NFL1000: Doug Farrar's Week 10 QB Rankings
On Sunday, Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams and Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles, selected with the first two picks of the 2016 draft, became the first quarterbacks so selected to throw four touchdown passes and no interceptions each on the same day. Both teams ran up 51-point totals in their wins over the New York Giants and Denver Broncos, respectively, and both teams have created ideal situations for their young stars.
Meanwhile, Dallas' Dak Prescott, taken in the fourth round of that same draft, outdueled Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs in a 28-17 win and showed excellent command of his reads and an enhanced sense of when to run vs when to stay in the pocket.
That's not to say that everything is perfect when it comes to quarterbacks. Colin Kaepernick's recent collusion case against the NFL gained some steam as we had to endure the efforts of Brock Osweiler, Tom Savage, C.J. Beathard, Brett Hundley and Ryan Fitzpatrick. I'll just go ahead and say it as my B/R colleague Mike Freeman has several times: There are NFL teams in playoff contention who are letting politics get in the way of winning, and the bottom of the league in quarterback performance makes that clear.
Our weekly quarterback rankings are decided and written by myself, NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar, and quarterbacks scout Mark Schofield. I evaluate all AFC quarterbacks, and Schofield does the same with the NFC quarterbacks.
We combine tape analysis and advanced metrics to give you a sense of which quarterbacks are trending up, down and which are better or worse than their reputations might imply.
The rankings are based on recent performance, but they are also adjusted for opponent, talent around the quarterback and the player's history over the last few years.
Good news for some, bad news for others. Here are the NFL1000 quarterback rankings ahead of Week 10.
The following six starting quarterbacks were on byes in Week 9:
Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears
Case Keenum, Minnesota Vikings
DeShone Kizer, Cleveland Browns
Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
The bye week/injured quarterbacks will return to the rankings next week but as we’re ranking based on performance, they’re excluded when they're not playing.
27. Brock Osweiler, Denver Broncos
Last Week: N/A (Did Not Play)
When the Denver Broncos benched Trevor Siemian for an awful Week 8 performance against the Kansas City Chiefs and then announced that Osweiler would start against the ferocious Philadelphia Eagles defense, you'd be forgiven for scoffing. Osweiler has struggled for the majority of his NFL career and looked downright abysmal in Houston last season.
This move appeared to be more shuffling of the Titanic deck chairs (apologies to Cam Newton for stealing his meme) than anything that would bring long-term clarity to the position.
And in a 51-23 loss to the Eagles, that's pretty much how it played out. Osweiler completed just 19 of 38 passes for 208 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He did connect on two of his five deep attempts based on charting, but another one of those went to safety Rodney McLeod, and that pick was a distillation of everything wrong with Osweiler as a quarterback.
Osweiler was trying to hit receiver Demaryius Thomas on a stutter-go down the sideline, but he balked at the pressure before it even arrived and threw an awful pass as he was fading off his feet. The throw wasn't in the vicinity of Thomas, who was covered by cornerback Rasul Douglas. McLeod caught what was essentially a second-down arm punt a couple yards away. His other pick was a quick throw to Thomas that cornerback Patrick Robinson snatched.
Occasionally, Osweiler would spot mismatches in coverage and take advantage, such as his 30-yard second-quarter throw to Emmanuel Sanders. There, linebacker Joe Walker was caught covering the speed receiver downfield, and Osweiler made a good throw because he wasn't perceiving pressure. His one-yard touchdown pass to Thomas came with 9:45 left in the game, and the Eagles up, 44-9. Then, Thomas ran a nice underneath route on a pick, and Osweiler timed it well.
Osweiler is getting the call next Sunday night against the Patriots because the coaching staff has lost confidence in Siemian, and 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch is still recovering from shoulder injury. Right now, the Broncos have three potential starting quarterbacks, and none of them have shown the ability to lead the offense in a way that won't waste the efforts of what's usually a top defense. Osweiler is simply the most familiar version of the guy who hasn't worn out his welcome yet.
26. C.J. Beathard, San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 27
I'll be the first to admit that I have a pretty good gig. I get compensated to spend my time watching, writing and talking about football. As someone who left the practice of law to pursue a second career, my current vocation certainly beats working for a living.
But then there are mornings when you wake up before dawn, brew some coffee and sit down to chart all 51 pass attempts from rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard. That might give you some pause.
You read that right. In their 20-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard attempted 51 passes. He completed 24 of those for 294 yards but was held without a touchdown. He did throw an interception. It should be noted that he played the game under seemingly constant pressure, and was sacked five times and hit 16. Beathard took a beating, and while that might earn him the respect of his teammates, it is not translating to offensive success.
On more than a few passing plays, there were receivers open downfield and opportunities in the passing game, but due to pressure, Beathard could not step into throws or was forced from the spot.
Even when he did have time, there were plays that the 49ers left on the field in a potentially winnable game. Late in the first quarter, Beathard looked to Marquise Goodwin on a post route, but the pass was overthrown after the receiver had beaten the defense. Later in the quarter, Beathard again looked to Goodwin on a post route, but while the pass was completed, the ball was underthrown and Goodwin was held from a larger gain or a score.
The 49ers did trade for Jimmy Garoppolo las week, although head coach Kyle Shanahan stated that he did not know if the newly-acquired quarterback would see the field. Whether it is Beathard or Garoppolo going forward, it is clear that the man taking the snaps in San Francisco will be under constant duress. Beathard certainly earned some respect again on Sunday by standing up to the Cardinals' pressure, but respect does not count for much on the scoreboard.
25. Tom Savage, Houston Texans
Last Week: N/A (Did Not Play)
Houston's offense can't be nearly what it was with Deshaun Watson when Tom Savage is on the field. Before his start against the Indianapolis Colts, which was predicated by Watson's knee injury, Savage said there's no way he can do everything Watson does, so let's give him points for self-awareness at least.
