Monday night in San Francisco, the Los Angeles Rams were shut out by a 49ers team that ranked 29th in the NFL on defense last season. They only mustered 185 total yards in the 28-0 loss, converting just three of 15 third downs.
When something like that happens, you can hardly blame just one player. But by all reasonable measures, L.A.'s worst player was quarterback Case Keenum, who earned a team-worst Pro Football Focus grade of minus-3.6 in a comically bad performance.
Keenum completed just 48.6 percent of his 35 passes for 130 yards. He threw two interceptions and was sacked twice, finishing with a 34.2 passer rating that made him by far the lowest-rated qualified passer of the week.
|NFL's lowest passer rating , Week 1|
|Robert Griffin III||55.0|
|Pro Football Reference|
After the game, however, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher told reporters Keenum would remain the team's starter, despite the fact L.A. has this year's No. 1 overall pick, Jared Goff, holding a tablet.
That has left a nation of sports fans puzzled, especially considering that three other young quarterbacks—all of whom are less accomplished than Goff—excelled in their NFL debuts in Week 1.
Goff didn't perform well in the preseason, where he posted a passer rating of just 55.8 in four games, but neither did No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz, who posted a rating of 41.8 to start the preseason before missing the rest of August due to injury. The less-heralded North Dakota State product had a triple-digit rating as his Philadelphia Eagles crushed the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
The Rams have stated time and again that they won't rush Goff, which isn't a heinous approach. It is unconventional, though, considering each of the last five quarterbacks chosen first overall have started from the jump.
But that was also supposed to be the plan for Dallas Cowboys fourth-round rookie Dak Prescott. And yet the Mississippi State product completed 25 passes in a turnover-free season-opening start in place of the injured Tony Romo, giving the Cowboys a chance to beat the division rival New York Giants. (They fell just short, thanks in part to a silly mistake from one of Prescott's teammates.)
How can Fisher look at what Wentz, Prescott and second-year Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian did in their respective debuts this weekend and still leave Goff on the bench?
Siemian was a seventh-round pick out of Northwestern who had thrown zero NFL passes prior to Denver's season opener, and yet he completed all but eight of his 26 passes in a victory over the reigning NFC champion Carolina Panthers.
|First NFL starts, Week 1|
|Pro Football Reference|
If those guys are ready, there's no way Goff—who threw 1,568 passes at California between 2013 and 2015—shouldn't be.
They won't admit it, but the Rams must understand they aren't going to win many games this season. And there are risks associated with throwing rookie quarterbacks to the wolves.
"I get all the arguments for playing them early," ESPN analyst and former quarterback Trent Dilfer told NFL Media's Mike Silver, "but none of them trumps this: You also risk destroying them."
The Rams have a dazzling young running back, a solid defense and an offensive line that was responsible for only 11 quarterback sacks last season, according to PFF. With that kind of support, it would be hard to destroy Goff, especially if they limit what's on his plate.
So why does a team that gave up six primo draft picks in order to add Goff continue to insist that it is at least temporarily better off with an undrafted fifth-year quarterback who has completed just 56.1 percent of his 490 career passes?
It's possible the Rams' brass are indeed aware that Goff should be starting. Heck, Bleacher Report's Jason Cole reported Tuesday that there are coaches on L.A.'s staff who feel Goff "may give the team a better chance."
And even if Goff doesn't give the team a better chance right now, the fanbase is more likely to forgive losses with a supposed future franchise quarterback under center. In other words, if you're going to lose either way, at least lose while allowing your top pick to learn on the job, right?
But that extended leash associated with the start of Goff's career might actually be what's delaying the process.
See, it's already a minor miracle Fisher remains employed, as he's posted losing records in each of his first four seasons with the Rams. In fact, Fisher has failed to post a winning record in nine of his last 11 seasons as an NFL head coach, and he hasn't won a playoff game since 2003.
If Goff starts and stinks this season, Fisher will have played the final card in his deck. But if he sits for the majority of another losing season, Fisher and his staff could theoretically buy themselves yet another year.
So Goff might remain on the sideline for selfish, political motives. And that's a shame, because L.A. football fans have a lot of other entertainment options. This team was certainly hoping to recapture the city's heart in 2016, but it won't accomplish that by neglecting the man who was supposedly destined to become the face of the franchise.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.