LOS ANGELES — Jared Goff‘s preseason debut lasted four passes. He went three-and-out, watched the Dallas Cowboys muff a punt, took over on the opposing 33-yard line, led a touchdown drive that was produced off a fumble, then put on his headset, remaining on the sideline while his Los Angeles Rams navigated to a 13-10 win on Saturday night.
Watkins arrived to Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum about three hours before kickoff and about 18 hours after the Rams officially acquired him from the Bills, in a trade that sent cornerback E.J. Gaines and a 2018 second-round pick to Buffalo. Goff found out about it when he finished a meeting on Friday.
“I look at my phone, and I have like 50 text messages,” Goff said. “‘Sammy Watkins,’ ‘Sammy Watkins,’ ‘Sammy Watkins.’ I’m like, ‘What? What happened?'”
Here’s what happened: The Rams gave Goff that final piece, and now it’s up to him to make it work.
This calendar year has represented a seismic shift for the Rams’ offense, a unit that finished last in the NFL in yards each of the last two years and outside of the top 20 in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average for the last decade. It began with the hiring of 31-year-old head coach Sean McVay, one of the brightest young minds in the game. He brought in an up-and-coming quarterbacks coach to be his offensive coordinator (Matt LaFleur) and an accomplished offensive coordinator to be his quarterbacks coach (Greg Olson).
Then the Rams signed Andrew Whitworth, one of the game’s best left tackles, and Robert Woods, a reliable possession receiver. They drafted an athletic tight end in Gerald Everett and a polished slot receiver in Cooper Kupp. And then, on the day before their first preseason game, they added Watkins, giving their offense the vertical threat that should open up space for everybody else.
“He obviously is a weapon,” Goff said after Saturday’s game. “His track record speaks for itself and what we’re trying to do. He’s a guy that can stretch the field. That’s something you take from him, obviously, right away. I also think he’s not only a really good guy, but works hard, just from what I’ve gathered so far. I’m excited to get him here, excited to get to work, and just briefly talking with him over the phone and on the sideline really quickly, just getting a feel for him, he seems like a really friendly guy who’s excited for a fresh start.”
Nobody really knows what to expect from Goff in his second season. He struggled so much as a rookie — 54.6 percent completion percentage, 5.3 yards per attempt, 22.2 Total QBR — but he also had so little to work with. The offensive line was bad, the receiving corps was underwhelming, the running game was non-existent, and the coaching staff was devoid of experience grooming NFL quarterbacks.
By the end of this year, though, we should finally have a much better feel for who Goff is — because he finally has a chance to succeed.
“You never know if you have what you need until the season, but right now, I think it’s definitely something to be excited about,” veteran offensive lineman Rodger Saffold said of what the Rams have added to their weakest department. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in our team, and it’s exciting to know the potential that we have with all these new pieces.”
Goff made some nice throws when the Rams got the ball back in enemy territory. He ran play action, rolled to his right, then connected with Kupp on a crossing route for a 19-yard gain, putting the Rams in the red zone. He then hit Woods on a quick slant, which resulted in the fumble that Kupp fell on for a touchdown. Goff’s only incompletion came on the first play from scrimmage, a wobbly throw to Woods that fell short. He lamented that to McVay as soon as he returned to the sidelines, which impressed the rookie head coach.
“Those are the kind of expectations that we have for him,” McVay said. “We expect him to have them for himself, and he does.”
Goff and Watkins can’t really begin to work together until Monday, at which point they will have less than four weeks to prepare for a season. But Goff isn’t worried. He believes their chemistry will forge quickly.
The question is whether he can eventually make it all work.
“You start stacking guys up, you start building a pretty good roster,” Goff said of his weapons, a list that also includes running back Todd Gurley and gadget receiver Tavon Austin. “I’m excited to see what [Watkins] can do, like the other guys.”