Savage was rewarded for that moment of clarity with a horrid performance that put his liabilities in glaring view.
Savage completed 19 of 44 passes for 219 yards and a late touchdown in a 20-14 loss to the Colts. It was clear that with Savage's rudimentary field reads and lack of mobility, coach Bill O'Brien was relegated to the same game plan that got Savage sacked six times in the Texans' opening-day loss to the Jaguars.
Savage has a tendency to stay in the pocket when he should bail, and he's not always on time with his reads of open receivers, which leads to unnecessary pressure and incompletions. For the most part, he will stare his receivers down and help defenders know where the ball is going.
In this game, Savage's main problem wasn't getting sacked—he was taken down just twice—It was his gross inaccuracy on the deep ball. Savage attempted multiple deep passes against the Colts and completed just one, though that one was a beauty, and it was his lone touchdown pass of the day. With 6:11 left in the game, Savage stepped up in the pocket and threw a perfectly timed pass to DeAndre Hopkins in the left side of the end zone. Cornerback Pierre Desir was on Hopkins, and Savage got the ball there before safety Darius Butler could get over to help with coverage. Further, Savage looked off the safety to help his receiver.
The game ended in uglier fashion, as Savage took a sack with time running out, and his subsequent fumble was recovered by the Colts.
The real problem with Savage replacing Watson isn't that he is the NFL's worst quarterback—he isn't. It's that the plays head coach Bill O'Brien and his staff inserted into the playbook for Watson's skill set—option runs, run-pass options and multiple fakes—are now out the window. O'Brien said on Monday that Colin Kaepernick has been discussed as an option, and though the likelihood of that is low, there isn't an NFL team missing its starting quarterback who would benefit more from what Kaepernick can do.
24. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: N/A (Did Not Play)
On the bright side, Ryan Fitzpatrick does have a Harvard degree.
Pressed into action Sunday to start the third quarter after starter Jameis Winston was sidelined with a recurring shoulder injury, Fitzpatrick could not spark a big comeback and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell to 2-6 on the year with a 30-10 loss on the road to the New Orleans Saints.
The veteran QB completed eight of 15 passes in relief for only 68 yards.
Under his guidance, the Tampa Bay offense took more of a running back-centered approach to the passing game. Checkdowns, screen passes and the like were often used while the backup was on the field. It did not help that on one of his first throws, a short completion to O.J. Howard, the rookie tight end fumbled the football away and the Saints scored on the next play to extend their lead to 30-3. Fitzpatrick also missed a few opportunities in the passing game, such as a throw to DeSean Jackson on a deep pass that was off the target when the receiver had some separation.
Fitzpatrick did tack on a touchdown pass late in the game, finding Luke Stocker in the flat on a play-action play. But it was too little, much too late for the Buccaneers to get back into the game.
With the news that the Bucs will hold Winston out at least a few games to rest his shoulder, Fitzpatrick at least offers some veteran stability. He can make some anticipation throws at times and is usually pretty safe with the football, but in a year where the results have not matched the talent level, that is probably not enough to translate to wins for Tampa Bay.
23. Drew Stanton, Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: N/A (Bye)
It's okay to say it: Drew Stanton was not half-bad Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
In his first start of the 2017 season in place of the injured Carson Palmer, Stanton completed 15 of 30 passes for 201 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the 49ers with one interception. His first touchdown came when a 49ers' fumble gave the Cardinals a 1st-and-goal situation to start a drive.
On a third down, Stanton did a good job of buying time in the pocket to extend the play before finding Jaron Brown in the end zone for the touchdown. Stanton threw the pass through two defenders to his receiver, showing the ability to execute a difficult throw on the move.
His other touchdown pass came on a quick post pattern to his tight end Jermaine Gresham. The timing as well as the ball placement were near perfect.
Stanton's one interception came on a similar play later in the second quarter, again in the direction of Gresham. On the turnover, the tight end established inside leverage against Eric Reid, but Stanton's pass was behind Gresham, which allowed the defender to make a play at the catch point and wrestle the football away from Gresham for the turnover in the red zone.
Another aspect of Stanton's play on Sunday that stood out was his anticipation. More than a few throws from the quarterback came out right on time, such as a deep out pattern he threw to J.J. Nelson. Stanton also slid around in the pocket fairly well and should good feel for his ability to escape and extend when pressure converged on him.
The Cardinals are not dead yet in the NFC West, and with three divisional games remaining, including two against the Seahawks, there is still an outside chance they can fight back into the divisional picture. But they will need to play perfect football the rest of the way to pull that off. They were able to escape Sunday with the win, even with Stanton throwing the one interception. But he'll need to be better than this down the stretch if Arizona wants to make a late push.
22. Brett Hundley, Green Bay Packers
Last Week: N/A (Bye)
Early in Monday night's game against the Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Brett Hundley looked comfortable with the scripted plays put in place by head coach Mike McCarthy. The Packers opened the game with an array of quick passes, run/pass options with designed run elements for the quarterback, designed throws to the flat and play-action passes. But the drive stalled and ended with a botched field-goal attempt.
It was all downhill from there.
Aside from a two-minute drive at the end of the first half where he seemed comfortable in a more up-tempo pace, Hundley could not get settled in. He was quick to move from clean pockets, he was a step late on a number of throws (including one pass along the sideline to Davante Adams that was broken up by D.J. Hayden) and it seemed like he failed to identify some open reads as well. In addition, situational awareness was lacking, especially at the end of that two-minute drive before the half. Hundley took a costly sack on a first-down play, and on the following snap he wasted a great deal of time in the pocket extending the play. The Packers were lucky to get the field goal converted in a fire-drill situation.
