NFL1000: Doug Farrar's Week 2 QB Rankings
Thirty NFL teams faced off in Week 1, with the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers having their game postponed due to Hurricane Irma. For the teams that did suit up, unspectacular quarterback play was the norm.
Through Sunday night's action, just three teams—Chiefs, Rams, Falcons—accounted for more than 300 passing yards, and only the Chiefs and Lions had more than two passing touchdowns.
Thank goodness for Sam Bradford, who showed us Monday night that dominant quarterback play is still possible. Bradford shredded the Saints defense with deep pass after deep pass, and if our weekly quarterback rankings were all about the games that just happened, Bradford would be No. 1.
He's not, as you will notice.
The NFL1000 quarterback rankings are based on recent performance (here's the Week 1 rankings, assembled just before the start of the season), but we're also adjusting for opponent, factoring in the talent around the quarterback, and considering the player's history over the last few years.
We're also looking ahead to Week 2 and beyond. So, we're not going to ding Brady into the 20s just because he had one game against the Chiefs—he's still Brady until multiple games prove otherwise.
On the other hand, if Andy Dalton throws four picks in a game, or Carson Palmer throws three, and those little disasters line up with recent performance, we'll absolutely take that into account.
In the cases of Jacoby Brissett and Deshaun Watson, we will include quarterbacks who replace other quarterbacks in-game due to performance or injury, as they may become starters. Garbage-time snaps do not count.
Jay Cutler of the Dolphins and Jameis Winston of the Buccaneers are ranked although their game was postponed. We'll write up their performances next week.
Our weekly quarterback rankings are decided and written by NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar and Quarterbacks Scout Mark Schofield. Doug evaluates all NFC quarterbacks, and Mark does the same with all AFC quarterbacks.
Doug and Mark combine tape analysis and advanced metrics to give you a sense of which quarterbacks are trending up, which are trending down and which are better or worse than their reputations might imply.
34. Scott Tolzien, Indianapolis Colts
Week 1 Ranking: 32
This was an afternoon to forget for Scott Tolzien.
Forced into action given the lingering shoulder injury to Andrew Luck, Tolzien took the bulk of the snaps for the Colts and accounted for two touchdowns on the day. However, the hosts were the beneficiaries.
On his first passing attempt, Tolzien tried to throw a corner route on a divide concept and underthrew the pattern badly, allowing the corner to cut under the route, intercept the pass and take it the distance.
On the second pick-six, we saw almost the same play unfold.
On a spacing concept with a curl and flat-route combination to the left side, Tolzien tried to throw the flat route to his left but failed to get it out to the boundary. By leaving the pass inside, he allowed the defender to undercut the route and step in front of the target.
There were a few glimmers of hope, most notably after the initial interception. He completed his next three passes, all for gains of over 20 yards.
Tolzien first read and reacted well to a linebacker blitz, standing in the pocket and replacing the blitz with the football as he threw a shallow route which went for a decent gain. He ran a nice fake bubble screen, pumping on the smoke route to the outside before hitting tight end Jack Doyle on a seam route.
Then he did a good job working through his progressions quickly and coming off the concept to his left and throwing a checkdown to his running back in the right flat, with the throw coming off-platform and with pressure bearing down.
But that drive stalled, and so did the rest of his day.
Chuck Pagano made the decision to go to Jacoby Brissett late, shortly after the second interception. If Tolzien returns to the huddle, he'll need to play more like the quarterback we saw on that three-play stretch.
33. Tom Savage, Houston Texans
Week 1 Ranking: 26
When he had time in the pocket, Tom Savage was effective, throwing a variety of routes—particularly in the middle of the field—with good velocity and placement.
The problem was, Savage rarely had time. When pressured, he struggled.
He went 7-of-13 for only 62 yards against Jacksonville and was sacked six times, including one play where it looked like he was strip-sacked and the Jaguars returned it for a touchdown. Jacksonville pulled off the strip-sack touchdown a few plays later courtesy of Dante Fowler Jr.
Some of the sacks are not on the quarterback, as he was just setting up in the pocket as pressure got home. But some of them were. There were times when Savage was slow to get through his reads and get the ball out, and there were other plays when he moved on from an open receiver and the delay allowed pressure to get home.
On the day, Savage posted an adjusted net yards per passing attempt of 1.53, topping only Tolzien and Dalton.
Following the lost fumble before halftime, head coach Bill O'Brien pulled Savage in favor of rookie first-round selection Deshaun Watson, who managed to lead the Texans on their only touchdown drive. Watson struggled as well, so it's uncertain who will take the snaps for Houston on Thursday night against the Bengals.
If Savage returns to the lineup, he will need to be much faster with his reads and decisions in the pocket or he'll face another barrage of pressure and run the risk of another slew of sacks and turnovers.
32. Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis Colts
Week 1 Ranking: N/A
With Scott Tolzien's two pick-sixes, Chuck Pagano had no choice but to turn to the recently acquired Jacoby Brissett late in the Colts' blowout loss to the Rams.
Brissett led Indianapolis to its only touchdown drive of the day, coming in the fourth quarter. In his limited action, Brissett went 2-of-3 for 51 yards, with all but one of those yards coming on a deep shot to Donte Moncrief, where the receiver made a good adjustment to the ball.
The failure to address the backup quarterback position earlier in training camp looms large for the Colts. If Andrew Luck is to remain sidelined for an extended period, they will need to get better play from whomever is taking snaps.
While Tolzien did not look like the answer, given Brissett's limited action it is unclear if he is the guy either.
31. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
Week 1 Ranking: N/A
Watson did provide an immediate spark for the Houston offense, cutting the Jaguars' lead to 12.
On that sequence, Watson made a few impressive throws, including a long out route to the right sideline to DeAndre Hopkins. He also showed the athleticism that made him a first-round selection, extending a number of plays with his feet, moving well in the pocket and picking up nine yards on a scramble when the edge pressure collapsed around him.
His touchdown was taken right out of his collegiate playbook, an RPO-style design where he put the football in the belly of his running back before pulling it and hitting Hopkins on a quick route for the score.
As the game settled into the second half, however, we did see some of the issues that plagued Watson in the preseason. Some of his throws were well off target, and others were catchable balls but not in the ideal spot to give the receiver a chance after the catch.
