NFL1000: Doug Farrar's Week 5 QB Rankings
They say that it's tough for rookie quarterbacks to succeed in the NFL, and for the most part, that's true. But someone forgot to give Deshaun Watson the memo.
The Houston Texans quarterback, starting just his third professional game Sunday, beat the Tennessee Titans' usually strong defense for four passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown, becoming the first rookie quarterback since the Minnesota Vikings' Fran Tarkenton in 1961 to put up those kinds of numbers.
Texans head coach Bill O'Brien did a great job of mixing run-pass options and other option concepts with the things Watson's learned this year, and the Texans benefited on their way to a 57-14 win.
Other rookie quarterbacks have taken longer to get their starting reps—the Chicago Bears' Mitchell Trubisky will finally get his first chance Monday night against the Vikings after veteran Mike Glennon put up four straight miserable performances. It could be argued that Trubisky should have started all along, but here we are.
The Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson, who performed well as a rookie in 2012, finally got some half-decent pass-blocking in the second half of the Sunday night game against the Colts, and he went off during his team's franchise-record 36-point second half.
At the one-quarter mark of the 2017 season, quarterbacks define their teams' storylines.
Squads are struggling to stay consistent, and Wilson, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton and Trevor Siemian are among those signal-callers who haven't yet put multiple strong games together. But Alex Smith, the quarterback of the league's only remaining undefeated team after a thrilling performance against Washington on Monday night, got a well-deserved bump in our rankings. As did Kirk Cousins, the "losing" quarterback in that game, who proved himself in ways he hasn't when his team has won games in the past.
It's a tough position to play no matter how good you are, which makes Watson's performance all the more remarkable—and Trubisky's upcoming challenges all the more daunting. Here at NFL1000, we keep track of every quarterback's performance every 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 the 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.
The rankings are based on recent performance, of course, 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.
Good news for some, bad news for others. Here are the NFL1000 quarterback rankings ahead of Week 5.
34. Mike Glennon, Chicago Bears
Last Week: 32
On Monday, ESPN's Adam Schefter and Dan Graziano broke the news that the Bears will bench Glennon in favor of Trubisky. After four weeks of performances in which Glennon proved he does not resemble a starting quarterback, the only question is: What took them so long to make the move?
Against the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night in a 35-14 embarrassment, Glennon completed 21 of 33 passes for 218 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions and two lost fumbles, putting his team at a severe disadvantage.
As he's shown all season, Glennon has two massive liabilities. He doesn't read coverages and route adjustments quickly enough to process them, and when he does read what he needs to do, he doesn't react quickly enough from a physical standpoint. Thus, windows that are open for other, better quarterbacks are not open for him.
On both of his interceptions, Glennon airmailed throws to receivers who had made the cuts in their routes, which tends to minimize the notion that the receiver is at fault. And on both picks, Glennon threw without following through in order to avoid being hit; he simply doesn't have the arm talent to get away with that and keep the ball on plane.
Glennon's last touchdown as a starter was a back-corner fade to Kendall Wright on a nice route combination; Wright crossed over to the left boundary of the end zone as the two receivers outside him ran quick in-cuts to take the underneath coverage. All Glennon had to do was to get the ball past cornerback Damarious Randall and to Wright, which he did. Other than that, though, Glennon connected mostly on short passes when he wasn't bungling snaps.
Perhaps Glennon can spend his time working out a few of the kinks in his processing and mechanics so he can be a competent backup. It's the role he should have played all along.
33. EJ Manuel, Oakland Raiders
Last Week: N/A
It was not the sight Oakland Raiders fans wanted to see in the third quarter Sunday. Derek Carr, on the ground, clutching his body in pain after absorbing a blow to his lower back. And EJ Manuel, buttoning his chin strap and trotting onto the field to take the place of the injured starter.
However, that is exactly the scenario that played out in Denver, as Carr left the game with a fractured back, according to Vic Tafur of The Athletic. Manuel came on in relief and took control of an offense that had struggled outside of one deep pass to Johnny Holton. Manuel performed well given the situation.
He completed 11 of 17 passes for 106 yards, which almost duplicated Carr's numbers on the day, but he did throw an interception late in the game on a pass intended for Amari Cooper. Rather than driving a throw to Cooper on a boundary vertical route against Cover 2, Manuel put more air under it, allowing the safety to rotate over for the interception.
Manuel did make some good throws, including a seam route to Jared Cook that was a well-executed play. He also was plagued by some drops, by both Cooper and Cook. But he directed a scoring drive and got the Raiders to within six points on the road, which counts for something, right?
Manuel will start against the Baltimore Ravens. But after it opened 2-0, Oakland now is slumping. Manuel will need to turn around an offense that right now needs to fix things in a hurry.
32. Matt Cassel, Tennessee Titans
Last Week: N/A
Sometime late in the first half, starting quarterback Marcus Mariota injured a hamstring, and he was ruled questionable to return during the break. When the Tennessee Titans started their first offensive series of the second half, veteran backup Matt Cassel trotted onto the field.
If you were hoping for a storybook comeback sparked by the journeyman, your hopes were dashed quickly. Cassel was shaky from the outset, misfiring on three of his first five throws. He then threw two consecutive interceptions, the second of which went for a pick-six to effectively end the proceedings.
That play cannot fully be pinned on the quarterback. Cassel tried to hit Delanie Walker on the shorter route in a shallow cross concept, but the tight end thought the pass was going to the deeper dig route and ducked. That allowed the ball to go straight to linebacker Dylan Cole, and the undrafted rookie linebacker returned the interception 25 yards for his first career touchdown.
Cassel's first interception, however, was squarely on his shoulders. He tried to hit Rishard Matthews on a deep in-cut but failed to see the underneath coverage and threw directly to safety Marcus Gilchrist, who secured the pick rather easily. The Texans tacked on three more points on the ensuing possession.