There were some missed opportunities as well. Hundley had Adams on a vertical route in the second quarter that was only slightly overthrown but still catchable, but the receiver failed to pull in the pass. In the third quarter, the Packers defense forced a turnover near midfield, but Hundley and the offense failed to take advantage of the good field position in going three-and-out on their ensuing possession, including two incompletions on deeper throws to Jordy Nelson.
Hundley's best pass of the night came on a drive early in the fourth quarter, when he hit Randall Cobb on a post route with impressive velocity and placement. He hit Adams on a back-shoulder throw later in the drive, and the Packers were able to punch the ball into the end zone to finish off that drive. Again, the quicker tempo on the drive seemed to get Hundley into a bit of a rhythm.
With Aaron Rodgers sidelined, the entire Green Bay roster needs to step up. The Packers defense did its part on Monday night, forcing a turnover and holding the Lions to a field goal on a fourth-quarter drive after Detroit faced a 1st-and-goal from the 1. But Hundley needs to perform better. Channeling how he opened the game, when the young quarterback was his most comfortable and effective, would be a good place to start.
21. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 22
That Joe Flacco is not having a good season is a surprise to nobody. Quarterbacks with $125 million contracts who post totals of eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions just past the season's halfway mark present major problems to their franchises. The question is, how can Flacco turn his obvious mechanical issues around and stop wasting tremendous performances from his defense?
In a 23-20 loss to the Tennessee Titans, Flacco attempted a season-high 52 passes, completing 34 for 261 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The 32-year-old used to be one of the best throwers in the game, so it could be argued there's a problem with the offensive system that saw him average only five yards per attempt Sunday. However, while it's true his coaching staff would prefer Flacco take the easy short pass too often, you can't blame offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg for wanting to rein him in based on Flacco's deep passes against the Titans.
Both of Flacco's touchdowns came in the fourth quarter as the Ravens struggled to come back, with a pick play to Mike Wallace and a rollout pass to running back Buck Allen making the score respectable. The interceptions were more problematic and are indicative of where Flacco stands at this point in his career.
Both picks went to Titans safety Kevin Byard, who has developed into one of the league's better deep defenders. Flacco helped Byard out with an awful deep throw on a two-vertical concept to receiver Breshad Perriman in the first quarter: Flacco threw the ball indecisively off his back foot into converging triple coverage, cornerback Logan Ryan tipped the ball before Perriman could get to it, and Byard had an easy pick.
Byard's second interception came at the start of the second half. He was covering tight end Benjamin Watson down the right boundary and had outside position. For whatever reason, Flacco double-clutched the pass and threw it off-balance to Watson, who never had a chance. If you had told me that Flacco was throwing this ball to Byard, that would have made more sense.
If the Ravens are to pull their franchise quarterback out of the muck, they'll have to work with him on his out-of-whack mechanics and get on the same page with route concepts. Right now, Flacco is doing his team more harm than good.
20. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Last Week: N/A (Bye)
The New York Giants fell to 1-7 after a 51-17 drubbing at the hands of the visiting Los Angeles Rams. Quarterback Eli Manning was pressured early and often by Aaron Donald, including a strip sack to end their first offensive possession. He finished the day completing 20 of 36 passes for 220 yards, a pair of touchdowns and one interception.
The first scoring play came on a well-executed post/out combination in the red zone. Rookie tight end Evan Engram went on an out pattern from the slot, while wide receiver Tavarres King ran a post route from the outside. Manning showed good patience to let the route develop and hit his wide receiver with good velocity and placement in the back of the end zone for the score.
The second touchdown came with the game out of hand, but it showed the growing relationship between Manning and his rookie tight end. Engram was split wide to the left side and ran a goal-line fade route, and Manning trusted his rookie to win at the catch point. (As an aside, the development of Engram into a true offensive weapon is perhaps the only bright spot in New York's dismal 2017 season).
Manning's interception came on a great play from cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who baited him into throwing a post route to a covered receiver. Johnson disguised his coverage at the snap and Manning, who was looking at the post route all the way and failed to see the cornerback undercut the route.
At this point, it makes sense for the Giants to shut Manning down for the season and try to find out what they have in rookie Davis Webb. The window for this team under Manning might be closing, and there is no sense in running him out there in games like these when the Giants could be learning what they have in Webb. This is not to say the organization needs to move on from Manning yet, but why expose him to further snaps and potential injury in a season that has gotten away from them? Getting the rookie some live game action while protecting Manning seems to be the best course of action to perhaps salvage something from a rough 2017 campaign.
19. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 19
His day started with an interesting pregame speech and ended with him on the sideline in the midst of a fracas. In between, Jameis Winston could not get the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense going, and the team's struggles continued as it fell to 2-6 after a 30-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Winston played only the first half and was pulled at halftime due to a lingering shoulder injury. In his limited action, he completed only 7 of 13 passes for a mere 67 yards.
His ball placement was shaky the entire first half. His first pass of the game came on a 3rd-and-4, but his pass was behind running back Charles Sims and forced him to make a twisting adjustment that resulted in only a two-yard gain. Later in the first quarter, Winston had wide receiver DeSean Jackson open on a vertical route, but the pass sailed too far out of bounds for the receiver to make a play.
Winston also forced too many throws into coverage Sunday. On 1st-and-10 early in the game, he looked to O.J. Howard, but the throw was into triple coverage, and the quarterback was lucky the pass only fell incomplete.
Tampa Bay's 2017 season began with so much promise: talent infusions on offense and an HBO special to boot. But now sitting at 2-6, the Buccaneers are on the verge of a wasted season, and their starting quarterback is hampered by a shoulder issue that clearly impacted his throwing velocity and play against the Saints. Looking at their remaining schedule, it is hard to see how they right the ship at this point. It might be a while before the team gets to figure out what, exactly, a "W" tastes like.
18. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 11
The big story in the Jacksonville Jaguars' 23-7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals was the ongoing fight between Bengals receiver A.J. Green and Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The football story, though, was what Ramsey did to Green in coverage, limiting him to one catch for six yards on two targets. With his primary receiver negated by the most aggressive cornerback in the NFL and ejected in the second quarter, and behind an offensive line unable to deal with Jacksonville's pressure, Andy Dalton had trouble staying afloat. The Bengals ran just 37 plays all day as the Jags were able to play keep-away with their running game, and Dalton completed just 10 of 18 passes for 136 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.
Dalton was pressured at a high rate for his low dropback count. He threw one deep sideline route to Green that would have been a completion had the quarterback not thrown it out of bounds. Green had Ramsey beat on the play, and Dalton simply couldn't come up with the timing to make that tough throw over the cornerback's head.
Dalton's sole shot play of the day was to tight end Tyler Kroft for 58 yards, most of which came after the catch. Kroft took the ball on an intermediate seam route, and two Jaguars defenders bumped into each other, allowing Kroft to get free.
Dalton struggled to complete deep passes, and that shouldn't be a surprise. An above-average quarterback without his dominant receiver against a hyper-aggressive defense, without the protection to deal with that kind of pressure, will be lucky to get out of the stadium uninjured. In that regard, Dalton's day was a success. He is a quarterback who can shine in favorable circumstances, but this game had none of those.
17. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: N/A (Bye)
Blake Bortles is like a box of chocolates, Forrest Gump might say: You never know what you're going to get. This season, we've seen him torch Baltimore's excellent defense for four touchdowns, and we've seen him barely do anything against the Steelers and Jets. Bortles has thrown more than one touchdown pass in a game just once this season—against the Ravens—and the Jags have spent a lot of time hiding him behind their running game and defense.
Jacksonville was able to do that again in a 23-7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, even with rookie star running back Leonard Fournette suspended by the team. The Jags ran 40 times for 149 yards, but Bortles had a hand in the win as well, completing 24 of 38 passes for 259 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. This game didn't solve Bortles' inconsistencies in one fell swoop, but now Jacksonville stands at 5-3, it gives the quarterback a bit more margin for error.
The threat of the running game gave Bortles his biggest play of the day: He faked to running back Chris Ivory to the left and hit tight end Marcedes Lewis on an intermediate out route for 37 yards. He did have a nice throw to receiver Marqise Lee early in the second quarter on a deep over route where Bortles moved to his left in the pocket to evade pressure, but Lee dropped the ball. A few minutes later, he wriggled free from one Bengals defender and threw across his body to Lewis, who was wide open downfield, but Bortles overthrew Lewis by a good five yards. He missed Lee by a similar amount late in the third quarter on what would have been a nice deep boundary route.
When watching Bortles, one sees improved mechanics at times, but there's also a disconnect between the function of his throwing motions and the results at times. Bortles has trouble getting his timing and velocity under control, which will lead to inconsistencies. Unless he fixes those issues, the Jaguars will have to continue to win with other factors, unleashing Bortles just enough to help the offense and not enough to implode the whole thing.
16. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 9
The Atlanta Falcons' offensive struggles continued for yet another week. After an early start against the Carolina Panthers, the Falcons slowed in the second half and saw the Panthers hold on for a 20-17 victory. In defeat, Matt Ryan completed 24 of 38 passes for two touchdowns, but a costly interception late in the first half helped set the stage for a quick Carolina touchdown that gave the home team a halftime lead.
Early in the game, it seemed like Atlanta offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was hitting all the right notes with his play-calling. The game began with a deep curl route to Julio Jones where Ryan showed perfect feel and anticipation, getting the ball out of his hands well before the break. Later in the drive on a 2nd-and-14, Ryan overthrew Jones on a deep ball, but again Atlanta was doing things to get their world-class receiver involved early.
The Falcons' first touchdown drive of the game also showed a good mix of play-calling. There were West Coast concepts such as curl/flat and tosser, as well as more vertical plays like a dino/double-post concept where Ryan found Jones on a post route with a good mix of velocity and ball placement. That drive ended with a perfect short touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu on a quick out pattern.
Then came the interception. Ryan dropped to pass and saw a Cover 2 look. He opened to his left before coming back to the right, where tight end Austin Hooper was running a post route toward the middle of the field from a wing alignment. Normally, this is a good route against Cover 2 because that receiver should split the safeties in the middle of the field. But not enough was done to influence the play-side safety away from Hooper's route, whether from the play design itself or Ryan using his eyes to manipulate that defender. Safety Mike Adams jumped the route, and the Panthers offense was back on the field.
The Falcons seem to be running out of time and opportunities to right the ship. They woke up Monday morning in third place in the NFC South, trailing both the New Orleans Saints and the Panthers. If they fail to sort out their offensive woes in a hurry, they will find themselves on the outside looking in come the postseason.
15. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 18
In the wake of the Carolina Panthers trading Kelvin Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills, it was very intriguing to see how their offense would look. To hear interim general manager Marty Hurney tell it, the move was made to incorporate more speed into the Panthers offense, per Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer. That might still be a work in progress, but the Panthers are now 1-0 in the post-Benjamin era thanks to a 20-17 victory Sunday over the visiting Atlanta Falcons.
Cam Newton had a somewhat quiet afternoon as a passer, completing 13 of 24 passes for 137 yards. But those numbers tell only a small part of the story. Again, Newton was the team's leading rusher, carrying the ball nine times for 86 yards and a touchdown. Some of the designed quarterback runs the Panthers had moved away from were back in the game plan. Quarterback draws, keeps on run/pass options and rollouts were all utilized. In addition, Newton's ability to pick up yardage when the pocket breaks down remains a dangerous weapon for their offense. His touchdown run came on a red-zone scramble that ended with Newton lunging into the end zone for the score to cap off an incredible individual effort.