Similar to Savage, he did lose a fumble in the pocket as well when he tried to climb and escape but was sacked by Fowler off the edge, with the ball popping out of his hands. We also saw some hesitation in the pocket at times from Watson, which led to additional sacks.
He threw a red-zone interception in the fourth quarter on a vertical passing concept, where he missed a defender in the middle of the field and threw it right to Tashaun Gipson. To his credit, Watson managed to track the defender down across the field to prevent the pick-six.
Watson might give the Texans a better chance on offense. He brings more athleticism to the position, and given some of the offensive line woes, that might make the difference between the two quarterbacks.
30. Josh McCown, New York Jets
Week 1 Ranking: 31
Josh McCown won the Jets' quarterback job, perhaps by default, beating out the tandem of Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty during training camp. On Sunday, we saw why McCown won the job and why the team still needs to address the position.
When the Jets can stay close to their offensive game script, McCown is somewhat effective. With questions at the tight end spot, the passing game featured a mix of quick passing concepts to the receivers, running back screens, and formations designed to get the running backs involved in the passing game with advantageous matchups against linebackers.
During this portion of the game, McCown was steady. He got the football out quickly, made a number of well-placed throws, did not make mistakes and generally kept the offense on track.
But when the Jets fell behind and needed to do more in the passing game, we saw McCown's ceiling as a passer. He threw two fourth-quarter interceptions, which destroyed any chance of a Jets comeback.
On the first, McCown faced pressure and got flushed to his right. While he had an open receiver in the flat for a minimal gain, but enough to get the Jets into field-goal range, he went for a riskier throw downfield. On the second interception, McCown again was pressured and forced a back-foot throw along the boundary into coverage.
When the Jets need to put a contest on his arm, the odds are slim.
29. DeShone Kizer, Cleveland Browns
Week 1 Ranking: 27
DeShone Kizer was not the only rookie quarterback to see action this week, but he was the only one to earn a start. It was an up-and-down day, but there were more good plays than bad, and Kizer showed some development during the course of the game.
All rookie quarterbacks face an adjustment to the speed of the professional game, and Kizer does need to speed up his processing. Many of the seven sacks he took were due to slow progressions.
In addition, Kizer missed some deeper throws that could have gone for big yardage. While those plays will probably come to him eventually, this game could have turned out differently with a few better-placed balls.
On the positive side, his best drive of the game was Cleveland's final offensive possession, which was capped off with Kizer's first professional touchdown pass and a successful two-point conversion to get the Browns within three points in the closing minutes.
When the Browns went uptempo, Kizer seemed more comfortable and quicker with his decisions. A post route to Ricardo Louis that went for a gain of 29 is a perfect example: Kizer confirmed the coverage, hit the final step of his drop and got the ball out right on time with good velocity and placement.
The rookie does have things he will need to work on, processing speed chief among them. But his play in the final minutes of the game, and the growth he showed during his first regular-season start, is a promising sign.
28. Brian Hoyer, San Francisco 49ers
Week 1 Ranking: 25
When he moved from his position as Atlanta's offensive coordinator to be the 49ers head coach, Kyle Shanahan decided that Colin Kaepernick would not be the man to run his offense. It would be journeyman Brian Hoyer.
Hoyer hadn't been consistently good at any point in his career to date, though the hope seemed to be that he'd be magnified by Shanahan's play designs. That didn't happen against the Panthers in Week 1.
Hoyer completed 24 of 35 passes for 193 yards, no touchdowns and an interception in what was a low-risk set of schemes that gave San Francisco's offense little chance to create explosive plays. Hoyer attempted just two deep passes and didn't complete either one.
What Hoyer did was a perfectly adequate version of a basic Shanahan offense—quick throws off boot-action, slants and passes from the backfield. It won't win many games, but the idea here seems to make the offense as mistake-proof as possible.
That didn't happen.
Halfway through the first quarter, Hoyer tried to hit receiver Marquise Goodwin on a deep boundary route, and Goodwin used his speed to beat cornerback James Bradberry. He then dropped the ball. Hoyer later overthrew Goodwin on another deep pass.
The interception happened early in the third quarter, when Hoyer tried to work an intermediate pass to tight end George Kittle and completely misread an obvious drop into coverage by linebacker Luke Kuechly. It wasn't as if Kuechly disguised his intentions; it was simply a blown read.
With Hoyer and rookie C.J. Beathard, they have two limited players who may not be able to unleash all of Shanahan's offensive genius.
27. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
Week 1 Ranking: 18
There's been a lot of talk that 2017 will be Carson Palmer's final season. After watching him complete 27 of 48 passes for 269 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in Arizona's 35-23 Week 1 loss to the Lions, it's sad to say that it might be the right move.
At age 37 (he'll turn 38 in December), Palmer no longer has the easy deep velocity to make the throws preferred in Bruce Arians' vertical offense. It was clear in this game that Arians and his coaching staff are designing plays around Palmer's limitations, which is smart, but it leaves an offense with a lot of the playbook pages ripped out.
Palmer attempted just four passes of 20 air yards or more, completing one for 24 yards. Until running back David Johnson was hurt, he was Palmer's primary target. The Lions saw this coming and covered Johnson as such when he flexed out of the backfield.
More distressingly, the turnovers showed a lack of timing and communication with receivers he's had for years.
Palmer's first pick happened when Johnson ran a wheel route out of the backfield, and he threw him deeper; some obvious route miscommunication there. The second came on a deep post to John Brown; here, Palmer faced pressure and overthrew Brown wild and high, right into the hands of safety Glover Quin.
The third was a quick strike to running back Andre Ellington out of the backfield; here, Ellington didn't have his body turned around to the target yet, the ball bounced off him, and safety Miles Killebrew had the pick.
Johnson will be out several weeks with a dislocated wrist, which leaves Palmer with Larry Fitzgerald and a bunch of deep receivers he's going to struggle to hit in stride downfield.
Palmer hasn't been one of the NFL's best quarterbacks since his dominant 2015 season, and it's clear that attrition continues to take its toll.
26. Mike Glennon, Chicago Bears
Week 1 Ranking: 28
Mike Glennon started his first regular-season game since 2014, and he had the Bears in a position to win it late. Chicago's 23-17 loss to Atlanta isn't entirely on Glennon, though there are concerns about his play style that may be unfixable.
