1 Thing Each Starting NFL Quarterback Must Improve Next Year
There is no such thing as perfection in the National Football League. Every player at every position can stand to get a little bit better.
Heck, even the likes of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have struggled at times this season. It's all about finding a weakness and working to improve it. That's what the best quarterbacks in the NFL are able to do on a consistent basis.
To that end, here's one thing every starting quarterback in the league needs to improve on as we near the end of the 2012 season.
John Skelton, Arizona Cardinals
Accuracy to the Outside
For John Skelton to remain a viable quarterback in the NFL, he is going to have to improve on a wide array of issues.
One in particular is his ability to get the ball to wide receivers on the outside. While Skelton and future Hall of Fame receiver Larry Fitzgerald seem to have a decent working relationship, it is nowhere near the level it should be.
This seems to indicate that the third-year quarterback doesn't trust his arm outside of the hashes. He needs to change this relatively soon to be considered a starter in the NFL, which is a story of its own.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
When Matt Ryan plays his best football, there are few quarterbacks in the NFL better. The issue with this up-and-comer is that he struggles to stay consistent.
After starting the season by throwing 13 touchdown passes and only three interceptions, Ryan has thrown nine touchdowns passes and 10 interceptions since Week 6. While the Atlanta Falcons are 6-1 in his last seven games, they are going to need Ryan to perform better if they're going to be in contention in 2012 and beyond.
These poor performances will come back to haunt Atlanta against better teams. You can take that to the bank.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
To say that Joe Flacco has struggled on the road would be a gross understatement. While the Baltimore Ravens are 8-6 on the road over the course of the last two seasons, Flacco just hasn't gotten it done. He has thrown 14 touchdown passes compared to 10 interceptions away from home during that span.
For comparison's sake, Baltimore is 13-1 at home in the last two seasons, with Flacco throwing 11 more touchdowns than interceptions.
Short of Baltimore being able to grab home-field advantage in a tough AFC, the Ravens are going to have a hard time competing against the top dogs moving forward unless Flacco ups his game on the road.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills
Ryan Fitzpatrick had 23 interceptions last year.
Fitzpatrick's major issue is decision-making. He needs to stop relying on his arm to get the ball into tight windows. Instead, the veteran quarterback should look to manage the game better.
After all, the Buffalo Bills have a dynamic backfield in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. There is no reason why Fitzpatrick should even come close to the league leaders in interceptions.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
When Cam Newton broke onto the scene as an amazing rookie performer in 2011, there wasn't a whole lot made of possible maturity issues.
Back in 2010, ESPN reported that Newton had been on the verge of being suspended from Florida prior to transferring to a junior college. This is just one example of a long line of different issues, some since resolved, that plagued Newton prior to his breakout performance for Auburn in 2010.
Based on his behavior this season, it doesn't appear that Newton has matured a great deal since then.
Teammate Steve Smith "lit into" Newton earlier this year.
I lit into him because I thought it was an opportunity for him to see and understand what was going on. This is more than about playing football. It's about becoming a man and understanding what this is.
Pete Prisco ran a report earlier this week that indicated other NFL players weren't happy with Newton's attitude during the Pro Bowl last season. One unnamed player went as far as to say: "He was a total ----hole. Who did he think he was? He acted like the big s---. Here he was at his first game and he acted like he was the star. Guys didn't like that.''
That isn't real leadership. In order for the Carolina Panthers to contend in 2013, they need their franchise quarterback to take over as a team leader and mature quite a bit. If not, we could see major problems down the road.
Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
This is easier said than done. Jay Cutler has been sacked 139 times in 52 games since being traded to the Chicago Bears in 2009. Any quarterback, no matter the talent he possesses, would have issues stepping up in the pocket and delivering the ball accurately facing that type of pressure.
That being said, Cutler's inability to do so has led him to throw a whopping 60 interceptions during his time in Chicago.
