1 Area Where Every Starting QB Can Improve Most

Matt Stein@MatthewJSteinCorrespondent IIJuly 3, 2013

1 Area Where Every Starting QB Can Improve Most

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    The NFL is all about improvement, and quarterbacks face the burden of having to improve year after year as much or more than players at other positions. In fact, once a quarterback stops getting better and starts declining, it is usually time for a team to start thinking about moving on.

    While some quarterbacks have more to improve than other quarterbacks (see Blaine Gabbert compared to Peyton Manning), every quarterback in the NFL at least has somewhere he can grow. Here is one area each quarterback can improve on heading into the 2013 season.

Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals

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    Area to Improve: Leadership

    It's been a few years since this happened, but remember when Carson Palmer refused to play for the Cincinnati Bengals?

    That type of unwillingness to play for a team has to sow seeds of doubt within the minds of teammates. Palmer is going to need to prove to the Arizona Cardinals that he's committed to the team no matter how terrible the 2013 season may be.

    As long as he can do that he should be just fine in Arizona.

Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

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    Area to Improve: Playoff composure

    The 2012 season was Matt Ryan's best season as a quarterback in the NFL. He posted career highs for passing yards, completion percentage and touchdowns while leading the Atlanta Falcons to the best record in the NFL.

    Unfortunately, Ryan's struggles in the playoffs continued. While he did get his first career playoff win against the Seattle Seahawks, he lost at home the following week to the San Francisco 49ers.

    That puts his playoff record at 1-4 over the course of his career. Ryan has also thrown seven interceptions compared to only nine touchdowns in those five playoff games.

    The Falcons should once again be one of the better teams in the league this year. However, if Ryan continues to struggle with his composure in the biggest games, Atlanta will be sitting at home come Super Bowl Sunday.

Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

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    Area to Improve: Road performances

    Fresh off a Super Bowl win, Joe Flacco became the highest-paid player in the NFL before Aaron Rodgers signed his monstrous contract

    The Baltimore Ravens obviously believe that Flacco is an elite quarterback, and after his performance in last year's playoffs it'd be hard to argue with them. However, there is still one major area where Flacco needs to improve, which is how he plays on the road.

    Over the course of his regular-season career, Flacco has posted a 33-7 record at home and a 21-19 record on the road. He's also thrown 32 interceptions on the road compared to only 24 while at home.

    While it is understandable to have some fluctuation between how you perform at home and on the road, this is a rather large difference for a "elite" quarterback. Flacco needs to improve his play on the road to really take that next step and join the upper echelon of quarterbacks.

Kevin Kolb, Buffalo Bills

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    Area to Improve: Decision-making

    It's certainly a possibility that rookie quarterback EJ Manuel could be starting for the Buffalo Bills in Week 1, but for now, we'll assume that it is Kevin Kolb who wins the job.

    While we have yet to see a full season from Kolb, he has started 21 career games, which gives us enough information to see where he can improve.

    That area is with his decision-making. In his entire career, Kolb has thrown 25 interceptions and only 28 touchdowns. That is an extremely poor ratio of touchdowns compared to interceptions for a quarterback.

    This year he'll be playing in a new offense with the Bills. Learning a new offense could ultimately cause him to once again struggle with his decision-making, but he'll need to improve this if he ever wants to hold onto a starting job in the league.

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

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    Area to Improve: Making teammates better

    No one would argue with you if you said that Cam Newton had all the potential in the world. Unfortunately, he has yet to reach much of that potential.

    One reason for that is maturity, but another reason is that the Carolina Panthers haven't surrounded Newton with a ton of talent, either. However, one thing a quarterback needs to do is make other players around him better.

    Just look at what Tom Brady has been able to do without elite receivers around him. Newton needs to improve at making receivers like Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards legitimate weapons.

    Once he does that, the Panthers will be a scary team to face for opposing defenses.

Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears

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    Area to Improve: Mechanics

    This came straight from the mouth of the head coach, so you know it's an important thing for Jay Cutler to improve this year.

    Marc Trestman had this to say about Cutler's mechanics, via Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times:

    He has the ability to have precision mechanics, high-level mechanics. At times, he has them. And at times, he doesn’t.

    Cutler and the Chicago Bears have an abundance of offensive weapons. If he can improve his mechanics, he should be in for a career year in 2013.

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Area to Improve: Deep-ball accuracy

    Andy Dalton's deep-ball accuracy is the area he's needed to improve the most since entering the NFL.

    What Dalton has done for the Cincinnati Bengals in terms of turning the franchise around has been incredible. However, he could make this team a legitimate Super Bowl contender if he can become more accurate with his deep passes.