He is slow to process and reset his reads when things go wrong, and he's not mobile. Glennon completed 26 of 40 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown, and his 5.3 yards-per-attempt average is telling. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains wanted Glennon to keep things safe with short passes.
Glennon threw just one pass over 20 yards in the air, and he didn't complete it. That was a fourth-quarter deep ball to rookie speedster Tarik Cohen that Glennon threw late into converging double coverage.
Perhaps Glennon's most productive play was a block on running back Jordan Howard's second-quarter rushing touchdown off a direct snap to Cohen. For the most part, Glennon was directed to hit a schemed-open receiver as he hit his back foot off his drop, and he was reasonably successful if he had protection.
But he's not an improviser, and Glennon will take sacks simply because he doesn't adjust quickly when his picture changes.
When Falcons linebacker Brooks Reed took Glennon down on 4th-and-goal in the red zone with a few seconds left in the game, he was in a situation where the receiver routes didn't develop quickly enough, and Glennon couldn't move in the pocket to extend the play.
Two plays earlier, Glennon threw a quick-release route to Howard, who promptly dropped the ball when he could have easily found the end zone. That play isn't on Glennon, but enough were.
As the Bears continue to develop rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, they have to know that Glennon's limitations will show up game after game. The sooner they get Trubisky in there to take his lumps, the more expansive their offense will be.
25. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 1 Ranking: 29
Dare we say it...Blake Bortles did not look half-bad.
As expected, the Jaguars looked to establish the running game in their opener, and Bortles attempted only 21 passes in a game that got out of hand. But when asked to throw, the fourth-year quarterback made some good decisions, showed smart ball placement for the most part and did not turn it over.
Schematically, the Jaguars mixed things up well, running a variety of concepts from the quick game to routes attacking the intermediate area while adding in vertical concepts. In addition, they took advantage of both rookie Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory, getting the running backs involved in the passing game as well.
Bortles still has his awkward, looping throwing motion, and he did miss with his placement on some passes. But he showed the ability to get through reads quickly, displayed some awareness in the pocket and extend plays.
Bortles also flashed the knack for making anticipation throws, particularly on a dig route he threw midway through the fourth quarter that Marqise Lee dropped. There were some curious decisions as well, such as a pass he forced into coverage in the end zone that fell incomplete that could have been intercepted.
It might have just been one afternoon against a hyped-up defense, but it looked as if Bortles could give the Jaguars steadier play at the quarterback position, which might be all they need to become contenders.
24. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Week 1 Ranking: 15
Andy Dalton looked lost at times, throwing four interceptions as the Ravens shut out the Bengals in Cincy.
Dalton's struggles started early, as he threw his first interception on Cincinnati's second drive, where he stared down his target, allowing an underneath linebacker to read his eyes and get into the passing lane.
That was just the beginning.
Cincinnati had a chance to take a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter, facing a 3rd-and-7 in the red zone. Again, Dalton stared down his target and allowed another underneath defender to read his eyes. When he tried to hit Brandon LaFell on the seam route, C.J. Mosley rotated over and stepped in front of the throw.
Dalton was also strip-sacked later in the game, when he was slow to get through his progression reads and failed to get the football out quickly. Finally, he even managed to execute a throwaway late in the game in the red zone...on fourth down.
It is easy to overreact to the first game of the season, but right now Dalton and this Bengals offense do not look right. Granted, the script got away from them a bit, but they ran a lot of vertical concepts later in the game when they were trying to come back.
Perhaps looking to get the ball out quicker, and running some shorter concepts as they head into Week 2, will get Dalton and Co. back on track.
23. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Week 1 Ranking: 17
Eli Manning was without injured receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for the season opener against the Cowboys, but Big Blue's offensive problems go far beyond the absence of one receiver. The 19-3 loss doesn't show the full scope of the disaster. Without a great defense, the Giants might lose by 40 points every game at this rate.
Manning was sacked three times, but he was hurried a lot more, and the game plan didn't help. More and more, Giants receivers are asked to run isolation routes instead of combinations that give Manning easy reads and openings. With an offensive line this bad, he needs as many quick bailout routes as possible.
Manning completed 29 of 38 passes for 220 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. The pick came with 7:54 left in the fourth quarter as Manning tried to fit a ball to receiver Roger Lewis, and cornerback Anthony Brown jumped the route.
Facing pressure over and over, Manning was unable to consistently set his feet and make designed throws; it was more about finding the first read and hoping the coverage wasn't there.
This is not a sustainable offensive strategy. With horrible quarterback protection and no running game, the few splash plays Beckham will provide when healthy will not be enough.
Tight end Evan Engram and receiver Brandon Marshall are Manning's best bets as possession receivers, and they combined for five catches and 54 yards. Manning's longest play was a 31-yarder to Engram, but the Giants must find more effective ways to use the passing game to extend drives.
Otherwise, their touchdown-less stretch will be anything but a one-game fluke.
22. Jay Cutler, Miami Dolphins
Week 1 Ranking: 22
N/A (game postponed).
21. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
Week 1 Ranking: 16
A poor preseason did nothing to change that thought, and Cousins' 2017 debut against the Eagles didn't help. McVay created plays where Cousins didn't have to throw with anticipation and timing, and Jackson took the rook off every coverage he faced with his deep speed.
Washington's current passing game requires more of Cousins, and it's unclear if he'll ever be ready for that. He completed 23 of 40 passes for 240 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
He started his day with a deep pass to Terrelle Pryor in which he overthrew the receiver by a good five yards. That first drive ended with another deep incompletion to Pryor; here, Cousins shook pressure in the pocket and cut his delivery short when he threw, nearly leading to an interception by linebacker Nigel Bradham.
In previous seasons, Cousins' mechanical issues would often stop him short, and this game proved to be a return to form. His inaccurate passes were often caused by happy feet in the pocket, or throwing with his upper and lower body out of sync, or throwing off his back foot.
Cousins still struggles to bring a consistent delivery platform to the game, and that means he's going to be erratic and inconsistent. Pryor blamed himself for some of the miscommunication after the game, but most of it was on the quarterback.
Cousins' interception came early in the fourth quarter with the Redskins in the red zone. He reacted badly to a blitz up the middle, trying to hit receiver Jamison Crowder but throwing off his back foot and thus overthrowing his target, which often happens in that situation. Cornerback Jalen Mills had an easy interception.
