asked Patricia how that chess match will go.
“I think when we know it’s truly a downhill run situation or we’re anticipating it to be a downhill, we never truly know obviously, and [if] we can get big guys in the game and try to make sure we stop the run, that’s what we’re going to do,” he explained. “Certainly with a back like [Todd] Gurley who is very large, we’ve played big backs before, when you get the 300-pounders in front of them the wall looks a little bit different in the defense.
“When we do go into some of those situations where we have maybe guys that aren’t 300-pounders in there, hopefully some scheme allows us to either use something to their ability, their strengths, quickness or whatever it might be to help us with the blocking,” he continued. “I think in the run game, first and foremost, you have got to deal with the offensive linemen. That’s really the first problem. You know, ‘What is our matchup here based on the run that they’re going to give us? Is it a big double team? Is it a stretch team? Is it a zone team? Are they just going to pour off the ball and try to knock us out of there?’ So those are all things that come into consideration as far as putting a guy who may not be a 300-pounder in the middle.
“We practice a lot of tackling,” added Patricia. “We spend a lot of time on it. Even if it is a big guy, we’re going to go tackle him and do our best to go get him down and get in there. Obviously the down and distance can dictate how much from a yardage standpoint that we’re allowed to kind of give a little bit with. With some of those looks that we have, that area is a little bit different, [so] we’re just trying to make sure from a blocking standpoint that we can handle the blocking first.”
The Rams’ primary receivers -- Kenny Britt and slot guy Tavon Austin -- have Patricia’s attention as well. Especially since Goff did seem to get in a groove last week.
“I mean Kenny Britt is unbelievable as far as a receiver to be able to go up and catch the ball and create vertical separation, get behind the coverage, and with a guy like [Jared] Goff who can throw it down there, that’s a big threat as far as the deep balls are concerned [and] the big plays are concerned,” he said. “Tavon Austin [is a] very fast receiver, very quick guy that plays in the slot, so again, his ability to get those shorter, intermediate-type, possession-type balls out quickly with good velocity. I mean honestly, he threw an unbelievable deep ball downfield. It was tight-spiraled, it was about 56 yards in the air and it was just a really pretty throw. The guy has got a great, strong arm and he does a great job with the tight end too. I’ll tell you [Lance] Kendricks kind of silently is a really good possession receiver for them, a guy that he obviously trusts and he can get the ball to.”
For the remainder of the week, we will explain how Bill Belichick routinely takes Jeff Fisher teams over his knee and sends them home tear-stained and red-assed. But that’s us. Within the Patriots meeting rooms, Patricia will try to get his defense on high alert for an occasion where potential and performance link up.