    With wide receivers A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu and tight ends Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham, the Bengals offense could become the best in the league with an improved deep ball from Dalton.

Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns

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    Area to Improve: Making reads

    To say Brandon Weeden struggled during his rookie year would be quite the understatement. He averaged only 6.5 yards per completion (fourth-worst in the NFL), completed only 57.4 percent of his passes and threw 17 interceptions to 14 touchdowns.

    When you watch film of Weeden during his first year with the Cleveland Browns, the biggest issue that stands out is his trouble making the correct read. Too often Weeden would lock onto a receiver and fail to make secondary reads. This is what ultimately caused his low completion percentage and high interception rate.

    The Browns are a team on the brink of becoming a competitive team, but Weeden will need to improve his ability to make the correct reads for that to fully happen.

Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys

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    Area to Improve: Interceptions

    Some of you might be saying that Romo needs to improve his ability in the clutch, but that really isn't the truth. While he has struggled at times in playoff games, he also hasn't had much help at all from either his offense or the defense in those games.

    No, the area that Romo really needs to improve in 2013 is cutting down his interceptions. Over the past three years, Romo's number of interceptions has increased in each year. In fact, they nearly doubled from the 2011 season to the 2012 season.

    Romo has consistently been one of the better quarterbacks in the league. As long as he can get back to throwing less than double-digit interceptions like he did in 2009 and 2010, he should continue to be an upper-echelon quarterback.

Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

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    Area to Improve: Pocket presence

    Considering Peyton Manning had one of the best seasons of his career in his first year with the Denver Broncos, improving his pocket presence is nit-picking at the ultimate level.

    There were times, however, where Manning appeared to hang onto the ball a little longer or was a little hesitant, but they were few and far between. Some of those issues could be due to the fact that Manning was concerned about his neck and still getting used to the Broncos offense.

    His pocket presence should be improved now that he's more familiar with things in Denver, meaning that the 2013 season could be even better for Manning than last year. 

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

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    Area to Improve: Play against top teams

    Matthew Stafford has a career record of 1-23 against teams with winning records.

    That's just ridiculously bad.

    Considering that every team in his division looks primed to post a winning record, Stafford needs to improve in this area as quickly as possible. If he doesn't, it could be another long season for the Detroit Lions in 2013.

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

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    Area to Improve: Getting rid of the ball faster

    No quarterback was sacked as many times as Aaron Rodgers was last year. His 51 sacks in 2012 were two more than Philip Rivers, five more than Andy Dalton and 10 more than Andrew Luck.

    While a good portion of those sacks were due to Marshall Newhouse playing left tackle, Rodgers was also to fault for a number of the sacks. He'd hold onto the ball too long waiting for a big play to develop instead of checking down.

    Rodgers needs to do a better job of getting the ball to his playmakers quicker after the snap. Once he does that on a more consistent basis, the Green Bay Packers offense will be even more deadly. 

Matt Schaub, Houston Texans

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    Area to Improve: Finishing strong

    The Houston Texans jumped out to an 11-1 record last year before finishing the year with a 1-3 record. They went from having home-field advantage throughout the playoffs to missing out on a first-round bye.

    Over those last four games, Matt Schaub threw only one touchdown compared to three interceptions. He struggled to make big plays when the Texans needed him to, proving that he has yet to learn how to finish strong.

    His struggles continued through the playoffs, where he squeaked out a win against the Cincinnati Bengals before losing to the New England Patriots. Schaub needs finish strong for the Texans to have momentum going into the playoffs in the future. 

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

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    Area to Improve: Turnovers

    Few would argue that Andrew Luck's rookie season for the Indianapolis Colts wasn't spectacular. He took the Colts from being the worst team in the NFL to the playoffs.

    However, Luck did have his struggles in his first year, mainly with turnovers. He threw 18 interceptions and lost five fumbles over the course of the season.

    Some of those turnovers were simply due to the fact that the Colts needed Luck to do so much on offense. The other turnovers were just a result of poor decision-making, which Luck needs to improve on.

    The good news for Colts fans is that the future looks extremely bright and Luck should only get better in the coming seasons.

Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Area to Improve: Pocket presence 

    This area of improvement is about as obvious as they come.

    Even casual fans of the NFL know that Blaine Gabbert needs to improve his overall pocket presence. Too often he will completely lose his composure when pressured. He'll end up either taking a sack or making an absolutely terrible throw.

    The 2013 season will likely be the last chance Gabbert gets with the Jacksonville Jaguars. If he can't improve in this area of his game, along with other areas, it's likely he'll be without a job rather quickly.

Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Area to Improve: Big-play ability

    Throughout his career with the San Francisco 49ers, Alex Smith has been known more as a game manager than anything else. He'll have a chance to change that label with the Kansas City Chiefs.