Head coach Jay Gruden and new offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh are going to have to script situations for Cousins where he's not asked to do too much, or they're going to find themselves with a losing season.
20. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Week 1 Ranking: 8
After Cam Newton completed just 14 of 25 passes for 171 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against San Francisco's outmanned defense in a 23-3 win, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said his quarterback was "a little rusty."
It was understandable: Newton spent the offseason recovering from shoulder surgery, giving him few reps before it was go time. And it showed against the 49ers.
Newton missed high on several passes, and he looked tentative and uncertain on other throws. His 40-yard touchdown to receiver Russell Shepard in the first quarter came in part off a coverage breakdown, though Newton looked good in the pocket.
Sheppard did most of the work after the catch by spinning out of a tackle attempt by safety Jaquiski Tartt. Tartt redeemed himself in the second quarter with a leaping interception compounded by the fact that Newton underthrew receiver Kelvin Benjamin in double coverage.
Overall, it was clear Newton's coaching staff was protecting him schematically; he attempted just three deep passes, completing one for 25 yards. Missing a bunch of short throws is a cause for concern, and though Newton has never been a consistently accurate passer, the lack of deep throws was the primary issue.
One expects that in time, Newton will get on the same page with his targets, especially rookie running back Christian McCaffrey. He looks to be a significant contributor in the running and passing games.
19. Trevor Siemian, Denver Broncos
Week 1 Ranking: 24
Trevor Siemian, fresh off another preseason of fighting for his job, turned in one of the better performances by an AFC quarterback against the Chargers. He threw for two scores and added another with his feet, looking confident and decisive on most of his throws in the Broncos' 24-21 win.
Siemian's first touchdown was a great play from the pre-snap phase to the throw and finish. Facing a 3rd-and-3 inside the Chargers' 10-yard line, he first used a hard count to draw defensive end Joey Bosa offsides. Armed with a free down, he extended the play by breaking the pocket to his right, keeping his eyes downfield and finding Bennie Fowler along the backline of the end zone for the score.
Siemian also took advantage of Bosa on his touchdown run. He scrambled to his right and with some grass in front of him deked Bosa in the open field and danced inside him for the score.
He made impressive throws to all levels, including a deep out pattern to Demaryius Thomas from the right hashmark to the left sideline midway through the third quarter which displayed some velocity. He also looked strong on a vertical route to Thomas along the right sideline earlier in the third quarter.
He did have an interception on a botched wide receiver screen play in the fourth quarter.
One area where Siemian needs to improve is in telegraphing throws, both with his eyes and his mechanics. On a throw early in the second quarter to Thomas, he "burped the baby" before the pass (patting the football once before starting his throwing motion).
That allowed safety Tre Boston to read the quarterback, break on the throw and break up the potential third-down conversion. It is a minor point, but it's something Siemian, as well as his future opponents, will be watching in the weeks to come.
Overall, Siemian showed a lot of development from the offseason, and the Broncos might just have their long-term starter.
18. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
Week 1 Ranking: 30
In the Rams' 46-9 win over the Colts, Jared Goff had two professional milestones: He threw for more than 300 yards for the first time in his career, and he looked like an NFL quarterback down after down. It was a big shift after a disaster rookie season.
The credit goes to Goff for his own development, as well as new head coach Sean McVay and an improved receiver corps and offensive line. His game stats—21-of-29 for 306 yards and a touchdown—were no mirage, even though the Colts defense is below average.
Two things impressed me about Goff as I rewatched the game: his ability to throw with anticipation; and how he used play action to draw Indy's linebacker and safeties down, then hitting his intermediate targets on the fly. He completed 6-of-8 play-action passes for 127 yards.
This is a huge component of McVay's offense, especially if running back Todd Gurley can have a rebound year. It will take the pressure off the young quarterback to have to deal with multiple defenders in his line of sight if they're cheating up on play-fakes.
According to NFL.com's NextGen stats, Gurley faced eight or more men in the box on just 10.5 percent of the Rams' plays, down from 25.5 percent in 2016. This reflected a respect for Los Angeles' passing game that didn't exist last season.
The most amazing stat had to do with the deep ball. Against the Colts, Goff completed 4-of-5 passes of 20 air yards or more for 112 yards and a touchdown. In the 2016 season, he completed just four such passes on 17 attempts. If you want a perfect indicator of Goff's improvement, you can't do much better.
And how about that deep touchdown to rookie receiver Cooper Kupp? Goff hit Kupp in stride on a deep post, giving Rams fans a reason to believe that, after a horrid 2016 campaign, he might just be the answer after all.
We'll see what happens when Goff plays better defenses, but the early returns are positive.
17. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Week 1 Ranking: 20
Similar to Tyrod Taylor, Flacco was recently cleared to return to action after suffering a back injury. Despite the lack of practice time, the veteran signal-caller turned in a steady performance.
Baltimore relied on the running attack, and Flacco attempted only 17 passes on the afternoon but did notch a touchdown while completing nine passes for 121 yards and an interception as well. His standing on this list is due more to the games played by some of the other quarterbacks this week than anything.
Flacco started the game well, completing his first three passes, and displayed good processing speed and made quick decisions on those plays. As the game wore on, his accuracy dipped at times. However, he made some decent throws on boot-action concepts that demonstrated his ability to make plays on the move, which dates back to Gary Kubiak's days as offensive coordinator.
On his interception, Flacco made a curious decision. He opened to his right and had an available receiver to that side of the field, but then he came back to the left to throw a checkdown to his running back. The problem? He missed the backside defensive end dropping into the throwing lane.
His touchdown pass was a quick throw on a shallow route to Jeremy Maclin that allowed the receiver to break a tackle and take it the distance. Getting the ball out quickly to receivers such as Maclin, Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman is the hallmark of what Baltimore does these days.
Flacco will need to improve his game beyond "solid" if the Ravens are to contend in the AFC North, but his steady play, as well as the mistakes made by others this week, allows him to maintain a decent standing as we head into Week 2.
16. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills
Week 1 Ranking: 21
Tyrod Taylor, recently cleared out of the concussion protocol, turned in a workmanlike performance for the Bills.
One of the questions surrounding Taylor was how quickly he would take to Rick Dennison's offensive schemes that feature a more West Coast-style attack and focus on getting the ball out quickly, rather than a downfield passing game.
