Turnovers have been an issue for Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff this season, and really for much of his career.
Goff threw a career-high 16 interceptions in 2019 with the Los Angeles Rams, and committed 10 turnovers in one four-game stretch last season.
Goff’s penchant for mistakes was a big reason the Rams soured on him as a quarterback, and they’ve been a contributing factor to the Lions’ 0-5 start this year.
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All four of Goff’s turnovers in close losses the past two weeks have come in scoring territory, and he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown in a 41-33 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1.
“It’s killed us a couple weeks in a row,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said after Goff lost a fumble and threw an interception in Sunday’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings. “It could be as simple as trimming the calls back a little bit to where it’s a little bit more mainstream and to the point; quick, easy, I see it in my head, we get lined up. It’s just a little less, maybe, moving parts if you will. Maybe that’s where we can help a little bit, so we’ll look at everything with it, but it’s — it hurts us.”
Goff leads the NFL with six fumbles (four lost) and has thrown three interceptions this season.
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Not every mistake has been his fault. As Campbell said, Goff’s coaches and teammates must do more to put him in better situations.
Many, though, have been careless, or a case of him trying to do too much. And all are concerning for a veteran quarterback who is supposed to be a game manager on a team that has a very slim margin for error.
For this week’s film review, I looked back at all seven of Goff’s turnovers to get a better sense of how and why they’ve happened, and what the Lions can do to limit them going forward.
The pick 6
Goff’s first turnover of the season came late in the first half of a loss to the 49ers, with the Lions in two-minute mode and Goff trying too hard to make a play on third-and-8.
Defensive end Kentavius Street got pressure on a four-man rush, driving right tackle Matt Nelson into Goff as he threw. Street’s pressure undoubtedly affected the pass; Goff’s right forearm hit Nelson’s helmet on his follow-through.
But even without the pressure, Goff made a bad decision to try and fit a pass into a window it had no chance of squeezing through.
Middle linebacker Fred Warner and right outside linebacker Dre Greenlaw had underneath zone coverage on T.J. Hockenson as he ran a crossing route over the middle of the field, and safety Jimmy Ward was in help over top. Greenlaw, with no reason to worry about a late-releasing D’Andre Swift out of the backfield — the Lions kept two running backs in on the play to help with pass protection — hovered near the line of gain and made an easy read on the interception, which he returned for a touchdown.
“That was one we all wish he would have had back. I’m sure he does, too,” Campbell said after the game. “He just kind of hung on Hockenson too long and it bit us in the ass.”
Eight days after the 49ers loss, in a soggy Monday night game against the Green Bay Packers, Goff committed two more turnovers and had another fumble he recovered after knocking the ball out of his own hand.
After a stellar first half in which he completed 13 of his first 14 passes, Goff lost a fumble late in the third quarter when he simply pulled his bottom hand off the ball too early after taking the snap from Frank Ragnow. The Packers recovered and scored a touchdown six plays later to put the game away.
Goff fumbled again on the next series on a third-and-3 play when the ball slipped from his grasp as he patted it while loading to pass. Nelson allowed pressure from Rashan Gary on the play, but the fumble, which Goff recovered, seemed more about his own carelessness and possibly the weather than Gary’s rush.
Asked after the game if rain was a factor, Goff said, “Yeah, it gave us issues. It gave me issues, specifically, but it shouldn’t be. We had the one snap and then the ball that slipped out of my hand there at the end, but it shouldn’t be an issue.”
Pressure was a contributing factor on the interception Goff threw late in the fourth quarter. With none of his first few reads open working out of a trips formation to the left of scrimmage, Goff escaped the pocket to his right and spotted an open Trinity Benson beyond the first down marker.
Jonathan Garvin dove and grabbed Goff’s legs just as he went to pass, causing the ball to flutter off its mark and into the arms of De’Vondre Campbell.
A more mobile quarterback might have successfully avoided the rush, but at that stage of the game — down 18 points with just over 3 minutes left — Goff can be excused for trying to make a play.
Red zone woes
Goff played a turnover-free game in the Lions’ Week 3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, then was part of two costly red-zone mistakes in a Week 4 loss to the Chicago Bears.
Goff was charged with a fumble on the Lions’ opening possession, when Ragnow snapped the ball off Goff’s leg as Goff approached the line to make an adjustment.
While Goff never possessed the ball and Dan Campbell said the Lions should have switched to a silent count, Goff said the miscommunication was “on me.”
Goff’s second turnover against the Bears was another red zone mistake in the first half, when Robert Quinn beat Penei Sewell for strip-sack. Quinn beat Sewell with a speed rush and chopped the ball out of Goff’s hand with his right arm. Had Swell held off Quinn for another split-second, Goff had Quintez Cephus open in the back of the end zone for a likely touchdown.
Goff recovered his own fumble in Chicago territory later in the game, when Trevis Gipson jarred the ball loose as Goff stepped up in the pocket to avoid a rush. He said Sunday that his turnovers have generally fallen into three categories this year — poor decision making, poor ball security and the other team making a good defensive play.
Quinn’s strip-sack was the only true case of the latter I could find.
“Obviously, need to limit them, they need to go away, right?” Goff said. “But I need to keep playing aggressively like I always have and not allow things that may happen my way or their way, whatever it may be, affect the way that I play each play. “
Goff lost a fumble on a strip-sack Sunday for the second time this season, when Everson Griffen beat Sewell with a spin move. Campbell, though, said that turnover was partly Goff’s fault.
“I think he’s trying to take chances, sometimes at a fault,” Campbell said. “I think he’s trying to get it downfield sometimes when maybe he ought to just go to the first look. Look, one of those (against the Vikings), Hockenson’s open on a hitch. Just throw the hitch and then we won’t have the issue, we don’t have the sack-fumble. Just take what’s there. We like it, and that’s what it’s for if they’re going to play off and then we don’t even have that mess.”
Goff’s decision making was an issue with his second turnover Sunday, too, an interception on a second-and-8 play in Vikings territory early in the second half.
Linebacker Eric Kendricks made a fantastic one-handed catch on the play, something few NFL linebackers can do, but Goff forced a slant pass in KhaDarel Hodge’s direction after pulling a handoff from Swift on what appeared to be a run-pass option play.
Griffen followed Swift on the play-fake, but Kendricks held his line, dropped into coverage and simply reached his right hand into the passing lane to grab the ball.
Offensive line issues have been a contributing factor on five of Goff’s turnovers, Hodge and the rest of the Lions receivers need to do a better job winning their routes, and Campbell said the Lions’ lack of a downfield passing game has been an issue, too.
But Goff has been the victim of his own mistakes in many ways, and that must stop for the Lions to end their losing ways.
“I think we have to do a better job as a staff of designing some of these shots, protecting him and getting it downfield,” Campbell said. “I think we have to do a better job of protecting. And when I say that, I think that’s the protection plan as well because he can throw it. Now, he’s got to take care of the football because this has shown up again and here we go, we’re in the red zone and it’s why are we struggling to get touchdowns early in the half because we get in the red zone and we turn the ball over. Otherwise, we might score, or we should score. But I think there’s a number of things we can help him with, too, to help our whole offense with.”