NFL: Previewing the Top Quarterback Matchups of the 2012 Season

Thomas ConroyCorrespondent IAugust 21, 2012

NFL: Previewing the Top Quarterback Matchups of the 2012 Season

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    A matchup between the top NFL quarterbacks has the feel and look of a great boxing fight, as each has the arm to knock the other out with quick, striking touchdown passes. And just like a world-class boxer, a good defense is as valuable as a good offense.

    Let’s preview the top quarterback matchups of the 2012 NFL season:

Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos, September 9th

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    The season opener against the Denver Broncos will show how much progression has been made by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in learning the playbook of new offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

    In preseason, he seems to be in mid-season form, running for his life while trying to salvage a play. The Steelers must be able to run on the outer edge of a defense in order to open up the middle for their play-action passing game.

    The health of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will be decided on the first hit he takes in the pocket. That is if you can hit him.

    His biggest strength has been his ability to read a defense and account for all of the pass rushers. Manning has never been much of a deep thrower—he wants to get rid of the ball quickly on slant routes and move the chains. 

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers, September 13th

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    Too much talk has centered on Chicago Bears' Jay Cutler being an elite quarterback without him providing any substantial proof on the field to verify this statement. Finally, he has some quality offensive weapons to work with, and he will be playing within a more traditional offensive playbook this season. It’s safe to say that Cutler is a franchise quarterback that you can build around and be successful.

    Arguably, Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL. He has put up tremendous passing numbers with a less than ideal offensive line protecting him. Rodgers also has the uncanny knack of quickly detecting pressure and avoiding a sack. Until opposing defenses learn how to stop him and the Packers aerial attack, their running game will always take a backseat in play-calling priority. 

New York Giants at Carolina Panthers, September 20th

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    The success of the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants will rely heavily on their running game. If they cannot run the football, then opposing defenses will throw everything but the kitchen sink at quarterback Eli Manning this season.

    To become a high-powered offense, the Giants must find a third wide receiver for their passing game. There are no more excuses for the candidates (Ramses Barden, Jerrel Jernigan and Domenik Hixon) not making plays anymore. Hopefully, this is a work in progress for the Giants.

    If the Carolina Panthers are going to have a sophisticated passing attack, then they will have to find another viable option downfield for quarterback Cam Newton.  He has tremendous chemistry with wide receivers Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell, as Newton’s confidence to throw the long ball has grown this offseason.

    The Panthers acquired wide receiver Louis Murphy from the Oakland Raiders right before the start of training camp, but he has struggled throughout the preseason. Arguably, this has the makings to be the best receiving corps in Panthers history. 

San Diego Chargers at New Orleans Saints, October 7th

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    This game has the makings to be an offensive explosion, as both the San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints have powerhouse offenses that can score from anywhere on the field. Both starting quarterbacks (Philip Rivers and Drew Brees) depend heavily on their tight ends (Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham) to make plays in the passing game.

    One concern for Charger fans is Rivers hasn’t done much in the preseason to squash any concerns of diminishing arm strength. He averaged only nine yards-per-completion in two preseason games, and had a woefully under-thrown pass to wide receiver Robert Meachem for an interception against the Dallas Cowboys last weekend.

    Rivers must return to his level of play from earlier in his career if the Chargers are going to be a serious playoff contender.

    Since leaving San Diego, Drew Brees has moved himself into the “elite status” of quarterbacks in the NFL. He recovered from a devastating shoulder injury only to lead the perennial-loser New Orleans Saints to a Super Bowl win over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts.

    The key to Brees’ success is that he’s very mobile in the pocket, and that gives his receivers more time to get open downfield. 

Houston Texans at New England Patriots, December 10th

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    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady came into training camp with a new passing option on the practice field—veteran wide receiver Brandon Lloyd. But does having too many red zone weapons hurt the effectiveness of your offense?

    Brady will have to get tight end Aaron Hernandez more involved in the passing game this season, but that will take away downfield opportunities from his favorite receiver, tight end Rob Gronkowski. Both are great targets with terrific hands in heavy traffic.

    The Houston Texans have something special to build on from last season, as they won a divisional title without having access of their top two quarterbacks. How many NFL teams can win consistently without their starting quarterback and star wide receiver in the lineup?

    Well, the Texans kept on winning despite having quarterback Matt Schaub and wide receiver Andre Johnson on the field for only four games together. Quietly, Schaub has become a consistent 4,000 yard-passer in the NFL who challenges a defense on a weekly basis. More importantly, running back Arian Foster keeps the defense honest and opens the middle for Schaub to pick apart.