The veteran looked comfortable, worked through his progressions quickly, and showed good processing speed and quick decisions. The Bills ran a number of quick passing plays, such as spacing concepts, all curls, curl/flat concepts and other designs that set up quickly and gave Taylor multiple options across the field.
His ball placement was solid on the afternoon, and even the interception on Buffalo's opening drive was a decently placed pass that went through the hands of its intended target, deflecting into the arms of a waiting defender.
Another area where Taylor excels is with his athleticism, in and out of the pocket. Using both his athletic ability and play strength, he can extend plays and put pressure on the defense to cover long into the secondary or pick up positive yardage with his feet.
He also did a nice job keeping his eyes downfield in those situations and made a number of big plays in scramble-drill situations. Taylor and the Bills will get a stiffer test next Sunday on the road against the Panthers, but for now the quarterback looks to be settling into this offense and its new weapons.
15. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
Week 1 Ranking: 23
Last season, Carson Wentz attempted 607 passes, the second-most for any rookie in NFL history, behind only Andrew Luck. Eagles coach Doug Pederson said this offseason the idea was to take some of the tougher stuff off Wentz's plate and let him develop more organically.
Philly's 30-17 win over the Redskins in Week 1 proved to be more of the same, though. Wentz attempted 39 passes, completing 26 for 307 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. And the Eagles' running game was only able to amass 58 total yards.
At times, having all that on his back seemed to get to him.
Wentz was sloppy on a couple of swing passes, and he looked to have trouble gauging the correct arc for all his throws. His first pass of the day was an underthrown deep pass to Torrey Smith that could have been a Josh Norman interception. He was then taken down on a coverage sack.
Wentz's third play was a thing of beauty, though. He stood in the pocket around pressure, managed to juke a few Redskins defenders out of their shorts, and then reset his body to hit Nelson Agholor on a 58-yard touchdown.
Agholor did a nice job of adjusting his route, but this was on Wentz, and he delivered a throw out of pressure you'd expect from Ben Roethlisberger. He ended Philly's second drive with a ghastly receiver screen to Agholor; he was so off on the throw that Agholor fumbled it, and Washington recovered.
Once he got his feet under him, however, Wentz showed that he's the kind of quarterback you can build an offense around. The receiver screens were a big part of the Eagles' playbook, and Wentz stuck with them, eventually getting things under control.
He delivered a pass to Zach Ertz later in the game that came from another pocket escape; this is a skill he's really developed. And on third down, by the way, Wentz completed nine of 11 passes for 148 yards, both of his touchdown passes and a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating.
The only black mark on his day was a pick-six by Washington pass-rusher Ryan Kerrigan in which Kerrigan clearly dropped into coverage to Wentz's front side, Wentz telegraphed his intentions to throw to Darren Sproles in the flat, and Kerrigan jumped the route perfectly.
But overall, this win was an important showing of development for the second-year quarterback.
14. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 1 Ranking: 10
N/A (game postponed).
13. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Week 1 Ranking: 14
To start his second season after a rookie campaign that few expected, Dak Prescott had to face a murderous pass rush and perhaps the NFL's best secondary. He went against a Giants team that swept the Cowboys last season and limited Prescott to a 51 percent completion rate, one touchdown and two interceptions.
His 58.6 quarterback rating against the Giants in 2016 was by far his lowest against any team. Prescott had his issues in this 19-3 win, but overall he did well and continued to show an ability to make check calls at the line of scrimmage.
Prescott completed 24 of 39 passes for 268 yards and a touchdown pass to Jason Witten in the game where Witten set the franchise mark for receiving yards. He was further helped by running back Ezekiel Elliott, but it was Prescott's show.
It wasn't a show filled with deep passes; Prescott attempted just two, completing one for 30 yards. When he saw coverages he didn't like, his primary read was to run, though he did stick a few tight passes into his receivers.
The deep pass came to Brice Butler halfway through the second quarter. Prescott threw a beautiful fade down the right boundary, and Butler leaped to catch the ball after tripping slightly in coverage at the end of his route.
Prescott nearly hit Dez Bryant for a touchdown at the end of that drive, but Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins did a brilliant job in coverage and took the ball away as Bryant was going to the ground.
All in all, Prescott did well against a defense that will be one of his toughest tests in 2017. He'll be able to build on the progress shown here.
12. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Week 1 Ranking: 4
Drew Brees did not have one of his best games in the Saints' Week 1 loss to the Vikings, and it started early.
He almost lost an interception to Eric Kendricks on the first play when the linebacker jumped a quick inside route, and New Orleans' passing-game approach was unusually conservative in the first half. Brees finished the first 30 minutes with nine completions in 14 attempts for 71 yards.
Finishing with 27 completions in 37 attempts for 291 yards and a touchdown was mostly Brees mopping up after the 29-19 game was out of hand. When it counted, the Saints couldn't do anything in the red zone, and it wasn't all Brees' fault.
None of his receivers were good for more than 54 yards, and Brees was under constant pressure from an outstanding Minnesota defense that put up a ton of pressures and forced the condensed passing game to a degree.
Brees hit tight end Coby Fleener with a beautiful seam route in tight coverage halfway through the second quarter, and he then threw a nice ball to Fleener on a bullet on a deep in-route under pressure.
He also found preseason star TommyLee Lewis on a 52-yard pass with 3:50 left in the third quarter, but after a two-yard run by Adrian Peterson and incompletions to Ted Ginn Jr. and Brandon Coleman, the Saints had to settle for a field goal.
Like Russell Wilson and Eli Manning this week, Brees didn't have enough consistent time, nor enough faith in his offensive line, to scan the field and find the optimal receiver on many of his plays.
That was Brees' story in the loss: Too many plays where his line of backups and inexperienced blockers didn't give him enough time to do what he does. There were also not enough play designs where he was free to improvise.
As is usually the case, the Saints need to give him more to work with.
11. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
Week 1 Ranking: 12
Philip Rivers and the Chargers faced a difficult task Monday night versus the Broncos' tough defensive front and their talented secondary on the road.
This was reflected in the game script, as offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who traditionally favors a more downfield, vertical passing attack, focused on the running game early.
Rivers attempted only 11 passes in the first half, as Melvin Gordon was the central point of the offense. The Chargers were forced to air it out more in the second half as the Broncos extended the lead, but by then the damage was done.