    The Chiefs struggled mightily with Matt Cassel last year and desperately need a quarterback capable of making big plays.

    Smith certainly has the weapons in running back Jamaal Charles and wide receivers Dwayne Bowe and Jonathan Baldwin to shed the label of a game manager. However, whether he'll actually be able to do it is up for debate. 

Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins

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    Area to Improve: Lowering mistakes

    When Ryan Tannehill entered the 2012 NFL draft, many expected him to be a major project for the Miami Dolphins. No one expected him to have a decent rookie season, but that is exactly what he did.

    While Tannehill was impressive, he also had his struggles. The biggest problem he had was with making mistakes. His 13 interceptions and nine fumbles proved that he still has a long way to go to becoming a true franchise quarterback.

    What the Dolphins need Tannehill to do is limit his mistakes while improving on his touchdown-pass total (only 12 in his rookie season). Of course, having a new weapon like wide receiver Mike Wallace should help in a big way.

Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings

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    Area to Improve: Completion percentage

    As Christian Ponder enters his third year in the NFL, the Minnesota Vikings need him to take that next step. He's yet to prove he's a franchise quarterback for the Vikings.

    There are a handful of areas where Ponder needs to improve, but the biggest area is with his completion percentage. While he did improve from a 54.3 percentage to 62.1 last year, there is still room for more improvement.

    As defenses focuses most of their attention on stopping running back Adrian Peterson, they need Ponder to make this improvement if they want to be truly competitive in the NFC North.

Tom Brady, New England Patriots

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    Area to Improve: Dependency on tight ends

    Tom Brady doesn't have much to improve on at this point in the career. However, due to factors he can't control (i.e. Aaron Hernandez's arrest and Rob Gronkowski's injuries), he'll now need to learn to become less dependent on his tight ends.

    Gronkowski and Hernandez combined for 106 receptions and 16 touchdowns last year. That was over 25 percent of Brady's completions and nearly half of his touchdown passes.

    However, without Hernandez for all of next year and Gronkowski possibly missing the start of the season, Brady will need to find new targets he can rely on.

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

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    Area to Improve: Using his legs

    This may sound a little crazy, but Drew Brees needs to run the ball more often. Now I'm not talking about running like Cam Newton or Colin Kaepernick, but the New Orleans Saints could benefit from Brees scrambling for a few first downs.

    There are a handful of times in each game where Brees has a ton of room to run due to the fact that defenses respect his ability to throw down the field so much. However, instead of running the ball, Brees will try to force passes to pick up yards.

    While Brees isn't overly athletic, he certainly has the ability to pick up chunks of yards on the ground. 

Eli Manning, New York Giants

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    Area to Improve: Consistency

    After winning the Super Bowl following the 2011 season, Eli Manning and the New York Giants failed to make the playoffs in 2012. A big reason why was the inconsistent overall play of Manning.

    He'd have a solid game one week and follow it up with a complete dud of a game. His 59.9 completion percentage was his lowest since the 2007 season and his 26 touchdowns were his lowest in the past four seasons.

    Simply put, Manning needs to play at a consistently high level if the Giants want to make it to the postseason in 2013.

Mark Sanchez, New York Jets

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    Area to Improve: Accuracy

    Few quarterbacks have as many areas to improve in as Mark Sanchez. However, the area where he needs to improve the most is his accuracy.

    He's failed to complete 60 percent of his passes during his four years in the league. His completion percentage of 54.3 percent last year was the second-lowest of his career.

    Sanchez has also struggled with interceptions (he threw 18 last year), which is another indicator of his struggles with placing the football where it needs to be. Sanchez could possibly lose his starting job before the beginning of the season if he doesn't show some type of improvement with his accuracy.

Matt Flynn, Oakland Raiders

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    Area to Improve: Competing

    Considering that Matt Flynn has only started two games in his NFL career, there isn't much to go off of for what he needs to improve. However, if there is an area where Flynn needs to improve, it's with competing.

    We're not so much talking about him competing in games, but rather competing to get the chance to actually play in games. He lost the starting job with the Seattle Seahawks to rookie Russell Wilson last year, and it's possible that he'll lose the starting job in Oakland this year to rookie Tyler Wilson.

    Wilson has looked impressive so far, and if Flynn doesn't show the best of his abilities in training camp and preseason, he could once again find himself riding the bench this season.

Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Area to Improve: Safety

    There isn't really much to say about this area of improvement for Michael Vick. He gets injured more than any quarterback in the league.

    He's missed 13 games over the last three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. He's also only played all 16 games of a season once in his 10 years in the league.

    Until Vick can learn to play the game with more concern about his health, he'll always be dealing with injuries. 

