Why Dan Campbell can say Jared Goff is better with Lions than he was with Rams

Detroit Free Press

Dan Campbell made a big statement on Tuesday. No, it wasn’t a silly T-shirt celebrating Brad Holmes and the Droste Effect.

It was subtler than that, but a lot more meaningful and it spoke volumes about what the Detroit Lions coach thinks about quarterback Jared Goff compared to where he came from in Los Angeles and where he believes he can take this team in Detroit.

“I mean he’s a better quarterback than he was there, in my opinion,” Campbell said, “because he can do more things.”

It’s one thing for a coach to give his player a vote of confidence, but it’s quite another for Campbell to say Goff is a better player now than he was five years ago when he threw for 32 touchdowns, had a 101.1 passer rating and led the Rams to the Super Bowl.

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“He is mentally on it,” Campbell said. “I mean we have come lightyears ahead of where he was two years ago when we walked in and just start teaching him protections, and really dove into that. He has a real good grasp of what we are doing, where the issues are, where the problems are.

“And that’s something we really wanted him to get good at and he wanted to get good at, and he’s worked at it and he’s improved, so that helps you.”

The thing about Campbell is that for all of his colorful soundbites and excitable behavior, he doesn’t tend to shower his players with praise. Rarely, if ever, have I heard him quantify improvement by a player this way.

Don’t forget that in four full seasons as the Rams’ starter, Goff passed for 150 touchdowns and made two Pro Bowls. Saying he’s better than that is saying a lot.

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“We ask him to do a lot more, in my opinion, than what they were actually doing out there,” Campbell said. “They had a lot of pretty good pieces out there as well, as we know, a damn good defense, all of those things.

“But I just feel like I know from speaking with him and then watching him really over the last two years, I just feel like we ask him to — we put a lot of things on him where I’m not so sure that was ultimately what they were doing.”

This would be a fascinating chicken-or-the-egg conversation between Campbell and Rams coach Sean McVay, because much of McVay’s frustration stemmed from Goff’s inability to take full control and command of the offense. When I visited the Rams in October 2021, I asked McVay about Stafford. He raved and said, “I think he has great ownership and autonomy of what we’re really trying to get done.”

The only thing McVay left out at the end of his comments, which felt implied, was “unlike Jared Goff.”

The well-documented breakdown in communication and trust between McVay and Goff deteriorated to the point of McVay openly yelling at his quarterback. But it probably can’t be emphasized enough as a reason for Goff’s declining performance and his eventual trade.

I don’t care if you’re an underwater basket-weaver or an NFL star. No matter how professional and committed you are, it’s hard to do your best work when you have a toxic relationship with your boss. So I asked Campbell how much he factored in Goff’s relationship with McVay while making sure he has a strong relationship with Goff.

“You’re going to want to have a strong relationship,” he said. “Certainly the quarterback, head coach, have to be tied to one another. You want to get off on the right foot. You want to make sure there’s a trust there, there’s a bond. It has to be earned. You can’t just say it.

“It is going to take time and I think here we are in Year 3 and I very much believe he trusts me. He trusts what we are doing and I trust him. And that’s a big part of it.”

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I can understand McVay’s frustration with Goff. McVay is a genius play-caller, a grandmaster chess player on the gridiron — but his key chess piece wasn’t doing what he wanted him to do. So the Rams got rid of Goff. McVay was barely 35 at the time. McVay is a football genius, but back then he might have been a complete dolt when it came to managing humans.

Campbell, on the other hand, works with people as artfully as Bob Ross painted landscapes. I asked Goff what his relationship with Campbell has done for him.

“It always gives you confidence,” he said, “and Dan has been great with me since the moment I got here and has continued to build our relationship and get closer. And he’s developing, as himself, into a great head coach in this league and he’s been fun to watch.”

So I asked Goff for an example of Campbell’s support.

“Constantly communicates,” he said. “Tells me ‘good job’ when I do a good job. Tells me ‘fix that’ when I need to fix that and is just coaching me, is doing a hell of a job communicating.

“And we talk situations quite a bit of — I ask him questions of how he would handle X, Y and Z that we have had here at OTAs and just getting ideas and talking ball. And I think when I get to hear what his view on stuff is it helps me know how to approach that situation, if it were to come.”

You can quibble over how much support Goff needs around him to reach elite levels like he did when he had Todd Gurley. But I don’t think there’s any argument about the true reason behind Goff’s improvement with the Lions.

It’s Campbell. It’s a boss who supports you and understands where you’ve come from and what you’ve gone through. I’m sure any successful quarterback, or any person who’s had ups and downs in their career, would agree.

Contact Carlos Monarrez: cmonarrez@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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