When he dropped to pass, Rivers was under pressure much of the night.
A prime example came on a 3rd-and-5 with just under three minutes remaining in the first half. Rivers had a chance to hit Branden Oliver on a swing route out of the backfield, but he was under fierce pressure, could not set his feet or step into his throw, and the pass fell well short of the wide-open running back.
Rivers got the Chargers on the board early with a touchdown pass to Gordon. He was pressured again, did a good job of sliding in the pocket, and executed an awkward-looking, off-platform throw to Gordon, who launched himself into the end zone.
The pressure reared its head on the opening drive of the second half, when Rivers was hurried, tried to throw a dig route off his back foot in response, and underthrew the route, allowing Bradley Roby to cut in front of the receiver for the interception.
The Broncos would score a few plays later to extend their lead to 21-7. Then when the Chargers needed to air it out, Rivers found himself up against a defensive line with its ears pinned back, and he was sacked multiple times in the second half. He did do a nice job of getting the Chargers back in the game in the fourth quarter, but he fell short on the final drive.
Rivers gets a chance to get the Chargers back into the win column next Sunday versus Miami. Look for Los Angeles to try to establish more of a vertical passing attack, working against a defense that has struggled at times and has some new faces in the lineup.
10. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Week 1 Ranking: 5
Russell Wilson completed just 14 of 27 passes for 158 yards and no touchdowns against the Packers, adding 40 yards on the ground on two carries. His rushing plays were the only dynamic offense the Seahawks had against the Packers.
An offensive line that proved incapable of blocking Green Bay's defenders (especially defensive lineman Mike Daniels) had Wilson leaning on first reads and short drops more often than he'd like. The improvisatory aspect of his passing game was notably absent in Seattle's 17-9 loss; this was about staying alive and trying to complete a few passes and get into a rhythm.
Per Pro Football Focus, Wilson was pressured on 13 of his 33 dropbacks, but it sure seemed like more. On the plays in which Wilson did have a clean pocket for more than two seconds, he played like a spooked quarterback.
He struggled in the first few games of the 2016 season behind abysmal protection—he was balky and skittish, and he missed open receivers. This was a rerun of that. He missed open receiver reads and was overtly conservative in his choices. Wilson attempted five passes over 20 yards in the air, completing two for 62 yards, but it wasn't nearly enough.
Tight end Jimmy Graham is one of the NFL's most dynamic downfield targets, but all he saw in this game was simple screens and other short passes in which he was set upon immediately. He caught three passes for just eight yards.
It's not how Seattle's offense is supposed to work. There was far too much of this reductive passing game, and without a better series of protection schemes, it's hard to know how Wilson is going to run a full NFL-style passing game this season—or how he'll survive the season at all.
9. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Week 1 Ranking: 3
In 2016, Matt Ryan won the NFL's MVP as the shot-caller in an offense that was dizzying in its multiple formations, pre-snap movements and route concepts.
There was less pre-snap movement and more static routes as Steve Sarkisian replaced Kyle Shanahan as Atlanta's offensive coordinator, which created fewer designed openings and forced Ryan to make more pinpoint passes in isolation situations.
He was good enough in the Falcons' 23-17 win over the Bears, but one wonders how things will go for Ryan against better defenses with more complex coverages. He was on the money on shorter passes underneath Chicago's zone concepts, but things didn't always go well when he was tasked to thread the ball with timing and anticipation.
He missed more than one receiver on timing patterns, which is to be expected with a new offensive coordinator and new route depths. He had a nice second-quarter deep ball to Julio Jones with three Chicago defenders converging, and he was able to elude pressure to hit tight end Austin Hooper for an 88-yard touchdown in a howlingly bad coverage breakdown.
But overall, Ryan's place in this new, less expansive offense is cause for concern. 2016 was a special season for him, but without Shanahan, the routes are easier to defend. As pressure became more of a factor in the second half, he was not as accurate as you'd like a defending MVP to be.
Ryan is not a top-level thrower on the move, and he needs the timing of the play to be defined for him. He did complete 21 of 30 passes for 321 yards and that touchdown, but if you take the blown-coverage score away, you see a different picture.
We're not throwing dirt on Ryan's 2017 prospects, but the overall picture bears watching. Ryan is a guy who needs a bit of coaching and design help, and he didn't get a lot of it Sunday.
8. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Week 1 Ranking: 19
"Why isn't Alex Smith ranked higher?"
That is a question sure to follow after the publication of these rankings. Smith was the best quarterback on the field last Thursday night, and if his 2017 debut was not the best game of his career, it was close.
On the road on opening night against the defending Super Bowl champions, Smith completed 28 of 35 passes for 368 yards and four touchdowns, without a turnover. For the believers in adjusted net passing yards per attempt, Smith posted a whopping 11.37, which nearly doubles last year's league average.
However, these rankings are taking a more global perspective and are not solely based on one week's worth of play. Smith is trending up, but we'll need to see more games like this before we crown him the class of the conference.
More than the sheer statistics of Smith's night, what stood out most were the situations where he had success and the offensive designs where the quarterback made his biggest plays.
The Chiefs had a number of scoring drives, but their first—which came after their defense forced a turnover on downs following Kareem Hunt's fumble on the Chiefs' first offensive play—was a thing of beauty from Smith.
He completed seven of eight passes on the drive for 70 yards and a touchdown, with the only incompletion a throwaway. Late in the first half when the Chiefs faced a 1st-and-14 deep in their own territory trailing 17-7, Smith led another touchdown drive where he was 9-of-10 for 69 yards to cut the New England lead to three before the half.
His two biggest plays of the night, the 75-yard touchdown to Tyreek Hill and the 78-yard scoring strike to Hunt? Those came on vertical concepts which have often dogged the quarterback in the past.
Smith faced many questions this offseason in the wake of Kansas City's drafting Patrick Mahomes. Many focused on whether Smith would finally look to push the football vertically in the Chiefs offense, and if not, how quickly he would yield to the rookie.
As we saw on opening night, particularly in the second half, Smith is ready to guide such an offense. With these weapons around him, he and the Chiefs might be starting something explosive in the AFC West. With more performances like Thursday night, Smith could top this list before long.
7. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Week 1 Ranking: 7
Expectations were high for Marcus Mariota and the Titans entering their home opener, but Derek Carr and the Raiders brought them back to earth Sunday with their 26-16 victory.