We'll know more later this week about the severity of Mariota's injury after he undergoes an MRI, but if he's sidelined for an extended period, it's hard to see Cassel presenting a long-term solution at the position.
The Titans offense is built around Mariota and incorporates his ability with his legs into its schemes and designs, and Cassel does not bring that element to the table. If Mariota is out for a long stretch, the organization might need to look elsewhere for a replacement.
31. DeShone Kizer, Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 31
After a somewhat promising start to his NFL career, DeShone Kizer has struggled mightily the past few weeks. Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals was arguably his toughest outing, as the rookie quarterback completed only 16 of 34 passes for a meager 118 yards with an interception and failed to direct a single scoring drive.
When the Cleveland Browns finally punched the ball into the end zone on a one-yard Duke Johnson run in the final two minutes, Kevin Hogan was guiding the offense and Kizer was watching from the sideline.
Now, you cannot put the interception on the quarterback in this instance, as Kizer drilled a throw to Kenny Britt on a curl route. Somehow, Britt bobbled the football into the air and right into the arms of the nearest defender. Britt also had a drop earlier in the game, when Kizer delivered a decent throw along the left boundary.
The rookie could use some help from the guys around him. He also could benefit from some creativity offensively, and from not facing two-score deficits each week.
That being said, there is cause for concern. He missed on a number of throws during this game and seems to struggle when he needs to anticipate routes coming open. Right now, Kizer seems to be more of a "see it, throw it" quarterback, which is understandable for a rookie, but he needs to show improvement in this area. He has shown good play strength at the position, and on more than a few snaps he remained upright in the pocket, avoided a sack and simply got rid of the football to avoid losing yards.
If he was more consistent with his ball placement, got some help from those around him and played in more favorable situations, we might see some improved play. But right now, it's a struggle for him and the Browns offense to get on track.
30. Brian Hoyer, San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 30
No matter what coaches tell you about their players in press conferences, what they really think of those players becomes obvious and evident once the games start. And one thing has become abundantly clear: San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has faith in Brian Hoyer's ability to connect with his receivers on deep balls, but he probably shouldn't.
In San Francisco's 18-15 overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, Hoyer completed 24 of 49 passes for just 234 yards with one interception. Hoyer's paltry 4.8 yards per attempt rate was bad enough, but when you consider he was 1 of 7 on passes of 20 air yards or more, the magnitude of his ineffectiveness multiplies.
Put simply, if he were a better deep-ball thrower, the 49ers would probably have won.
Shanahan is giving Hoyer opportunities to make big plays with formations and play-action, and for the most part, his receivers are doing their part.
Tight end Logan Paulsen dropped an easy sideline pass for one of those deep incompletions, but Hoyer kept throwing short or straight to Arizona defenders on those more explosive plays—veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby read Hoyer's intentions on a deep throw to receiver Aldrick Robinson and simply dropped the ball.
Hoyer needs to be precise with his deep throws because he doesn't have the velocity to throw guys open past coverage. And right now, even though he has clean pockets, Hoyer is still showing his limitations in creating the kinds of passing plays that would push the offense forward.
Shanahan has two choices: He can either stop giving Hoyer opportunities for deep throws, or he can find someone who can complete those throws.
29. Case Keenum, Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 28
One week after Case Keenum beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' depleted defense with several outstanding deep throws in a 34-17 win, reality came calling in the form of the Detroit Lions and their more advanced coverage concepts.
Keenum was muted against a defense that didn't need to blitz to bring pressure for the most part and wasn't dealing with a bunch of injury issues among its linebackers and defensive backs. He completed 16 of 30 passes for 219 yards in a 14-7 loss.
Keenum made a nice play on his first throw against Detroit's fake blitz, going across his body to receiver Adam Thielen as Thielen came back to the ball against cornerback Nevin Lawson on a 24-yard boundary route.
But he tried to hit Thielen later in the first quarter on another deep ball out of a bunch right formation into tight coverage and missed Stefon Diggs coming open on a deep seam route. Lawson clearly had inside position on Thielen's route, but Keenum predetermined his throw, and that was that.
Keenum did find Diggs on a deep over route out of a tight formation on a busted coverage, but most of the throws that worked indicated that while Keenum is a perfectly adequate starter and good backup against defenses that don't test his receivers with tight coverage, he's a guy who needs the openings to be clear and obvious for good things to happen.
With a muddy picture, he's less effective. That's not to say he's a bad player—many quarterbacks have this problem. But he's not an upper-tier quarterback for this reason, and with running back Dalvin Cook lost for the season with a torn ACL, the Minnesota Vikings will have to rely on their defense and a series of clearly defined route concepts until Sam Bradford is healthy enough to return to his starting job.
28. Josh McCown, New York Jets
Last Week: 29
Last week, I posited that Josh McCown might read this piece and wonder what he needed to do to get some respect around these parts. An overtime win, coupled with struggles from some of his peers, did the trick...just a bit.
McCown did not move up the board much this week despite another solid performance. He completed 22 of 31 passes for 224 yards with one interception against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was responsible in part for two of the game's biggest plays.
The first was Myles Jack's fumble return, which came as the New York Jets were driving and looking to perhaps put the game away. But when McCown threw a bubble screen, his pass hit Bilal Powell as the running back turned to look for the ball, and the Jaguars linebacker scooped it up, returning it 81 yards to the end zone. McCown's interception came later in the game when the Jets were trying to ice the contest.
He tried to throw a running back swing route, but his target slipped and fell, allowing the football to travel directly to cornerback A.J. Bouye. That miscue allowed the Jaguars to tie the contest late in regulation.