There were flashes of brilliance in the passing game, such as his placement and velocity on an in-breaking route to Devin Funchess to start a drive with 7:26 left in the third quarter But as illustrated by Doug Farrar in his Week 9 review, Newton struggles at times with ball placement and when trying to fit throws into tighter windows. That can lead to passes being broken up or even intercepted, with Sunday's game providing a few throws that could have been completed with better placement.
But the designed runs and RPO-type looks might be an indication of how the Panthers' offense will unfold without Benjamin. Doing more to create space for receivers schematically, as well as involving rookies Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel in the passing game, could do wonders for this offense and Newton. He remains one of the NFL's toughest quarterbacks to defend, and tailoring the offense just a bit more to his skill set would make a lot of sense.
14. Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 21
Lost in the travails of Houston's quarterback miasma (and the ongoing struggles Andrew Luck faces in getting back on the field) was the fact that against the Texans' quality defense, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett had what may have been his best NFL game as a pure passer. Against the Texans, Brissett completed 20 of 30 passes for 308 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions
Brissett's 45-yard touchdown dart to speed receiver T.Y. Hilton may have been his prettiest throw of the day, and showed his touch with the deep ball. Hilton took cornerback Johnathan Joseph up the seams on a deep over route, and Brissett, running play action, exploited the single coverage with a pinpoint pass to his target. He got a bit skittish under pressure on a couple of intermediate throws, as the Texans tried to blitz him in the first half, but he adjusted with short and intermediate passes, hitting Hilton on a crossing route for a third-quarter touchdown.
The only real flaw on Brissett's day was the fumble he gave up late in the second quarter, as safety Eddie Pleasant came unblocked off the defensive right edge to sack Brissett, and linebacker Lamarr Houston returned the fumble for a touchdown. Had that not happened, indy's 20-14 win would not have been as close.
The Colts are at a pivotal point in the franchise's history with Luck's rehab from shoulder surgery going wrong in all kinds of directions, but in Brissett, they have a young quarterback who has shown a lot of development in reading and adjusting to defenses, using his athleticism in and out of the pocket, and timing his throws for success.
13. Jay Cutler, Miami Dolphins
Last Week: N/A (Did Not Play)
Jay Cutler didn't seem the worse for wear after suffering broken ribs in Miami's Week 7 win over the Jets, and missing his team's subsequent 40-0 debacle against the Ravens. He completed his first 15 passes against the Raiders' generally porous defense on Sunday and finished the day with 34-of-42 passing for 311 yards and three touchdowns. The problem in Miami's 27-24 loss was the problem the Dolphins have had all season—they ran for a total of 86 yards on just 18 carries and have yet to score a rushing touchdown in 2017.
Cutler's early completion streak came on short passes, including his first touchdown throw, a 10-yarder to halfback Damien Williams off a wheel route. Quick passes helped Cutler manage his rogue tendencies and kept the Dolphins moving the ball downfield, which was the game plan head coach Adam Gase had for Cutler in Chicago as the Bears' offensive coordinator in 2015. That was Cutler's most efficient season to date.
Cutler's second touchdown pass came with 6:34 left in the third quarter when he hit Jarvis Landry on a quick underneath out route against man coverage. His final touchdown came with 1:32 left in the game when he connected with tight end Julius Thomas in the end zone for a 15-yard play over the questionable coverage of linebacker Cory James.
Perhaps the only fault in Gase's plan for Cutler was the lack of explosive plays, especially as the Dolphins fought to come back in the second half. The Dolphins have the receivers to get open downfield—Stills is especially good at this—and Gase would do well to exploit Cutler's ability to throw the deep ball. This may have been more of a way to get Cutler into a rhythm and back on the field in a confident fashion, but the Dolphins will need more big plays if they're to challenge anyone in the AFC East.
12. Josh McCown, New York Jets
Last Week: 14
Josh McCown's first game with the New York Jets was the team's 2017 season opener, a 21-12 loss to the Buffalo Bills in which he threw no touchdowns, recorded two interceptions, and averaged 4.8 yards per attempt. It was thought to be further proof the Jets were "tanking the season." Two months later, the Jets beat the Bills 34-21 in the divisional rematch, and at 4-5, the Jets have blown those tanking narratives to bits.
McCown's efficiency is one of the main reasons the Jets have been able to stay competitive. He was hardly statistically explosive against the Bills this time around because Buffalo's defensive front had no answer for New York's running game. McCown completed 14 of just 20 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. This was not a day for the veteran to aim for explosive plays—not when his running game totaled 194 yards on 41 carries, including a touchdown run by McCown himself.
McCown did have a miscommunication with receiver Jermaine Kearse on an intermediate curl route that was nearly picked off by cornerback Leonard Johnson, but he was more successful throwing deep on his lone touchdown pass of the day, a 25-yarder to Robby Anderson over the head of outstanding rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White.
For the most part, McCown managed the offense with short, easy passes as the run game and defense led the way. It was the ideal game plan for a veteran quarterback with borderline starter talent, and McCown played it well, as he has through most of the season. McCown isn't the ideal quarterback for the Jets' future, but he certainly looks like the best pick to get the franchise through a roster transition that will take more than one season.
11. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Last Week: N/A (Bye)
Marcus Mariota completed 19 passes in 28 attempts for 218 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against Baltimore's outstanding pass defense in a 23-20 win, and though those stats aren't anything special, there's reason to believe that things could be looking up for the Titans' passing game. Mariota connected with Rishard Matthews and Eric Decker for those touchdowns, and rookie Corey Davis, the team's first-round pick in 2017, returned to the field for the first time since Week 2 after recovering from a hamstring injury.
Add in tight end Delanie Walker, who led the team with five receptions for 71 yards, and Mariota may finally have the multitiered receiver corps the team's front office has been trying to assemble for him since he was drafted with the second overall pick in 2015.