Mariota turned in a solid afternoon both with his arm and legs, but he and the offense could not finish enough drives. He completed 25 of 41 passes for 256 yards, but he went without a touchdown throw.
Mariota did contribute a running touchdown on a well-designed red-zone play that showcased how dangerous he can be to defend. This was a zone read-style play, but Mariota kept the football around the left edge, picking up a critical block from tight end Delanie Walker on the outside en route to the score.
We also saw some of Mariota's ability to move in the pocket, as he slid around and extended plays on multiple occasions. He showed off his ability to manipulate defenders with his eyes, particularly on route concepts working toward the middle of the field where the quarterback needs to move third-level defenders to open up passing lanes.
The Titans also incorporated some of their new offensive weapons into the game play, as rookie Corey Davis caught six passes for 69 yards, including a great catch on a vertical route from Mariota that went for 23 yards and set up the quarterback's touchdown run.
However, there were some mistakes.
On a few occasions, Mariota missed critical throws, such as a third-down play where he bought time with his legs, but the pass was thrown to the feet of his target and fell incomplete. There was also a fourth-quarter throw where Mariota had a vertical route open along the boundary against Cover 2, but the pass was overthrown and the receiver never had a chance.
Mariota and the Titans need to be better on third down as well, as they converted only 5-of-12 chances. He is still a weapon at the quarterback spot, but if the Titans are to live up to their lofty expectations, he'll need to be more consistent.
6. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
Week 1 Ranking: 13
If Alex Smith was the best quarterback in the AFC this week, Derek Carr has an argument for the second spot.
On the road against the Titans, Carr made the case that he was worth every penny of his recent contract extension, completing 22 of 32 passes for 262 yards and a pair of touchdowns, without an interception. The Raiders followed their quarterback on the day, finishing off the Titans 26-16.
What stood out watching Carr was his decisiveness. He made fast decisions throughout, and regardless of the offensive concept, he seemed to make the right choice with where to go with the ball.
The Raiders ran a number of quick passing concepts, often out of empty formations, that spread the defense out and gave Carr some advantageous matchups pre-snap. They ran designs such as curl/flat or go/flat throughout the day, and he read those combination routes well throughout.
His second touchdown pass, coming on a four verticals concept, serves as an example of Carr at his best. Facing a single-high safety look, he opened to his right and moved the free safety with his eyes, before dropping in a perfect throw to Seth Roberts on his slot seam route, in between three defenders.
That play capped off a productive drive from Carr and the Raiders, with the quarterback completing four of five passes for 54 yards and the score. He also showed great anticipation on that drive, making a number of throws well before the receiver made his break.
Next Sunday, Carr and Oakland enjoy their home opener versus the Jets. The Raiders offense should be in position to have another big afternoon against a defense that struggled at times to contain Tyrod Taylor and the Bills.
More outings like this one from Carr will keep him moving up this list.
5. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Week 1 Ranking: 11
Matthew Stafford helped the Lions to an NFL-high eight fourth-quarter comeback wins in 2016, so it should come as no surprise that he was able to bounce back after an ignoble beginning against the Cardinals.
He was the most important player in Detroit's 35-23 home win at Ford Field and the primary reason the Lions didn't panic when they were down 10-0 in the first quarter and 17-9 in the third.
Stafford's day couldn't have started any worse; Detroit's first drive ended when he tried to hit receiver Golden Tate on a shallow cross from left to right. Tate was still hung up in coverage when Stafford made the throw, and Justin Bethel returned the easy interception 82 yards for a touchdown.
Detroit's second drive ended when Stafford overthrew rookie receiver Kenny Golladay to his right, and Golladay was unable to jump and bring the ball in. The third drive ended with a horrid play—Stafford was busted for intentional grounding when he got rid of the ball despite the fact he had room to extend the play.
The switch to a guy who threw four touchdown passes in the second half typifies Stafford. You're going to get feast or famine, and the feast can be spectacular.
The second-quarter touchdown to Marvin Jones Jr. was a thing of beauty. Stafford rolled to his left out of pressure and caught Jones on a comeback. Near the end of the third quarter, he hit running back Theo Roddick for a seven-yard touchdown after Riddick did an exceptional job of shaking loose from linebacker Karlos Dansby's coverage.
Then, he threw two touchdowns to Golladay in the fourth quarter. The first was a 10-yarder with brilliant play design as Golladay ran an end-zone fade route to the left, with receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones clearing coverage with shorter in-breaking routes.
Then, there was a highlight 45-yard score in which Stafford overthrew Golladay a bit, but the rookie was able to extend his body and catch the ball past deep double coverage.
The third-round rookie looks to be a nice addition to a receiver group that is growing together, and if Stafford can curb his rogue tendencies, he'll be one of the league's most productive passers. His ability to overcome adversity should not be questioned.
4. Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings
Week 1 Ranking: 6
When the Vikings traded for Sam Bradford just before the start of the 2016 season after Teddy Bridgewater's knee injury, no one expected the veteran to set a single-season record with a 71.6 percent completion rate. The thought was Bradford was dinking and dunking his way to that mark, which wasn't entirely true, but he did throw a majority of short passes.
In the 2017 season opener Monday, however, Bradford looked like a different quarterback—comfortable in the offense and the shot-caller behind seven explosive passing plays of 20 yards in the air or more. To put that into perspective, he had just 23 such passes throughout 2016.
Early on, the Minnesota offense was much more conservative, but with 5:21 left in the second quarter, Bradford hit Adam Thielen on a deep over route with Manti Te'o covering. Putting a slower linebacker on Minnesota's best speed receiver was a total mismatch, especially on a route that covers a lot of ground. That play was good for 35 yards.
Right after that, Bradford put the ball perfectly to Jarius Wright toward the boundary for 21 yards. Then, he made a boot-action throw to Stefon Diggs for the touchdown to the right boundary, slowing the coverage with play action.
The throw to Wright was amazing, as Bradford threaded the needle and put the ball where only his receiver could catch it. The line and running back Dalvin Cook picked up safety Kenny Vaccaro's blitz, and Bradford took a mammoth shot from defensive lineman Cameron Jordan as he released the ball. No matter, though—on that 21-yard play, Bradford showed he can be as accurate as anyone in the game.
