Finally, after the first 10 weeks of the 2016 NFL season, the Jared Goff era is set to begin in Los Angeles. After seeing other rookie quarterbacks in the league such as Dak Prescott, Carson Wentz and Cody Kessler enjoy certain degrees of success; the Rams are unready to unveil the No. 1 pick of this year’s draft.
After beginning the season 3-1, the Rams have lost four out of their past five games. The hope is that Goff will bring a spark to the offense, which will more than likely be needed against the red-hot Miami Dolphins.
The Dolphins have won four in a row following last week’s 31-24 road victory over San Diego. The win put Miami over .500 for the first time all season and put the team in the thick of the wild card discussion. Even though the Dolphins are still two wins behind the teams (Oakland, Denver) currently in the wild card spots, their winning streak has increased optimism that they can reach the postseason for the first time since 2008.
This afternoon will be the 13th matchup between these two teams. The last meeting took place in 2012 when then-rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw two touchdown passes in a 17-14 Miami victory at home.
Miami at Los Angeles
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 20 at 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Miami -2
Three Things to Watch
1. Jared Goff
There’s no way of knowing how well or how poorly Goff will perform in his first NFL start against the Dolphins. The last time he played a meaningful game under center was last season when he was in uniform for the Cal Golden Bears. In the Military Bowl, Goff tossed six touchdown passes as he helped lead his team to a 55-36 win over the Air Force Falcons.
In his three seasons at Cal, Goff completed 62.3 percent of his passes. In the preseason, Goff looked the part of a rookie, connecting on just 44.9 percent (22 of 49) of his passes for 232 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, while also losing three fumbles. His struggles were a major reason the Rams decided to go with Case Keenum as the starter in Week 1.
Now, Goff will take over a Rams offense that is last in the league in scoring (15.4 ppg). Keenum’s lack of arm strength limited what the team could do on offense. The thinking is that with Goff, offensive coordinator Rob Boras may be able to open up the playbook at little, provided Goff is able to execute and make wise decisions.
2. Dolphins’ offensive line
When Miami has had all five starters up front together; the team is 4-0. When at least one was missing from the lineup, the Dolphins are just 1-4. They will put these trends to test this afternoon, as the line could be down two starters against the Rams.
Left tackle Branden Albert will not play because of a wrist injury he suffered last week. First-round pick Laremy Tunsil is expected to start in Albert’s place with Kraig Urbik slotting in at left guard.
Additionally, center Mike Pouncey is listed as doubtful after reinjuring his left hip during practice this week. It is the same hip that he had surgery on in the preseason and caused him to miss the first four games.
If Pouncey cannot play, backup Anthony Steen will start in his place. Miami was already going to have its hands full trying to slow down Rams All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who is arguably the best at his position. Now without Albert and likely Pouncey, that task as well as run blocking and pass protection on the whole, becomes much more challenging.
3. Rams' Defense
Despite a lack of offensive production, Los Angeles has been able to field one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Rams are seventh in total (327.0 ypg) and 10th in scoring (19.2 ppg) defense. This unit will be tested this afternoon trying to slow down Jay Ajayi and Miami’s running game.
Over his last four games, Ajayi has 608 rushing yards, four touchdowns and is averaging 6.3 yards per carry. His emergence, as well as the play of the offensive line, has helped fuel the Dolphins’ first four-game winning streak since 2008.
Los Angeles has been average against the run, giving up 103.1 rushing yards per game (18th). If the Rams are successful in limiting Ajayi this would force Ryan Tannehill to throw the ball more, which is a tradeoff they will gladly take. After all, Tannehill is just 18th in the league in passer rating (91.3) with an average of 235 passing yards per game (25th).
Without Branden Albert and most likely Mike Pouncey along the offensive line for Miami, the task to slow down the Rams’ defensive line and create running room for Jay Ajayi figures to be a more difficult task. The Dolphins should with Laremy Tunsil sliding over from left guard to left tackle, but the concern is how well will Kraig Urbik and Anthony Steen fair against All-Pro Aaron Donald and company?
If the patchwork line can give Ryan Tannehill enough time to throw the football, Miami’s offense should be able to move the ball against Los Angeles. While it might not be an offensive explosion, the Dolphins should make enough plays to pick up their fifth straight win.
Prediction: Miami 24, Los Angeles 16
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
(Jared Goff photo courtesy of Getty Images)