Other than those mistakes, McCown was solid. He operates the West Coast offense well, gets the ball out quickly on most passing concepts and does a good job of taking what the defense gives him. For a younger team like the Jets, that is exactly what they need.
He is not the long-term answer at the position for New York, and Jets fans probably watch more college games than any other fanbase so they can scout the 2018 quarterback class, but for what the team is doing this season, McCown looks to be the answer. Besides, when you wake up tied with the New England Patriots in the AFC East, that's a good morning, right?
Potentially, we'll see what continued solid performances do for his ranking in the future.
27. Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 27
In what seemed like an instant, Jacoby Brissett went from leading the Indianapolis Colts to a scrappy win on the road to becoming a GIF-worthy image of sadness during Sunday Night Football.
Facing a tough test against the Seahawks in the loud environs of CenturyLink Field, Brissett and the Colts found themselves with a lead at halftime. He had a tough pick-six on Indianapolis' first possession of the second quarter, when he threw an out route behind the intended target, allowing the defender to cut underneath for the interception.
But Brissett and the offense came back, and he led two scoring drives before the half, including one he capped with a touchdown pass to Donte Moncrief. On that play, Brissett showed the ability to freeze the free safety in the middle of the field before peeling his eyes to the boundary and executing a well-placed fade route that Moncrief secured at the catch point. Brissett then led the Colts on a scoring drive in the third quarter that ended with an Adam Vinatieri field goal that tied the game at 18.
Then the wheels came off for the visitors. Brissett was strip-sacked on the next drive late in the third quarter, and the fumble was returned 21 yards for a touchdown. That's when the cameras caught him lying on his stomach, dropping his face into the turf in dismay.
Following that turnover, the Colts failed to generate any kind of offensive movement, punting on their next two possessions. During that stretch, Brissett completed only one of five passes and was sacked again for a 14-yard loss on his final dropback of the night.
While Andrew Luck remains out, Brissett will remain entrenched as the starter. He can do some things well in this offense and showed some athletic ability on two different runs against the Seahawks—on the second, he even deked cornerback Shaquill Griffin about 20 yards downfield. But Brissett was slow, almost statuesque in the pocket at times, and it cost him.
Until he speeds up his processing—or Luck returns to the lineup—the Colts will continue to struggle offensively.
26. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 26
Maybe the good parts of the playbook were lost in transit to London two weeks ago?
After a 2-0 start with victories over the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, the Baltimore Ravens have suffered two straight losses and are completely out of sorts offensively.
Quarterback Joe Flacco has struggled the past two weeks, first in London against the Jaguars and again this week against the Steelers. He finished the afternoon completing 31 of 49 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown, but he threw two critical interceptions that led to points for the opposition.
The scoring play came on a vertical concept, and Flacco was able to drill in a throw on a slot seam route to Mike Wallace for a 16-yard touchdown, which cut the Pittsburgh lead to 19-9. Flacco threaded the needle between the cornerback in trial coverage and the safety, and ripped off a throw with high velocity and decent placement for the score.
But after cutting the deficit to 10, Flacco made the two mistakes. The first interception came on a play-action boot concept. With the Ravens near midfield and trailing by 10 early in the fourth quarter, Flacco came out of the play-action fake under pressure and tried to float a pass over Ryan Shazier to Benjamin Watson in the flat. The pass was intercepted by the linebacker, and the Steelers took over possession.
Later in the fourth quarter, the Ravens faced a 4th-and-12 again near midfield and trailing by 10. This time, Flacco's pass was into coverage, tipped and intercepted. It was thrown in the general direction of Michael Campanaro. It's unclear if there was some miscommunication on the route, but the pair of interceptions ended any comeback threat and marked Flacco's 10th straight game with a pick.
Now the Ravens travel west and take on a struggling Oakland Raiders team. One of these squads will drop to 2-3 late Sunday afternoon. For Flacco, taking better care of the football and avoiding 11 straight games with an interception would be a great start toward redemption.
25. Jay Cutler, Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 24
In the closing minutes of the game between the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints, I took to Twitter to solicit some ways to describe the performance from the Miami offense. As expected, there were some great responses.
"Impotent," "insipid" and "lethargic" were quality submissions. A number of...colorful...emojis were sent my way. Some played on the English theme, including "bloody dreadful gov'nah," and "God Save the Queen." But the one that best describes the effort comes from Ben Rathe, who was in attendance:
"Cor blimey guv'nor, I can hardly Adam & Eve it. They were all very Alan Ladd."
I don't understand that at all, which makes it perfect to describe Miami's offense right now.
When Adam Gase brought Jay Cutler out of retirement, much was made about the potential reunion between coach and quarterback. Through three games now, the Miami offense is simply sputtering. The Dolphins have yet to score a first-half touchdown and are the only team to accomplish that "feat" through four weeks of play.
On their opening drive against New Orleans, the offense was clicking, relying on passing concepts such as levels and flood to push the ball into the intermediate area of the field. But on 1st-and-goal, they emptied the backfield and tried a fade route to Julius Thomas in the end zone. Cutler's pass was underthrown, the tight end failed to fight for the ball at the catch point, and the football was intercepted.
It was the closest Miami would get to scoring any points at Wembley Stadium.
Cutler still has the arm talent, velocity and placement to be successful in the NFL. On a number of Miami's passing concepts, he made quick decisions and got the ball out quickly, giving his receivers a chance to make plays after the catch. But the Dolphins remain a more one-dimensional passing team overall.
Many of their route concepts are designed to attack the short and/or shallow areas of the defense, and if you want evidence of this, look at Cameron Jordan's forced fumble. Miami attempted a tunnel screen to Jarvis Landry on that play, but rookie Marshon Lattimore diagnosed the play immediately and collapsed on the receiver.