The touchdown to Matthews came with 1:04 left in the first quarter, as Matthews beat cornerback Brandon Carr one-on-one on a post out of a max-protect set. This play design speaks to the Titans' preference to get production out of the passing game in run formations with at least two tight ends. The touchdown to Decker came with Decker running underneath two Ravens defenders, using his physicality to get open and taking the ball into the end zone when free on a crossing route.
Mariota's only real mistake came with 12:03 left in the game when he miscommunicated with Matthews on what looked like an out route run to the wrong depth. Mariota threw the ball where he expected Matthews to be, and safety Eric Weddle was there instead.
More has been expected of Mariota in this season than he's produced, at least from a statistical perspective, but with his group of targets fully healthy, that might change.
10. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Last Week: 13
As we sit on the cusp of yet another draft season, one of the expressions you will likely hear as the debates about the incoming quarterback class begin is "arm talent." Watching Matthew Stafford play the quarterback position is watching a master class in defining that expression. Stafford has a variety of throws in his arsenal that he can deliver with velocity and pinpoint accuracy at any given moment.
One prime example of this came on a 3rd-and-3 throw late in the second quarter on an out pattern to Golden Tate. With the football on the right hash mark, Stafford uncorked a high-velocity throw to his receiver along the left sideline that reached its target a split-second before the defender rotated over for a potential interception.
Another example came in the third quarter to TJ Jones on a smash concept. The Green Bay Packers were running a Cover 2 trap look, with the cornerback collapsing on the tight end in the flat and the safety rotating over to cover Jones along the boundary. Stafford delivered another precision strike with incredible velocity on that play, which allowed ESPN analyst Jon Gruden to then wax poetically about the "turkey hole." Or maybe you can see it on the simple flick of the wrist on a Bang 8 post route to Jones late in the third quarter.
While the high-powered throws are nice, there is more to playing the quarterback position, and we see that from Stafford as well. On his touchdown pass to Marvin Jones in the first quarter, Stafford used touch and timing to drop in a bucket throw to his receiver and over the cornerback in coverage. But we also saw the QB freeze the safety in the middle of the field, ensuring that help could not arrive to defend the play.
Then we saw anticipation and placement on his second TD connection with Jones, which came on a fake smoke screen in the fourth quarter where Jones released vertically. Adding touch, anticipation, placement and eye manipulation to Stafford's raw arm talent makes for a dangerous combination in a passer.
With the win, the Detroit Lions improved to 4-4 and pulled even with the Packers in the NFC North. With Aaron Rodgers sidelined for the foreseeable future and Stafford playing at such a high level, the Lions are primed to make a late-season run at a division title. But a Thanksgiving Day tilt with the current division-leading Minnesota Vikings certainly looms large.
9. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 12
The regression of Oakland's offensive line from its 2016 performance is real, and it's affecting Derek Carr's efficiency. Against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday night, Carr was pressured on several of his dropbacks, and while he was sacked only once, he threw his lone interception under duress. Carr still completed 21 of 30 passes for 300 yards and a touchdown in Oakland's 27-24 win over the Dolphins, leaning heavily on tight end Jared Cook in the process, but all is not right with Oakland's passing game right now.
It was nice that Cook could get open as the iso receiver over linebacker Kiko Alonso for a 35-yard gain on a boundary route in the first quarter, but this was more about Alonso's lagging overage, as Cook was lumbering the whole way. And it was nice that receiver Johnny Holton caught a 44-yard touchdown pass on a deep over route off a stack release in the second quarter.
But Carr's interception with 2:20 left in the game showed that his inability to hook up with top receiver Amari Cooper isn't yet a thing of the past. Cooper was running a fade down the right boundary, and Carr looked as if he underthrew his receiver, creating an opportunity for rookie cornerback Cordrea Tankersley to tip the ball in the air, and safety Reshad Jones picked it off.
Carr and Cooper hooked up four times for 58 yards, but it took them nine targets to get there. Perhaps the most disconcerting series came late in the first quarter when Carr threw behind Cooper on a receiver screen and then underthrew him on an intermediate out route. Until Carr is able to develop a consistent rapport with his best receiver, and mitigate the increasing pressure he's faced this season, the Raiders' passing offense will continue to struggle with consistency.
These aren't epic, team-destroying issues, but given what was expected of this offense this season, it's far from ideal.
8. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 1
There is a motion on the floor to play all late-afternoon games in Seattle. Do I hear a second?
For the second straight week, a game in the Pacific Northwest came down to a thrilling conclusion. However, Russell Wilson could not lead another late comeback, and the Seattle Seahawks fell to the visiting Washington Redskins 17-14. There were certainly a number of missed opportunities for the home team on the afternoon, including kicker Blair Walsh's missed field goals of 44, 39 and 49 yards that certainly changed the complexion of the game.
But in contrast to last week, this time Wilson could also take blame for a few mistakes of his own. To be fair, he was under constant duress throughout the afternoon, and the phrase "good job to avoid quick sack" is littered throughout my charting notes from watching his performance. That said, Wilson did throw two interceptions on the afternoon.
The first came on a tosser (dual slant) concept where he tried to hit Doug Baldwin on the inside slant route, but Kendall Fuller put his foot in the turf and drove on the route for an interception eerily similar to Malcolm Butler's from Super Bowl XLIX. In the third quarter, Wilson was blitzed on a play-action passing play and flushed to his right, where he attempted a bit of a cross-body throw back to his left. But the quarterback never saw Will Compton in the throwing lane, and the pass went right to the linebacker for the pick.
Despite the mistakes, Wilson still had the Seahawks in a position to pull out the victory late. He threw two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the first coming off play-action to Luke Willson and the second coming on a deep crossing route to Baldwin to give Seattle a 14-10 lead with under two minutes remaining. But the Seahawks could not close out the win with their defense, and they drop to 5-3 on the year.