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Area to Improve: Short passes

    There is no one on the planet who is going to suggest that Ben Roethlisberger needs to improve his deep ball, mental toughness or overall physicality. At this point in his career there really isn't much that Roethlisberger needs to improve on at all.

    The one area that could stand the tiniest improvement is with his short passes. Whether it's a screen pass or little dump-off pass to his running back, Roethlisberger could become more accurate on these types of passes.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers have truly been blessed to have such a great quarterback like Roethlisberger, but even great quarterbacks can improve in small areas.

Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

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    Area to Improve: Turnovers

    Over the past few seasons, Philip Rivers has gone from an elite quarterback to a middle-of-the-road quarterback. The biggest reason for that has been turnovers.

    Rivers has had a combined 47 turnovers over the past two seasons. What is even more troubling is the fact that 12 of those turnovers have been fumbles, a rather high number for a quarterback.

    While some of Rivers' problems have been due to his offensive line, most of his turnover issues have been due to his poor decision-making. Rivers is still young enough to get back on the right track, and the San Diego Chargers have invested in quite a bit of help for Rivers to do that.

    If 2013 is another turnover-filled year for Rivers, we could be seeing a new quarterback in San Diego in 2014.

Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers

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    Area to Improve: Footwork

    Colin Kaepernick took full advantage of a concussion to Alex Smith and never looked back. He was a huge reason why the San Francisco 49ers made it to the Super Bowl last year and why they continue to be one of the most feared teams in the league.

    While it seems that Kaepernick can do no wrong, that simply isn't true. There are a handful of areas where he needs to improve in his third season in the NFL. The biggest area is with his footwork in the pocket.

    Sometimes he'll either throw off his back foot or not completely step into a throw, and the result is usually a misplaced pass.

    This isn't going to be a tough area for Kaepernick to improve in, but it is a necessary area to get better at if he wants to continue his growth as a quarterback.

Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

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    Area to Improve: Deep passing

    What Russell Wilson did last year was simply amazing. He went from a third-round pick who was expected to ride the bench to taking the Seattle Seahawks to the playoffs.

    Along the way, Wilson proved that he has all the tools to legitimately be considered an elite quarterback one day. However, before Wilson can get there he'll need to improve his success as a deep passer.

    Wilson only completed 48.4 percent of his passes that traveled 20-plus yards. Compared to the rest of his statistics as a passer, his deep passes were clearly the weakest part of his game.

    Wilson will want to become better with the deep ball, especially with new wide receiver Percy Harvin in town. Harvin and Wilson have the potential to become one of the best quarterback-receiver combos in the league rather quickly if Wilson can improve his deep passing. 

Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams

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    Area to Improve: Accuracy

    Over the past two seasons, Sam Bradford has had a mediocre group of weapons with which to work.  

    Not having quality receivers has certainly hurt Bradford's stats, but it isn't the only reason why he's completed less than 60 percent of his passes in each of the past two seasons. Bradford needs to become better with his decisions and overall reads to improve his accuracy.

    By drafting receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, the St. Louis Rams have invested quite a bit into Bradford for the upcoming season. He'll need to improve or the Rams could quickly run out of patience with their former No. 1 overall pick.

Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Area to Improve: Interceptions

    If you take out Josh Freeman's 2010 season, he's thrown 57 interceptions in three seasons. That's an average of 19 interceptions a season, which is far too many for an NFL quarterback.

    Freeman's best season was in 2010, when he only threw six interceptions compared to 25 touchdowns. However, that season seems so far gone considering his struggles with interceptions the past two seasons.

    While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shifted some of their offense away from Freeman and onto running back Doug Martin last year, they still need Freeman to cut down on his turnovers. Playing in a division against quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton means that Freeman has to step his game up even more if the Buccaneers want to be a winning team this year.

Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans

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    Area to Improve: Accuracy

    Jake Locker's biggest issue coming out of college was his accuracy. In his two years in the league, he has yet to fix that.

    His career completion percentage is a pitiful 55.5 percent. He also threw 11 interceptions in the 11 games that he started last year.

    The Tennessee Titans improved quite a bit in the offseason. They now need Locker to improve his accuracy to compete for a playoff position.

Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins

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    Area to Improve: Decision-making

    When Robert Griffin III missed a game in the regular season last year it was because of a hit he took from defensive tackle Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens. That hit came on a play where Griffin decided to run the ball and not slide.

    If Griffin wants to take that next step toward being elite, he'll need to start making better decisions. He can't make reckless decisions like he did as a rookie or else he will constantly be injured.

    As long as Griffin improves his decision-making, which will ultimately keep him healthy, the Washington Redskins should be just fine offensively.