Seeing this, Cutler had no choice but to pull the football down and try to extend the play. As he rolled to his right, Jordan punched the football out. The Dolphins were lucky to recover, but the play is emblematic of their offensive woes at this point.
The Dolphins host the Tennessee Titans in Week 5 in what is shaping up to be a must-win game for them if they have any hopes of a playoff run. They need to get the offense sorted out—and immediately—for that to happen.
24. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 18
Carson Palmer completed 33 of 51 passes for 357 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the Cardinals' 18-15 win over the 49ers on Sunday, but the big yardage number was a bit of statistical noise. Palmer's lone touchdown pass came with 32 seconds left in overtime, as Larry Fitzgerald jumped in the end zone to catch a high Palmer throw.
For the most part, the veteran moved slowly in the pocket and relied on quick breaking routes for completions. He completed two of the six deep passes he attempted for 51 yards and the touchdown to Fitzgerald.
Most of the time, when he tried to sail the ball deep, his throws were high—a function of harried footwork—and at this point in his career, Palmer is best used as a function of route concepts that allow him to get rid of the ball quickly.
Part of this has to do with his lack of mobility. Moreover, while Palmer still has excellent processing speed, his body appears to be slowing down. He's not the medium-twitch athlete he used to be, and Arizona's pass protection doesn't help him at all.
Palmer was hurried or pressured on a league-leading 25 of his 57 dropbacks and was sacked six times. His red-zone interception to 49ers linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong came when he made an errant throw under extreme pressure.
Cards head coach Bruce Arians loves the vertical game and prefers to give Palmer a front-side vertical read with backside crossing and cutting routes, but against the Dallas Cowboys last week, Arians adjusted with more shorter routes. He would be wise to keep that up.
Though the Cardinals won this game, Palmer doesn't seem to have the sustained ability to keep the deep ball going—certainly not with the pass protection he's getting. And with Arizona's run game muted since David Johnson's injury, Palmer will have to use short passes as drive-sustaining runs.
23. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
Last Week: 22
Jared Goff continued one of the most impressive second-year comeback stories in NFL history in the Los Angeles Rams' 35-30 win over the Cowboys on Sunday, and he had additional help in running back Todd Gurley as a legitimate receiver option.
Goff completed 21 of 36 passes for 255 yards, two touchdowns and no picks against Dallas, and perhaps the most intriguing passing play of the day happened with about three minutes left in the third quarter. That's when Gurley came out of the backfield on a deep wheel route that turned into a post up top and beat two Dallas defenders as he headed up the field.
Dallas' front bit on the fake sweep action to receiver Tavon Austin, and Goff hit the throw with perfect timing for a 53-yard touchdown. It was something you might have seen out of the old Greatest Show on Turf Rams with Marshall Faulk in the backfield, and it showed yet another dimension of head coach Sean McVay's offense—not to mention Goff's ability to handle the different wrinkles.
On Goff's first pass of the day, he linked up with tight end Tyler Higbee on an out-and-up in which Higbee ran his route to the numbers from the formation on the right side. Goff threw the ball where Higbee was going to be, and safety Jeff Heath couldn't catch up.
Throwing your receivers open is a necessary attribute of the best quarterbacks, and it's something Goff is showing more and more in a system where he has learned to trust the easy openings—this allows him to graduate to making the tougher throws with confidence.
Goff's other touchdown pass was a seven-yarder to rookie receiver Cooper Kupp on a quick out route out of a stack release concept to the left side. The extent to which Goff has thrived in this offense proves the genius of McVay's play design and Goff's quickness in picking up those concepts. We should only expect more and better as the season goes on.
22. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 23
Newton dropped to 23rd in our rankings last week after one of the worst games of his NFL career in which he threw three interceptions against New Orleans’ unimpressive defense.
New England’s defense isn’t any better this season, which is a strange thing to say, but Newton’s bounce-back game was quite impressive. He completed 22 of 29 passes for 316 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, and he was on time and on target with his intermediate passes in ways he wasn’t the week before.
Against the Saints, Newton seemed to struggle with reads on angular routes, as if he were unable to diagnose coverages. But when facing the Patriots, he threw with better anticipation on quick timing patterns, which got him in a rhythm. On quick slants and in-cuts, he threw with velocity, and he took the simple screen passes when they were the best options.
Mechanically, he was opening his shoulder a bit on passes to the right sideline, which messed with his timing. And the deep throws weren’t great—he overthrew Devin Funchess in the end zone and sailed a pass to Damiere Byrd that was picked off by cornerback Malcolm Butler.
Byrd got hung up on the timing of his route against New England’s double coverage, and the intention seemed to be that Byrd would beat Butler and cornerback Eric Rowe. Newton had Funchess on a quick screen outside Byrd, who was in the slot, but he chose to try the tough downfield pass. The double coverage of Byrd cleared the field for Funchess, who could have made the first down on 3rd-and-4.
Beating the Patriots at Foxborough is an impressive feat no matter how bad New England’s defense is this season, and it was nice to see Newton shore up the little things. If he can get the deep ball on track again, Carolina can have a formidable offense.
21. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
Last Week: 25
Quick. Name the rookie quarterbacks who have notched 250 or more passing yards, four touchdown passes and a rushing touchdown in a single game.
Fran Tarkenton. Johnny Green. Deshaun Watson. That’s it, that’s the list. (Apologies to Tony Kornheiser for the turn of phrase.)
Watson joined that company Sunday with his performance in Houston’s blowout victory over divisional foe Tennessee. The rookie signal-caller completed 25 of 34 passes for 283 yards in the 57-14 thrashing.
For those wondering about his development at the position and as a passer, there were some positive signs. On a deep out route to DeAndre Hopkins on Houston’s second drive, Watson used his eyes in the middle of the field to hold the coverage before flashing his vision to the boundary late in the play and delivering an accurate throw.