Wilson remains a very dynamic, thrilling quarterback to watch. He's often trying to make magic happen in the pocket, and the Seattle offense has a bit of a "let Russell run around and make something happen" flavor to it right now. Given his talent level and how effective he is in these situations, however, it certainly makes sense. Whether that is sustainable, or his level of play is sustainable, remains to be seen.
7. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 8
Amazingly, the seven sacks Tyrod Taylor took against the New York Jets on Thursday wasn't his highest single-game total—he was sacked eight times against the Patriots in a 40-32 loss in 2015—but this 34-21 loss to the Jets felt like a turning point in a season that had seen the Bills look like playoff contenders. Taylor was caught in some bad play designs (counter play-action is probably a bad idea when your linemen can't hold the point in zone protection), and his own inability to get the ball out to release-valve routes under pressure.
The fourth-quarter sack by linebacker Jordan Jenkins that had Taylor fumbling, and the ball recovered by linebacker Demario Davis, was a play where Taylor had fullback Mike Tolbert open to his front side. More than once in this game, Taylor caused his own sacks, though the line caused most of the pressure.
When he did have time, Taylor showed the ability to move in the pocket and time his throws well. His 10-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Zay Jones in the second quarter was an example of this—Taylor maneuvered around in the pocket to keep the play alive and hit Jones with excellent timing between two Jets defenders in the end zone. And his fourth-quarter 26-yard touchdown pass to Deonte Thompson was a well-thrown ball over the head of cornerback Daryl Roberts.
That Taylor still had his wits about him after being hit that many times—and that he completed 29 of 40 passes for 285 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the game despite the fact that he was under nearly constant duress—speaks to his acumen. However, Taylor will need to read and recognize when the short, easy pass can bail him out if he's to survive the rest of the season.
6. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 10
Quietly, the New Orleans Saints have developed into a contender this season. After starting the year 0-2 with losses to the Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots (two teams currently leading their divisions right now), the Saints have won six straight games and find themselves atop the NFC South just ahead of the Carolina Panthers. While in seasons past the dynamic passing from Drew Brees was wasted on teams that lacked a running game or a defense, this year's version of the Saints has demonstrated they can add those components and play an all-around game. As Doug Farrar argued this week in the NFL1000 Week 9 recap: These aren't your father's Saints.
They moved to 6-2 with an impressive 30-10 victory over the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brees completed 22 of 27 passes for a pair of touchdowns in the win, and other than a few mistakes early—such as a near-interception by Lavonte David on their opening drive—Brees was virtually perfect in the win. As one might expect, Sean Payton dialed up some well-designed plays that led to big plays from the offense. One came on a touchdown strike to Ted Ginn, where the Saints faked a running back toss play before looking downfield to a DINO (double-post) concept. Brees found Ginn behind the coverage for the score.
Pocket movement was also a big factor for Brees against Tampa Bay. A prime example of that came on a 2nd-and-17 play late in the second quarter. Brees bought time in the pocket before finding Coby Fleener late in the play for a big gain to move the chains. On Brees' next passing attempt, he found Alvin Kamara on a screen pass that the rookie turned into a long touchdown run with an impressive individual effort of his own.
The 2017 version of the New Orleans Saints is a more complete football team than previous iterations. They face an interesting test this upcoming week when they travel to Buffalo to take on a surprising Bills team. But with how their defense and running game are playing—and how Brees continues to play high-level football—these Saints have a chance to extend their current winning streak well beyond six games.
5. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 16
Look, we all love sports arguments. Frankly, that love of debate is a major reason a column like this exists. One of the more, shall we say, passionate debates in the football world right now is "Dak vs Wentz." Those who support the Eagles' starting quarterback often point to the surrounding cast around No. 4 and state that Prescott would not have the same level of success if he were playing with lesser talent.
But on Sunday afternoon against the Kansas City Chiefs, we saw again just how impressive a quarterback Prescott has become in the NFL. Prescott completed 21 of 33 passes for 249 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Dallas' 28-17 victory over the visiting Chiefs, and he added a touchdown scamper of his own. But beyond the statistics, what stood out was how Prescott was making these throws and the variety of methods at his disposal to make plays.
Whether it was with precision placement on routes to Jason Witten in the flat, or velocity on crossing routes to Dez Bryant, or the pure athleticism he displayed on a deep pass to Terrance Williams while rolling to his right, or even the touch, feel and manipulation he displayed with his eyes to move defenders on his first touchdown pass to Cole Beasley, Prescott showed off an impressive arsenal of individual skills Sunday afternoon in the Cowboys' victory.
People can debate Carson vs. Dak all they want, and given how they are playing right now it seems like that debate may rage on for decades and perhaps...perhaps...become the new Brady vs. Manning. But right now, we simply have two young and talented quarterbacks playing the position at a very high level. When you add in the factor that they are on bitter rivals in the same division, it makes the debate even more passionate. With these teams slated to meet when the Eagles come off their bye week, you can be sure that debate will rage on in the days ahead.
4. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
Last Week: 17
It was not pretty. He did not throw a touchdown pass. He was sacked for a safety. But what Kirk Cousins sparked late Sunday on the road against the Seattle Seahawks was the kind of victory that can save or even jump-start a season.
With 1:34 remaining in the game, the Washington Redskins took over possession of the football trailing 14-10 facing likely defeat and a 3-5 record. After an incompletion to Josh Doctson that was tipped at the line of scrimmage, Cousins hung in the pocket and took a shot while making a touch throw to Brian Quick that went for a huge gain of 31 yards. On the next play, Cousins hit a streaking Doctson along the left sideline that ended with the receiver laying out for a tremendous diving catch and being ruled down at the Seattle 1-yard line. Rob Kelley punched the ball in on Washington's next play, and the Redskins were on their way to victory.
