Jared Goff is playing like QB1 in the NFC North


As the late Jerry Reed once sang on his No. 1 country hit, "When you're hot, you're hot." Jared Goff is so hot right now that he can't seem to miss. With nowhere to go with the football on fourth down from the Bears' 35 on the Lions' opening drive Sunday, Goff heaved a prayer to double-covered DJ Chark in the end zone. It was answered when Bears corner Kyle Gordon was flagged for obvious pass interference.

"Everyone was covered underneath and saw him deep and figured worst-case scenario, hopefully it was pass interference," said Goff. "If it’s intercepted in the end zone, so be it. But yeah, fourth down, just trying to make something happen.”

Two plays later, Goff hit Brock Wright for his first of three touchdowns in the Lions' 41-10 rout -- and his first of two to Wright, who has three in the last three games. (When you're hot, you're hot.) Everything is working right now for Detroit's offense under coordinator Ben Johnson, because everything is clicking for Goff. He's been the best quarterback in the NFL for the past month and the best quarterback in the NFC North for the duration of this season. These aren't debatable points. These are statements of statistical fact.

Let's start with the last month. Since the beginning of December, Goff leads the NFL in passer rating (113.0). He's tied for first in touchdowns (12) and is the only qualifying quarterback who hasn't thrown a single interception. In fact, Goff hasn't thrown a pick since the first week of November. (Kirk Cousins has thrown nine in that span, but we digress.) In the most important stretch of the season -- and in Detroit's biggest games in years -- Jared Goff has been the most lethal quarterback in the NFL.

"I think confident and comfortable is the best way to describe it," he said. "I don’t want to say (the game) feels slower, but where we’re at with our offense right now, I’m so comfortable and Ben and I are so much on the same page. Every time he calls a play, I know why he’s calling it, what the reason is, what defense we’re expecting. You’re just so much ahead of where we’ve been in the past, and it allows me to play pretty freely and pretty comfortable.”

As for his stature in the North? It's not even a question: Goff is playing like QB1. He's first among his division counterparts this season in passer rating (100.1), total quarterback rating (62.6), touchdowns (29), interceptions (7), yards per attempt (7.6), net yards per attempt (7.1) and every other relevant measure besides yards per game and completion percentage, in which he's second to Cousins. And this race isn't close.

Where Goff is seventh in the NFL in passer rating, sandwiched between Pro Bowlers Joe Burrow and Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers (91.5) is 15th, Cousins (91.0) is 17th and Justin Fields (85.2) is 26th. Where Goff is seventh in total quarterback rating, Fields is 17th, Cousins is 24th and Rodgers is 27th. Maybe most notably, Goff is fourth with a career-low interception rate of 1.3 percent, while Rodgers is 15th, Cousins 19th and Fields 32nd. His sharpened decision-making has played a huge part in the Lions' second-half surge.

"He’s extremely hot and he’s playing at a very high level," Dan Campbell said Sunday. "He has a ton of confidence right now and he’s had this for a while. I mean, he’s played pretty well all year. There’s been a couple here and there and the turnovers were early, but he’s got a real good feel of the gameplan and you can just tell he’s in this mode right now where you feel like anytime you dial up a pass, he’s going to find us somebody. He’s going to get it to the guy that’s open and that’s a great feeling, man, to know your quarterback is in that mode."

Campbell and Brad Holmes deserve a lot of credit here. They stuck with Goff through his first-half struggles last season, knowing they needed to improve the team -- and the coaching -- around him. They have. Goff is throwing to a deep cast of weapons behind one of the best offensive lines in football and thinking on the same wavelength as his coordinator, like his hotshot days with the Rams. And voila, here's the two-time Pro Bowler who once took his team to the Super Bowl.

Anchored by a Pro Bowl center and two stalwart tackles, Detroit's offensive line can't be understated. It has allowed Goff the time to pick apart defenses. Despite facing a higher rate of blitzes this season, Goff has been pressured on a much lower rate of his drop-backs. His sack rate has been sliced in half to 3.3 percent, the third lowest mark in the NFL. The O-line has also helped the Lions establish the run and utilize play-action, where Goff has the highest passer rating (125.9) in the league.

"Look, when your O-line protects like it’s protecting, that helps everything," said Campbell. "Because here’s what we know about Goff, man: you give him just a minute to see it, he can put it on the spot."

Indeed, Goff has been flat-out slinging it. On Sunday, he completed passes to 10 different players in the first half alone. He's zipping the ball all over the field and he's yet to really get going with Jameson Williams. Heads up when he does. Asked if this is the best stretch of football of his career, Goff said he "won't jinx anything" and settled on "probably." He's definitely been the best quarterback in his division this season, and quietly one of the best in the NFL.

Goff has let his play do the talking from the moment he arrived in Detroit two years ago. He takes the blame when things go poorly and deflects the praise when they go well. He's well-liked in the Lions' locker room, for many of the same reasons Matthew Stafford was: grounded but gutsy, cool but burning to win. This is the quarterback Holmes and the Lions want to build around. This was always their plan.

Goff, 28, is younger and less expensive than Rodgers and Cousins, and playing better football than both of them. Fields, 23, has all the athleticism in the world, and just as many questions about his arm. Goff will never be a perfect quarterback. But he's a darn good one in the right environment, and he has found it again in Detroit.

"I’m glad he’s here," said Campbell. "I know that.”

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Nic Antaya / Stringer