His first touchdown pass, a quick slant to Hopkins in the red zone, showed the velocity that was a question mark for him coming out of college. His second touchdown pass, a deep crossing route to Will Fuller V, also showed smart manipulation with his eyes. This was a two-receiver deep crossing concept, and Watson first looked at Hopkins, drawing the coverage to the one receiver, before flashing his eyes to the right and Fuller. The rookie dropped in a perfect throw for the score.
Now, there were some mistakes from Watson, to be sure. His interception was one of those plays that you would like to have back, as he tried to make a throw late in the play off his back foot, and the pass was undercut by the safety. There, you would like to see better footwork from the QB and to see him reset his feet before driving into the throw. Watson tried to deliver the pass off-platform, and he paid for it. He also overthrew Fuller on a deep route when the second-year receiver had a few steps on the coverage.
In the end, however, this was a performance that both Watson and Texans fans will remember for a long time. Watson seems to be improving week to week, which is welcome news for Houston and a tale of woe for the rest of the AFC South.
20. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 21
After a nearly perfect four-touchdown performance, you might expect Andy Dalton to get more of a bump this week, but we’re going to take a more wait-and-see approach with the Cincinnati Bengals and their signal-caller after their thrashing of the Cleveland Browns.
As the numbers bear out, Dalton was almost flawless Sunday. He completed 25 of 30 passes for 286 yards and the four scores and did not have an interception for the third straight week.
His scoring plays were often a result of good ball placement. His first touchdown pass, a short corner route to A.J. Green, was dropped in perfectly. The second, a short curl route to Tyler Croft, was again put in an ideal position for his tight end to make the reception.
Perhaps his best throw of the afternoon came on his final touchdown pass, a seam route to Kroft where Dalton put the football toward the back shoulder, away from the underneath trail defender and in a spot where the safety could not rotate over and make a play.
There were times when Dalton was slow and deliberate in the pocket. He was strip-sacked early in the game, when it looked like had a chance to get the football out of his hands, but he really waited on his route concept to break open. He was sacked later in the game on a similar play, where it again looked like he could have gotten the football out, but he was more methodical in his process and the rush finally got home.
This was the type of performance Bengals fans were waiting for. It's unclear if Cincinnati can work back into contention in the AFC North, or if this was more of a one-off, but if Dalton can string together more games like these, he and the Bengals will see themselves moving up the standings.
19. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 19
The big story in Philadelphia’s 26-24 win over the Los Angeles Chargers wasn’t anything Carson Wentz did; it was far more about the fact that head coach Doug Pederson has finally figured out how to use his running backs in diverse ways that best feature their strengths. The Eagles ran the ball 42 times for 214 yards and a touchdown, and this allowed Wentz to play a complementary part in the win as opposed to the team having to put too much on his shoulders.
Wentz has always been a fine play-action quarterback—he completed 70.5 percent of his play-action passes as a rookie—and the increased efficiency of Philly’s run game helps him here a great deal. In addition, the Eagles like to use Wentz’s mobility outside the pocket and toughness as a runner to bring run-pass-options into play.
His 24-yard screen pass play to running back Wendell Smallwood in the first quarter was based on sweep motion and play action, giving Smallwood a free release into the right flat. Wentz used the same basic structure to get the ball to LeGarrette Blount on a 20-yard screen on the next passing play; here, Wentz did an excellent job of breaking pressure and making the cross-body throw.
In addition, Pederson’s route concepts are helping Wentz—his first-quarter touchdown to Alshon Jeffery came off a flood concept in which Jeffery motioned from right to left, revealing the Chargers’ intention to play zone coverage. With that knowledge, Wentz knew that with Smallwood and tight end Zach Ertz releasing into routes on the left side, Jeffery would have an opening as he moved through coverage on a quick inside route. The touchdown was a virtual pitch-and-catch.
That was the only touchdown Wentz threw on the day, and it was all the Eagles needed from him. Where the Eagles offense could get exciting is when the team is able to integrate the running game with Wentz’s feel for play action and option plays, along with his downfield velocity.
18. Trevor Siemian, Denver Broncos
Last Week: 17
Trevor Siemian and the Denver Broncos got back on track Sunday afternoon, taking care of divisional foe Oakland 16-10. Siemian got the home team on the board first, hitting tight end A.J. Derby on a wheel route along the right sideline for a 22-yard touchdown. For his part, Derby turned in a terrific, one-handed reception along the boundary.
It would be Siemian’s only touchdown pass on the afternoon, and he finished the game completing 16 of 26 passes for 179 yards. Facing a tough Oakland pass rush led by Khalil Mack, the QB showed the ability to slide around in the pocket, buy time when necessary and extend plays while keeping his eyes downfield.
While he was pressured often, he did not duplicate the mistakes he made the week prior, when he was pressured and threw two critical interceptions on the road in Buffalo. He has the arm strength to be successful in this offense, as demonstrated on a throw he made along the left sideline to Emmanuel Sanders late in the first quarter, driving in a well-placed pass on a "smash" concept.
He also hit Sanders earlier in the drive in a scramble-drill situation, when Siemian was flushed to his left, extended the play and hit Sanders on the left side. That throw showed textbook mechanics from a quarterback moving to his left as well.
Going forward, avoiding miscues will be a crucial aspect to Denver’s postseason hopes. If the Broncos can get steady, mistake-free production from Siemian, this team is built to win games and make a run into the playoffs, given its offensive weapons and the talent on defense.
Siemian gives the Broncos enough at the quarterback position, provided he does not force the issue and make those careless decisions with the football. You might as well circle Halloween Eve on your calendars right now, as we’ll get a much better sense of Siemian that night in Arrowhead Stadium, when the top two teams in the AFC West meet on Monday Night Football.
17. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Last Week: 16
The Giants now stand at 0-4, and given the limitations of their offense and the way it’s starting to break their usually excellent defense, it’s not too early to say the team’s season is just about over from a playoff perspective.
From a coaching perspective, it’s inexcusable for an offense to have this many weapons and be so ineffective from week to week as the Giants offense is under head coach Ben McAdoo and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan.
Manning completed 30 of 49 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns in Big Blue’s 25-23 loss to the Buccaneers, and the usual problems plagued the offense—no run game to speak of, subpar performances from a patchwork offensive line and route concepts that don’t feature the Giants’ receivers at their best.
Manning hit Odell Beckham Jr. on a lovely 42-yard pass halfway through the fourth quarter, but that was the only deep ball he completed all day. He was one of six on passes of 20 air yards or more, and the proliferation of short passes seemed more about finding any kind of groove than it was about any grand plan.
The Giants are scrambling for answers on offense, and Manning’s game is suffering for it. If he had a coaching staff that understood how to get receivers open and downfield on a consistent basis, that wouldn’t be the case.
16. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 15
One wonders if, on the flight back to Jacksonville, Blake Bortles was pricing flights to London.
After a near-perfect performance on the other side of the pond last week, Bortles came back to Earth against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. He completed only 15 of 35 passes for a mere 140 yards, throwing a touchdown and a foolish interception to Kony Ealy in Jacksonville’s overtime loss to the Jets.
The only reason Jacksonville found itself in position to force overtime was due to its defense, which scored on a Myles Jack fumble return and intercepted Josh McCown late.
But on that drive, the Jaguars stalled deep in New York territory. Jacksonville faced a 1st-and-goal at the 6-yard line, but three straight passes from Bortles failed to advance the football past the 4-yard line. The third, an attempted slant pass to tight end Marcedes Lewis, brought into crystal focus a problem which has plagued the quarterback throughout his career: tipped passes.
So much has been made about his mechanics and his throwing motion, but his elongated delivery allows first-level defenders a chance to get their arms up and tip passes. It also happened on the Ealy interception.
That was on a boot-action design, and when Bortles came out of the fake the defensive end was bearing down on him. The QB tried to fit a throw over Ealy, but the defender was able to get his arms up, tip the pass and then secure the interception on the rebound. Alertly, Bortles was able to wrestle Ealy to the turf, preventing the touchdown. It might have been his best play of the day.
When his passes were able to cross the line of scrimmage, Bortles struggled with accuracy and placement. He did drill a pass into Marqise Lee in overtime that might have gotten Jacksonville into field-goal range, but Lee failed to secure the reception. Bortles missed on other attempts Sunday, and his completion numbers are a reflection of his struggles with ball placement.
The Jaguars defense looks to be a young, aggressive and opportunistic bunch that can get after the quarterback and create turnovers. Bortles remains the true question mark on this team, and until he gets rolling, it is hard to see Jacksonville challenging in the division.
15. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 20
On his first throw against the Rams on Sunday, Prescott showed a lot about what’s great about his game. He was pressured from his front side, showed excellent pocket movement to get away from it and drilled a deep throw to Dez Bryant up the numbers. He then hit Terrance Williams on a 12-yard sideline pass out of boot action, and he was on his way.
Prescott completed 20 of 36 passes for 252 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, and he was good enough to help his team beat the Rams. Unfortunately for Prescott, Los Angeles had the more effective offense, and the Cowboys took a 35-30 loss.
Much of Prescott’s game at its best is based on the run game and the offensive line, and neither factor has been as consistent as it was last year. Prescott was pressured on 18 plays and sacked on two of his 41 dropbacks, completing seven of 12 passes for 135 yards, one touchdown and that interception under duress.
Running back Ezekiel Elliott has been inconsistent all season, and though the Cowboys still run their option plays, they don’t challenge the defenses they face as much. That leaves more for Prescott to do as a pure passer.
Which he can do, for the most part.
Prescott’s second-quarter touchdown pass to Brice Butler was a thing of beauty. He rolled to his left out of pressure and got the ball to his target with timing and anticipation. His second-quarter, 18-yard pass to Bryant was even better. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald nearly had him down, but Prescott escaped, rolled to his left, and hit Bryant down the middle of the field on an off-balance throw.
Prescott has always been able to make plays outside of structure, but we’re starting to see a quarterback in full command of his offense, engendering better chemistry with his receivers. That’s a long process for most NFL quarterbacks, but Prescott seems to be ahead of the curve.
14. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 15
Jameis Winston needed to come back from a three-interception performance against the Vikings last week, and he needed to do it against a Giants defense that has one of the NFL’s better secondaries. He did so in a close 25-23 win, completing 22 of 38 passes for 332 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
One of those touchdowns came on busted coverage that left rookie tight end O.J. Howard as open as any receiver will ever be.
With 3:16 left in the first quarter, Howard faked a block from the right side and released into an intermediate crossing route as no Giants defender traveled with him. The Giants had three midlevel defenders following tight end Cameron Brate on a crosser from the left side, and Howard had the easiest touchdown he’ll ever have. Kudos to head coach Dirk Koetter for that particular play design.
Winston’s first-quarter touchdown pass to receiver Mike Evans was a Mike Evans special. He overpowered Eli Apple in the end zone, furthering his reputation as the best contested-catch receiver in the game. Brate got the third touchdown on a deep over route in which he torched linebacker B.J. Goodson over the middle.
Winston will always try to throw into super-tight windows that a lot of other quarterbacks wouldn’t dare attempt, which was a big part of his incompletion total against New York’s secondary. But as long as Koetter keeps up the smart play design, Winston has the talent to make Tampa Bay’s offense into something special.
13. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
Last Week: 13
This Sunday provided lots of cannon fodder for the Twitter timeline. There was a disinterested Jay Cutler in the Wildcat formation and Jacoby Brissett slumping his head down like a college student when the alarm goes off on Monday morning for that 8:30 economics class.
But nothing tops the image of an enraged Philip Rivers, losing his mouthpiece and then yelling into his helmet in the second half against the Philadelphia Eagles. Lost in that image, or the Chargers’ 0-4 start, or that the team cannot draw fans to see them play at home, is the fact that Rivers is off to a decent start this season.
He rebounded from a rough Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs by completing 22 of 38 passes for 347 yards and two touchdowns. The first TD came on a well-executed "Yankee" concept. This two-receiver, maximum-protection play allowed Rivers time to set up and throw deep, and he hit Tyrell Williams on the deep post route for a 75-yard score.
Near the end of the game, Rivers hit Hunter Henry along the back line of the end zone for a short touchdown, which allowed the home team to cut the Eagles’ lead to two in the fourth quarter. But they would not get the football back, as Carson Wentz, LeGarrette Blount and the Philadelphia offense salted the game away.
Rivers did make some mistakes in this game. He was stripped on the Chargers’ first possession as he tried to buy time in the pocket, and the Eagles scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession. He also forced a throw into coverage on a slot fade route early in the third quarter which should have been intercepted.
But on the whole, he played well against the Eagles and their tough defense. Yet for the third time in four games, the Chargers and Rivers found themselves on the losing end of a one-score game. That fact might be the most meme-worthy of them all when it comes to the Chargers’ 2017 campaign.
12. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 11
Just like everyone predicted, the Buffalo Bills sit at 3-1 after back-to-back wins over the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons and are in sole possession of first place.
Their defense is playing at a high level and intercepted Matt Ryan twice Sunday. But let’s take a moment to appreciate what we saw form Tyrod Taylor against the Falcons. After some early-season struggles, Taylor and this offense seem to be rounding into form.
Taylor was effective and efficient, completing 12 of 20 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown, which came on a perfectly thrown red-zone route in the back corner of the end zone. Taylor showed great patience on that play, letting the route concept come open before dropping in a touch pass to Jordan Matthews.
We also got to see the offense become a bit more diverse throughout the afternoon. The West Coast-based offensive concepts were there early in the game, as Taylor focused on getting the ball out quickly on shorter route concepts. He involved tight end Charles Clay and running back LeSean McCoy in the passing game on screens and quick out patterns.
But as the game wore on, the Bills took some more deep shots. Taylor missed on some of those, but he connected on others, particularly with Clay.
On Buffalo’s third drive, he hit Clay on a deep route in a scramble-drill situation for a huge gain. The play was a designed tight end throwback off play action, but when the quarterback was pressured he kept his eyes downfield and spotted his tight end adjusting his route vertically. Taylor then dropped in a well-placed throw for the completion. He also hit Clay later in the game on a deep corner route, again off a throwback design.
As we are seeing in Miami, sometimes when an offense becomes too one-dimensional in the passing game, the defense can take advantage. We saw a bit of that from the Bills through the first two weeks of the season. But now, they’re taking more chances downfield and having success with them, and that only works to stress the defense at all levels.
Bills fans might be looking at the 2018 quarterback class with anticipation, but Taylor’s level of play could change that.
11. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 10
Two weeks ago, the Oakland Raiders were 2-0, and everyone was marveling at Derek Carr's execution. He was getting the football out quickly, the pass rush was not getting home, and the Raiders were keeping pace with the Chiefs in the AFC West. Amazing how quickly things can change.
After two straight lackluster performances from the offense, the team now sits at 2-2, Carr is injured, Amari Cooper is struggling and Michael Crabtree is on the sidelines with an injury.
Outside of a perfectly thrown deep corner route to Johnny Holton for a touchdown, Carr and the offense struggled in Denver. He finished the day 10-of-18 for 143 yards and the touchdown, but the bulk of that yardage came on the one big throw, a 64-yard scoring strike. Taking that out of the equation leaves you with much more pedestrian numbers but perhaps more reflective of the offensive performance.
He also ended the day walking to the locker room after taking a knee to his lower back and leaving with what head coach Jack Del Rio described as back spasms. Del Rio said Monday that Carr could be out two to six weeks.
Looking at his passing charts on the season, courtesy of NextGen Stats from NFL.com, you can see the Raiders offense is mainly targeting the shorter areas of the field. This can work in stretches, but as the Philadelphia Eagles found out last year, this is not a recipe for long-term success.
Eventually, defenses will figure out what you are doing and come up with an answer for these route concepts. This year, Carr has few attempts (let alone completions) more than 20 yards downfield. Perhaps when Crabtree returns to the lineup they can try to stretch the field a bit, if only to soften up those underneath zones once more.
Whatever the answer, Oakland needs to figure it out in a hurry.
10. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
Last Week: 12
Kirk Cousins started off the 2017 season with a rough performance against the Eagles, and it was thought that the departure of offensive coordinator Sean McVay, along with primary receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, would affect him negatively throughout the season.
His excellent performance against the Raiders in Week 3, and a fine follow-up against the Kansas City Chiefs' excellent defense Monday night, put him in a different tier in our QB rankings.
The Chiefs won the game 29-20 on a last-second field goal from rookie kicker Harrison Butker and a trick-play fumble recovery from linebacker Justin Houston as time elapsed, but that had more to do with Washington's defense suffering injuries and running out of gas than anything Cousins failed to do.
His stats weren't mind-boggling—14-of-24 for 220 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions—but he did what was required of a good quarterback against a tough defense.
Cousins was on point from the start—his 44-yard touchdown pass to Terrelle Pryor in the first quarter was one of the best throws of his career. After a play fake, Cousins manipulated the pocket and threw an absolute dart to Pryor over the head of Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters.