While the Bears have a strong defense and special teams, they need Cutler to play mistake-free football if they're going to contend for an NFC Championship any time soon.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Reliance on A.J. Green
A whopping 31 percent of Andy Dalton's pass attempts this season have gone in the direction of Green, who is catching 60 percent of his targets
For comparison's sake, fewer than 27 percent of the passes that Matthew Stafford has attempted this season with the Detroit Lions have gone in the direction of Calvin Johnson.
While the Cincinnati Bengals might be able to get away with this against substandard teams, they won't have such luck against some of the best secondaries in the AFC.
Dalton needs to find more receivers and tight ends, otherwise Cincinnati will find itself in a bad situation when Green has a down game.
Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
Brandon Weeden has had a relatively solid rookie season. In fact, one could conclude that he has exceeded expectations.
With that in mind, the 2012 first-round pick still has plenty of room to improve.
One of his most glaring weaknesses is his accuracy. We saw him throw the ball out of bounds against the Dallas Cowboys when the Browns were looking to complete a comeback victory. We have seen him struggle on intermediate routes and getting the ball to the outside.
In order for Cleveland's talented young offense to take the next step, Weeden is going to have to be more accurate.
He has completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes in half of his games this season. That number needs to drop in 2013.
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys seem to be missing leadership on the sideline and from the players themselves.
To fill that leadership vacuum, they need a quarterback to step up and show others how it is done. This means leading by example on Sundays and working with the offense during the week to come up with a solid game plan.
At this point, it seems Tony Romo is just one of 53 players on the Cowboys roster. They're not going to contend for anything unless he fills that void.
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Becoming an Expert in the System
It's hard to find anything wrong with the way Peyton Manning is playing. He seems to have reverted to 2008 levels in his first season with the Denver Broncos.
So, where do I go?
He's already made great strides in his comfort level in Denver's offense and seems to have everything under control, as always.
What would make Denver that much more dangerous is if Manning would actually take the next step and utilize the same expertise in calling a game that we saw when he was with the Indianapolis Colts. While he is close to reaching that level, he isn't quite there.
That's all I have.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
If Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions offense started games the way they finished them, they would be in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt.
Instead, Detroit is 4-8 and on the verge of being eliminated from the playoffs. The primary reason is slow starts.
Stafford has thrown five touchdown passes and eight interceptions in the first half of games this season, compiling a 72.5 QB rating. It has been a completely different story in the second half, when Stafford has thrown 11 touchdown passes and only three interceptions, compiling a robust 93.0 QB rating.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Using the Running Game
Aaron Rodgers has free reign to change the play at the line of scrimmage. While he has been an expert at keeping opposing defenses off balance the last few seasons, I see him struggling a bit with that in 2012.
There have been times when defenses are utilizing a nickel and dime package without many players in the box. Still, Rodgers has refused to check out of the pass to the run.
Of course, it doesn't help when your offense is averaging fewer than than four yards a rush and ranks 21st in the NFL in that category.
Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
At some point, Arian Foster is going to slow down. He leads the NFL in rush attempts this year and is always the focal point on offense.
The Houston Texans are a run-first team on the offense. That isn't even in question. The major question is whether Houston will be able to have consistent success through the air.
Matt Schaub needs to be able to take control in the passing game when Foster and Co. are not having success on the ground.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Lost in the success of the Indianapolis Colts this season is that Andrew Luck has thrown 16 interceptions in 12 games. While this will not impact their performance against poor teams, it will have a major effect moving forward.
Indianapolis doesn't have the all-around talent to be able to overcome this against the better teams in the NFL.
Luck needs to do a better job holding on to the ball.
Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars
Pushing the Ball Down the Field
One of the major knocks on Chad Henne when he entered the league in 2008 was that he struggled throwing the ball down the field. He averaged around 6.5 yards an attempt for the Miami Dolphins in 2009 and 2010.
While those numbers have increased this season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Henne needs to be able to open up the offense if they are going to have success getting the ball to receivers on the outside
After five years in the league, it's hard to believe that Henne is going to be able to change his performance just like that.
I don't see it.
