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Jared Goff: not gutless, but maybe gritless

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He’s a gunslinger but not a leader; call him Jay Cutler, Jr.

Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Jared Goff has a great arm. He makes beautiful passes, from five to 75 yards, that sometimes make your jaw drop. How can he possibly put a ball into a window inches wide from half a football field away?

The problem for the LA Rams is, arm talent is only one aspect of being a good quarterback, and not the most important. Peyton Manning had a noodle arm when he led the Broncos to victory as the oldest starting QB in Super Bowl history, but he was a leader who gave his team confidence in his judgment.

Cam Newton was clearly the more talented QB in that game, but he choked in the clutch, hesitating to grabbing his own strip sack fumble, while Manning completed a two-point conversion in the final seconds to put the game away.

Last year, I invented the word gritless (as far as I knew) specifically to describe Jared Goff and the way he tends to crumble under pressure. (Usually, it just means not having bits of sand, like clean oil or worn-out sandpaper.)

And I stand by that description. Goff’s pathetic performance in the Super Bowl, and his struggles so far this year, confirm it. Vic Fangio figured out that when a defense shifts after the microphone goes off, and coach Sean McVay can’t tell Goff how to respond, he tends to panic.

Goff is not a powerful leader. It’s impossible to imagine him giving an impassioned speech at halftime to pull his team together and lead them, despite having some horrible injury, back to an improbable win.

He’s also bad at reading defenses, before or after snap, and when he’s under pressure, he crumbles. His tiny baby hands make him vulnerable to any kind of bad weather, from rain to cold; if he has to play in Green Bay or Philly in the playoffs, the Rams are doomed.

However, in the comments to my last column, commenter TheAldonSmith pushed back, raising a solid point:

I agree with the premise of the article except the statement that Goff is gritless. I think he gets overwhelmed and processes slowly sometimes but I’ve seen him stand in the pocket and make big throws while big men are bearing down on him. He might throw a bad pass while trying to make something happen while under duress, but I don’t think it’s from a lack of grit. He definitely has deficiencies but I think he’s a tough enough QB.

I think that’s basically right, and there’s a subtle and interesting distinction here. Goff is not gutless; despite looking too thin to survive tough hits, he is courageous in standing in there and taking the punishment on a given play.

But he’s gritless, in the sense of lacking mental toughness and emotional stamina. As Niners fans have seen with C.J. Beathard, taking physical punishment may be admirable in a quarterback, but by itself it does little to help your team win.

Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and the rest of the 49ers defensive line will give Goff plenty of pressure and physical punishment Sunday, and I think San Francisco fans are going to enjoy the results.

The novel (and movies) True Grit starred John Wayne and then Jeff Bridges as complicated characters, gunmen for hire. But the title is not praising them; it refers to the 13-year-old girl who hires them to avenge her father’s murder.

Battle-scarred, alcoholic ex-outlaw bounty hunters aren’t showing much grit in shooting at bad guys; that’s their daily life, and they’re fairly numbed to it.

The story celebrates the remarkable toughness of an inexperienced teenager obviously way over her head, who forces reality to go her way anyway because she’s just done taking crap.

That’s the kind of grit Jared Goff has never had, and never will.