SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff has been sacked 11 times in six games this season. He’s now taken 62 sacks in his 28 games in the NFL, and took 81 in his three-year collegiate career. Asked about his propensity to stand in and unflinchingly take hits this week, the Novato native laughed.
“I don’t remember ever flinching,” he said. “Maybe. You’d have to go watch my high school film or something. I don’t know.”
San Francisco 49ers defensive linemen Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner remember differently. The first time they faced Goff was when he was a freshman at Cal in 2013, during his first road game and fourth start in what would be a 1-11 season. Both remember the literal monsoon that soaked the field in Goff’s first trip to Oregon’s Autzen Stadium. Both seemed to remember it was Goff’s first game, because he played like it. He went 3-for-7 for 11 yards and fumbled twice — once on a Buckner strip sack — and was pulled in the first quarter.
“He was just really uncomfortable in the pocket,” Buckner said this week.
Goff got comfortable with being uncomfortable. He would take 81 sacks as a collegian, but amassed 10,833 more passing yards, won a bowl game and was picked first overall in the NFL Draft. After a rocky rookie season under Jeff Fisher, he’s has become one of the game’s elite passers with Sean McVay at the helm. On Sunday, he’ll be facing a 49ers team that couldn’t get to him last year, and hasn’t gotten to many quarterbacks this season, either.
On Monday, San Francisco got seven tackles for loss and three sacks against Aaron Rodgers and the depleted Green Bay Packers. That was most they’ve had of either since Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings. The 49ers are 22nd in the NFL with 12 sacks, but curiously eighth with 42 QB hits. The sentiment in the locker room is that they’ve been close; they just have to finish. Against Goff, that’s easier said than done, especially with jet sweeps and motions to draw linebackers’ eyes and opening up passing lanes, as well as designed bootlegs and rollouts to get him throwing on the move.
“We were just watching him,” Buckner said on Thursday. “He’s been under pressure quite a bit this year, but the way he’s been moving around in the pocket, he’s been developing that over the years. I’ve seen him sit there in the pocket at times, in years past, and I think he’s doing a really good job moving around and finishing throws.”
For his fourth birthday, Goff’s father, former big league catcher Jerry, bought his son a 49ers jersey: No. 16. He’s worn Joe Montana’s number ever since. Montana of course had Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, John Taylor and Dwight Clark (a statue honoring The Catch will be unveiled before Sunday’s game). Goff has Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods — all with 438 receiving yards or more — and Todd Gurley.
With Jimmie Ward (hamstring) doubtful, Ahkello Witherspoon suffering a concussion last week, Richard Sherman (calf) and K’Waun Williams (shoulder) both questionable against Rams, San Francisco activated Tyvis Powell from the practice squad to face Goff and the Rams offense. It will be a challenge, to say the least, with how Goff is playing.
“The mentality, his focus, he’s dialed in,” said San Francisco linebacker Reuben Foster. “I commend him. He’s doing a great job.”
Just as he improved from a 30-sack, 1-11 freshman season at Cal, Goff has developed from the 0-7 baby giraffe that took 26 sacks while going 0-7 as a rookie. Last year, his first under former Kyle Shanahan protege McVay, he threw for 3,804 yards despite taking 25 sacks. This year, despite taking 11 sacks in six games, he’s on pace to throw for over 5,000 yards (his 1,928 are fourth in the NFL), he’s completing 69.1 percent of his passes (sixth) and he owns the sixth-best QB rating in the league (110.9).
”I think it’s just been from playing the position for a long time and understanding that you’re probably going to get hit a little bit,” Goff said. “ It usually feels better if it’s a completion and not an incompletion so staying in there and take the hit.”