Brady Quinn, Kansas City Chiefs
Progressions and Reads
Brady Quinn isn't a starting-caliber quarterback in the National Football League. He has struggled for too long to be counted on consistently.
Despite playing a stellar game against the Carolina Panthers last week, Quinn is just a stopgap for the Kansas City Chiefs.
The only way he will become a starter is if he reads the field better and spreads the ball around. Until then, he is nothing more than a career backup.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
Ryan Tannehill has played well as a rookie, but he has struggled to throw touchdown passes. He only has seven in 12 games.
In the red zone, the Texas A&M product is completing fewer than 40 percent of his passes and has thrown only three touchdowns.
If the Miami Dolphins are going to be contending for the postseason any time soon, they need their starting quarterback to put six on the board more often than not.
Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
Inconsistency is a common characteristic of young quarterbacks in the NFL. Pretty much no one is immune from it.
Christian Ponder has to be included on that list.
The Minnesota Vikings quarterback went four games without throwing an interception to start his sophomore campaign. He has since thrown 11 in his last eight games.
Minnesota simply can't rely on Adrian Peterson to rush for 200 yards a game and expect sustained success. It needs to find more balance on offense.
More consistency from Ponder would provide that. It all starts with him being able to read the field better and find open receivers on the outside, two things that come with experience.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Standing up Against Pressure
To say that Tom Brady doesn't like to be pressured would be an understatement. This is one of the only aspects of his game that needs work.
While Brady is nearly flawless stepping up against pressure from the outside, he does tend to have an issue when that pressure is coming from the middle. If defenses are able to force him outside the pocket, he becomes less effective.
Of course, I am just nitpicking here. After all, Brady is one of the best to ever play the game.
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
If I had written last year about Drew Brees having issues with decision-making, I probably would have been mocked. Fast forward a year, and this has become a major problem for the future Hall of Fame quarterback.
In addition to his five-interception performance against the Atlanta Falcons last week, Brees has struggled seeing the field and putting the ball where it needs to go. This was evident against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 12 when Brees had two picks returned for touchdowns.
It might just be that he is having a down season.
Eli Manning, New York Giants
This has been a major issue for a vast majority of NFL quarterbacks in 2012. Eli Manning is no different.
After starting out the season in good form, Manning struggled through a five-game stretch that saw him throw just two touchdown passes compared to six interceptions.
We already know that the New York Giants rely a great deal on their two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Another bad stretch of games from him would be tough to overcome.
Manning needs to show more consistency in the passing game if New York is going to be a serious Super Bowl contender in 2012 and beyond.
Mark Sanchez, New York Jets
Mark Sanchez has completed fewer than half his passes six times this season. That's not going to cut it in New York.
There are so many aspects of Sanchez's game that seem off right now, but accuracy is a major sticking point for the marginal quarterback. If he is unable to improve this aspect of his game, Sanchez could well be run out of town in the not-so-distant future.
Carson Palmer, Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders just don't have enough talent to be able to recover from mistakes. This is one of the primary reasons that Carson Palmer doesn't seem to be a great fit for the team. Since a Pro Bowl performance with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2006, it has been all downhill for the former No. 1 overall pick.
He has thrown 87 interceptions in his last 75 games. This trend has gotten worse in 2012. Palmer has 14 interceptions in 13 games and has been picked off seven times on the opponents' side of the field.
Palmer's performance against the Denver Broncos on Thursday was a prime example of this. After throwing a beautiful 58-yard pass to Rod Streater in the second quarter, he followed it up with an ill-advised throw that was intended for tight end Brandon Myers. It was intercepted by Champ Bailey, which preserved a 10-0 Broncos lead.
There is no telling how that game would have turned out if Palmer and the Raiders had put seven on the board.
Rinse, wash, repeat. This has been the story of his career.
Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
Throwing the ball into a tight window with two defensive backs in the vicinity might work in the Pac-12, but it definitely isn't the way to earn a paycheck in the NFL.
Ever since taking over for Michael Vick in the second half of the Philadelphia Eagles' Week 10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Foles has progressed at the quarterback position.