On the next drive, with less than a minute left in the first half, Bradford read the blitz and changed the play, allowing him to hit Thielen on a 44-yard throw. Then he hit Diggs on a deep up-and-out. The throw put Diggs in the path of Vaccaro, who got a personal foul for his hit.
He then avoided an interception on a quick pass to Cook when Jordan deflected the ball and nearly caught it, but linebacker A.J. Klein inexplicably ran into Jordan and knocked the ball out of his hands. Then, Bradford made a short pass to Diggs, who leaped over cornerback De'Vante Harris for a touchdown in which he made an awesome effort to keep his feet in bounds.
In the Vikings' first drive of the second half, Bradford threw a boundary fade downfield, and Diggs made the catch by getting separation from Harris with his hands and showing dynamite footwork once again to stay in bounds.
Bradford completed 17 of 20 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, and he was far from done. His final stats—27 completions in 32 attempts for 346 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions—were made more impressive by the number of tough throws he nailed.
The deep throw to Thielen halfway through the third quarter may have been the most impressive of the bunch, as Bradford threw a perfect sideline route despite the fact he was going to take a hit from Klein. Again, his pass was right where the receiver—and nobody else—could get it.
This was the Bradford we saw at Oklahoma—a comfortable quarterback in perfect sync with his receivers and with the protection to make all the throws. If this is the new normal, the rest of the NFL had better watch the heck out for the Vikings.
3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Week 1 Ranking: 1
With about 3:30 remaining against the Chiefs, Tom Brady dropped back to pass from his 6-yard line with the Patriots trailing 42-27. Brady was sacked for the first of two back-to-back sacks, and he barely avoided the safety. That play was emblematic of a night when Brady and the Patriots offense seemed off from the start.
On New England's opening play, it ran a scripted vertical concept where new tight end Dwayne Allen found himself wide-open on a wheel route along the sideline. Brady's throw was off the mark, Allen could not make a twisting catch and the pass fell incomplete. It was one of many missed opportunities.
Brady finished the night by completing 16 of 36 passes for 267 yards and no touchdowns with no interceptions. An official review of a TD strike to tight end Rob Gronkowski in the first quarterback that would have given the Patriots a 14-0 lead (with the extra point) overturned the score, and New England ended that drive without any points after the Chiefs stopped a fourth-down try.
While Brady had some impressive throws, including a deep ball to Brandin Cooks late in the third quarter that went about 60 yards in the air, his placement was off all night. Of his 36 passing attempts, I graded him with only 17 well-placed throws, meaning he put them to the right spot given the coverage, route concept and situation.
A pass Brady made in the fourth quarter on an out route to Cooks on a third-down situation is a prime example of this. The QB put the throw high and to the outside, and the receiver could not come down with it.
New England gets a chance to right the ship on the road in Week 2 against the Saints, and this organization and its quarterback have been down before. Any talk of Brady fully in decline is premature. But on opening night, at least, the greatest looked mortal.
He gets dropped down a bit, and going forward, his performance will show if the opener was a one-game blip or a sign of gathering storm clouds.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Week 1 Ranking: 2
Seattle's superlative defensive line harassed Aaron Rodgers over and over in Green Bay's 17-9 win Sunday at Lambeau Field, but as he so often does, he managed to transcend pressure when it mattered most. Make no mistake, though: this was not his best day.
Rodgers completed 28 of 42 passes for 311 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but he also had two other interceptions called back because of penalties. (Defensive tackle Nazair Jones picked off a short first-quarter pass to tight end Lance Kendricks, and safety Earl Thomas nabbed a fourth-quarter floater to Jordy Nelson.) An offside call negated the Thomas pick, further proving Rodgers' mastery of the quick count.
It was clear the Packers planned for a lot of pressure in this game; most of Rodgers' passes were quick strikes on simple routes or intermediate throws based on boot-action concepts that got the signal-caller out of the pocket and on the move.
He completed just two of four passes 20 or more yards in the air for 53 yards and his one touchdown, a 32-yarder to Nelson in the third quarter. Here, Rodgers out-thought the Seahawks, catching them with 12 men on the field as they were transitioning their defensive rotation. He threw the post perfectly to Nelson as the receiver moved past Thomas and linebacker Bobby Wagner.
It was an excellent example of his deep accuracy.
Under pressure on 12 of his 50 dropbacks and sacked four times, Rodgers completed just one of eight passes when Seattle's line converged upon him. The greatness of Rodgers was, in part, how he was able to shake off all those hits and hurries, reset and make the plays his team needed.
1. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 1 Ranking: 9
The biggest beneficiary of Tom Brady's struggles Thursday night, in addition to the Chiefs, is Ben Roethlisberger. He assumes the top spot among all quarterbacks following his performance in the opener against the Browns.
Big Ben completed 24 of 36 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns with an interception in the 21-18 win over the team's AFC North counterpart.
The game script was probably not what Steelers fans expected. Running back Le'Veon Bell didn't join the team until Sept. 1 because of a holdout, however, so perhaps that's why offensive coordinator Todd Haley used a lot of empty formations and put the game in his quarterback's hands.
Velocity and placement, usually the trademarks of Roethlisberger's game, were present Sunday. The 35-year-old made a number of throws along the boundary or on routes breaking into the middle of the field that he put on target with sufficient velocity to prevent defenders from breaking on the football.
Another staple of his game—the ability to stand tall in the pocket and keep plays alive with a mixture of play strength and footwork—was apparent as well.
A prime example of this came a little over midway through the third quarter, when he was able to keep a play alive and get the ball out late to Bell to convert a third down. The Steelers then scored on a goal-line tight end screen pass to Jesse James for Roethlisberger's second touchdown throw of the contest.
The signal-caller's lone interception came on an aggressive decision in the fourth quarter, when he had a receiver on a seam route against a Cover 2 look with a defender in trail coverage underneath.
Roethlisberger tried to fit the football into a smaller throwing window to Martavis Bryant, and the trail defender was able to deflect the pass, allowing the football to float into the arms of the deeper safety (Derrick Kindred). It goes in the books as a turnover, but given the coverage, Roethlisberger had the look he wanted and took his shot.
The Steelers have their home opener at Heinz Field next Sunday against the Vikings and a defense many consider among the best in the NFC. That will serve as a good test to see if Big Ben can hang on to the top QB spot.