Also, you need to consider the context of Cousins' performance Sunday to truly appreciate what he and the Redskins pulled off. They were playing with a makeshift offensive line, and offensive weapons such as Jordan Reed and Jamison Crowder were ruled out. Their running game struggled all day, as the Redskins gained only 51 yards on 23 carries. In fact, this was the first time since 1985 that Washington won a game on the road while averaging less than 2.3 yards per carry.
Despite all of that, Cousins and the Redskins pulled out the win.
Washington still faces an uphill climb to get back into the playoff mix, and the road is hard as it faces divisional leaders the next two weeks with Minnesota and then New Orleans. But with three NFC East games remaining, there is a chance that the Redskins, sparked by a win like this and a gutty performance from their quarterback, can play themselves back into the playoff picture.
3. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 4
It seemed that not too long ago, we were talking about Alex Smith as an unlikely but entirely deserving NFL MVP candidate as the Chiefs rolled out to a 5-0 start, and early status as the league's best team. Smith hasn't been bad in the last couple games, but his effect hasn't been the same as the effective creativity of Kansas City's offense has been muted.
Against the Cowboys on Sunday, the Chiefs suffered their third loss in the last four games, looking all too mortal on both sides of the ball. In that 28-17 defeat, Smith completed 25 of 34 passes for 263 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He did not look good early, missing Tyreek Hill on an open deep ball in the first quarter and sticking mostly to the short stuff for which he is best known. Hitting tight end Travis Kelce for a 22-yard gain with 12:27 left in the first half seemed to get Smith in rhythm, though he struggled to connect on deeper throws throughout the game.
Smith's first touchdown pass of the day came about through brilliant play design—the Cowboys had just about everyone peeled back for the last play for the first half waiting for the deep ball, and Smith threw a short pass to Hill out of a bunch right formation. Kelce and tight end Demetrius Harris blocked for Hill up the middle as if it was a screen, and the Cowboys defenders didn't seem to know what to do. Hill then sped around the left edge, eluding a couple of Cowboys defenders for the score.
Smith's first interception of the season came with 5:16 left in the game, as he misread safety Jeff Heath and cornerback Orlando Scandrick converging on Kelce and threw the ball into disguised double coverage.
It's not so much that the Chiefs are playing badly on offense, but for the most part, the option looks and deep route concepts that were working so well for them early in the season seem to be in short supply now. As a result, Smith has reverted back to the quarterback he's generally been throughout his career—a good short-to-intermediate thrower who has trouble with the deep ball. The Chiefs have a bye coming up to see what other playbook magic they can pull off.
2. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
Last Week: N/A (Bye)
At his pro day two years ago, Jared Goff faced a rather peculiar moment with then-Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. The coach grabbed the football and a Gatorade bottle and soaked the ball before giving it back to Goff and asking him to continue making the scheduled throws in the workout. It was to test how Goff—who faced questions about his hand size during the draft process—might handle rainy conditions. The quarterback aced the test then, and aced it once more yesterday while battling both wet conditions and the New York Giants.
Goff completed 14 of 22 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns in the Los Angeles Rams’ 51-17 blowout victory over the Giants. Now, those numbers do come with some caveats. The Giants look to be a team lost on both sides of the football, and one of the touchdowns came on a 3rd-and-33 play where Goff simply threw a smoke screen to Robert Woods who turned the short route into a 52-yard touchdown catch-and-run.
But other plays from the young quarterback showed his maturation under new head coach Sean McVay. On his first touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Higbee, he displayed good pocket awareness and movement, as Goff climbed the pocket to buy time and then found Higbee late in the play for the short touchdown strike. He also showed good pocket movement on a third-quarter throw to Cooper Kupp when he slid to his right, kept his eyes downfield and found his rookie receiver along the right sideline for a good gain. Then there was the deep ball to Sammy Watkins, when his receiver got behind the defense and Goff unloaded a perfect deep shot to Watkins for the 67-yard touchdown.
At 6-2 the Rams are in sole possession of first place in the NFC West, which is something few prognosticators had at the beginning of the season. However, their upcoming stretch is critical and will tell us a lot about this young team. After hosting a Deshaun Watson-less Houston Texans squad Sunday, the Rams face the Vikings, Saints, Cardinals, Eagles and Seahawks. Those games include three division-leading teams from the NFC and the team currently chasing them in the NFC West. If Goff and the Rams can get through that stretch, then we will know that something special is indeed taking place under McVay.
1. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 6
The Philadelphia Eagles keep rolling on, and so does their second-year quarterback. Carson Wentz and Philadelphia enter their bye week with a league-best 8-1 record, and their young quarterback was effective yet again for the Eagles in their 51-23 dismantling of the Denver Broncos. Wentz completed 15 of 27 passes for 199 yards and four touchdowns, aided in part by two short field situations thanks to an opportunistic Philadelphia defense.
Wentz's first touchdown of the day came on a brilliantly designed and executed play. The offense showed a run/pass option play with Wentz meeting the newly acquired Jay Ajayi in the backfield at the mesh point before pulling the football and rolling slightly to his right. On the outside Alshon Jeffery, matched up in man coverage against Aqib Talib, showed a simple smoke route. The combination of Jeffery's route and Wentz's pocket movement froze the cornerback, who could not recover when Jeffery broke vertically. Wentz dropped in a perfect touch pass, and the Eagles were on the board.
Wentz's final touchdown strike of the day, again to Jeffery, was perhaps a more impressive play from an evaluation standpoint. Wentz took the snap and opened to his right to check his primary read in the flat. Seeing that covered, the quarterback moved through his reads working across the field before finding Jeffery along the backline of the end zone. Then, using velocity and ball placement, Wentz fired a strike to his receiver for the score.
There were some missed opportunities, such as an overthrow of Trey Burton on a vertical route on Philadelphia's second drive, but the game was largely a clean one from Wentz. His development from his first to second year has been impressive, and with the Eagles holding the best record in the NFL, there is no reason to think he and Philadelphia will slow down anytime soon.