However, he still struggles making the right reads and decisions down the field. This was apparent against the Carolina Panthers in Week 12. With the questionable decisions he made, Foles probably should have been picked two or three times.
Of course, this is a struggle common to rookie quarterbacks.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Charlie Batch might have led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a win over the Baltimore Ravens last week, but that was more the exception than the rule.
For all intents and purposes, Pittsburgh's only way to contend this season and beyond is with Ben Roethlisberger under center.
On that note, it is becoming increasingly evident that Big Ben isn't going to be able to take a continual pounding and go out there on a weekly basis. He needs to be smarter about taking hits in the pocket.
Maybe he needs to do more of what Peyton Manning does with the Denver Broncos—sliding to the ground when pressure is in his face.
Either way, Pittsburgh needs its franchise quarterback on the field if it is going to contend in the AFC.
Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
Philip Rivers has eight interceptions in the fourth quarter this season, seven coming with the game within one score.
This has been a continual theme for the struggling quarterback. While the San Diego Chargers have a lot of problems, they need their quarterback to make better decisions.
After all, 15 fourth-quarter interceptions in less than two seasons isn't going to win you many games.
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers
Colin Kaepernick's improved mechanics have shown throughout his first three NFL starts. He is much more accurate than most scouts believed he would be when he entered the 2011 draft.
One of his only issues is the way he holds the ball in the pocket. He handles it like it is a loaf of bread, which could cause turnovers.
Of course, I expect coach Jim Harbaugh and Co. to fix this in short order. Outside of that, the sky is the limit for this talented young player.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson is one of the most fundamentally sound quarterbacks that I have seen enter the NFL in a long time. His mechanics are nearly flawless. He reads the field extremely well and fully understands where to go with the ball.
As with all young quarterbacks, however, Wilson needs to gain a better command of his offense.
Once that happens, watch out for the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC.
Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
I am not sure if Sam Bradford is afraid to take a hit in the pocket. One thing is for sure: Bradford does flinch when facing pressure up the middle. He tends to get off balance and struggles finding receivers on the outside.
Considering that the St. Louis Rams offensive line is marginal at best, Bradford is going to have to work on this aspect of his game.
Let's hope it doesn't get to the point where this defines his career. That being said, I haven't seen any improvement in this aspect of his game.
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This was more apparent last season than in 2012, but Josh Freeman still struggles with decision-making. More often than not, I notice him attempting to throw the ball into tight windows with multiple defenders in the way of a completion.
While this hasn't come back to haunt Freeman and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers too much in 2012, it is definitely something to keep an eye on.
The addition of Vincent Jackson and the re-emergence of Mike Williams at wide receiver may just be the cure for Freeman. When receivers are constantly getting open on the outside, the quarterback's decision-making becomes much simpler.
Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
By maturation process, I mean that Jake Locker needs to see the field for an extended period of time before the Tennessee Titans can gauge whether he is their franchise quarterback.
For all intents and purposes, Locker seems to have all the natural skills you look for in a young quarterback. He has a strong arm, has shown improved accuracy and is pretty athletic.
From here on out, it is all about him gaining the reps and being able to play on a consistent basis. If that happens, Tennessee will be in a good position in 2013.
This is why the final four weeks of the 2012 season are important for Tennessee.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
If Robert Griffin III continues to play at such a high level throughout his NFL career, he will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks of the modern era.
What the reigning Heisman Trophy winner has done as a rookie is nothing short of ridiculous. He is completing better than 67 percent of his passes. Equally as amazing, he is on pace for 3,500 passing yards and another 950 on the ground.
That being said, we have seen this story play out before.
Cam Newton electrified the NFL with an awe-inspiring rookie performance last season. He broke the rookie record for passing yards and the league record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.
Newton has followed up that amazing performance with a down season in 2012. In fact, you could say he is having a major sophomore slump in Carolina.
RGIII just needs to continue playing the game the way he knows how and not attempt to change anything. Otherwise, we could possibly be looking at the same type of slump for him next season.
But I highly doubt it.