His third-quarter deep ball to tight end Vernon Davis was another beauty, as it went right to Davis in stride as linebacker Justin Houston struggled to keep up. And his deep throw to Josh Doctson with 57 seconds left in the game might have been the game-winner had Doctson been able to bring the ball in throughout the catch process.
Mechanically balky at times throughout his career, Cousins showed a tight, compact and effective delivery over and over in this game, and it's become clear he's more than a product of his environment. Despite the loss here, the Redskins should feel good about their franchise quarterback.
Now, about that long-term contract…
9. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 8
It was a frustrating Sunday for Matt Ryan, who lost best receiver Julio Jones in the second quarter with a hip flexor injury and complementary receiver Mohamed Sanu in the third quarter with a hamstring issue.
Limited by these absences and by a Steve Sarkisian-designed offense that does not give him the personnel advantages and easy openings Kyle Shanahan's did last season, Ryan threw two picks against just one touchdown in a 23-17 loss to the Bills' surprising defense.
Ryan has thrown five picks in his last two games, and it's time to start becoming concerned about the state of Atlanta's passing game, whether everyone's healthy or not.
Ryan's first pick to Micah Hyde came when he had loads of time in the pocket and underthrew the ball to speed receiver Taylor Gabriel. Hyde did a better job than Gabriel of boxing out and getting to the ball.
The second was the result of a dropped pass by receiver Nick Williams on a slant, but this was on a 3rd-and-17 play, so Ryan probably didn't want to bother with any easy underneath openings. Yet without the receivers to make that play, he was operating as a disadvantage from the snap.
Ryan wasn't good with the deep ball against a Buffalo secondary that seemed to read his intentions and what his receivers were doing from the start of the game. He completed just one of four deep balls for 39 yards.
Though the miseries of the day weren't entirely on him, it's becoming more apparent every week that without a creative offensive play-caller who will play to Ryan's strengths, he's a very good quarterback. Without his top two targets, he moves into the "average" category.
8. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Last Week: 9
Matthew Stafford completed 19 of 31 passes for 209 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions against a game Vikings defense. As the stats suggest, he had a rough time.
Minnesota's defensive backs stuck to his receivers like glue and pressured him over and over, which often left him with not enough time to throw and few easy openings when he did have time. Aside from a 38-yard deep ball to Marvin Jones at the end of the first quarter—which Jones had to jump to catch—Stafford was muted with the big play.
He was hurried or hit on 16 of his 37 dropbacks, completing three of 10 passes for 25 yards when pressured, and he was sacked six times. Were it not for a recently resurgent running game and the general ineffectiveness of Vikings quarterback Case Keenum, the Lions would not have come out on the winning end of a closely fought 14-7 contest.
That deep pass to Jones was the only one he completed all day, and he had passes tipped at the line and dropped interceptions that made his day look better than it could have been.
The good news was that Stafford didn't regress mechanically, and he didn't try to make a bunch of impossible throws outside of structure. He clearly believes in the system established by offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, and he trusted his rushing attack and defense.
It wasn't an impressive start by any means, but that Stafford stayed within himself against a defense that seemed to read his every intention was a positive sign.
7. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 6
On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers traveled to Baltimore to take on their bitter rivals in a contest that would determine first place in the AFC North. The visitors emerged victorious, securing the victory 26-9. So everything is coming up roses in Pittsburgh, right?
You might not know it if you took a stroll around the internet the past 24 hours.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown was caught on the sideline enraged, throwing a Gatorade cooler and shrugging off his coaches after Ben Roethlisberger failed to see him on a well-designed variant of the "Mesh" concept. Brown started across the middle and then broke back to the outside on a corner route, but the quarterback checked the ball down to the running back in the flat. That sent Brown into his flight of fury moments later.
The Steelers relied on Le'Veon Bell and the ground game, as the running back churned out 144 yards on 35 carries and a pair of touchdowns. Roethlisberger did complete 18 of 30 passes for 216 yards, with a touchdown to JuJu Smith-Schuster. He also did throw an interception, but that was more on the receiver, as his pass was tipped into the air by the intended target and intercepted.
The issues with the offense are more one of execution, especially in the passing game. In addition to the above example with Brown, Roethlisberger had a chance to deliver the dagger, but he overthrew a wide-open Martavis Bryant on a deep vertical route. This was eerily reminiscent of how the Steelers opened up last week, when Roethlisberger overthrew Bryant on their first offensive play.
Earlier in the third quarter, Roethlisberger tried to force a deep post route to Brown but threw into coverage and was lucky the pass wasn't intercepted. As Roethlisberger stated after the game, the passing attack is looking for more "daggers." Right now, they are not hitting on any of those chances.
While they escaped this time, that hurt them in Chicago.
6. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 5
After moving up the rankings following Tennessee's statement win last week over the Seattle Seahawks, Marcus Mariota slides back a bit this week in the aftermath of the Titans' blowout loss on the road to divisional foe Houston. Truth be told, Mariota might have fallen farther were it not for other shaky play at the quarterback spot in the AFC this week.
Mariota's day started poorly and did not improve. On his second passing attempt, he threw a deep corner route in the general direction of tight end Delanie Walker. The pass sailed, falling into the arms of safety Andre Hal. Later in the game, Mariota tried to hit a slot fade deep down the left sideline, but he put too much air under the throw, allowing Hal to rotate over from his safety spot for his second interception.
Mariota did tack on two touchdowns on the ground.
His first came on a well-executed run/pass option where he kept the football around the left end for 34 yards. The second touchdown was a designed play-action boot concept to the right, but his intended target, Walker, was held up getting off his initial block and into the route. Mariota simply tucked the football and ducked inside the front right pylon for the score.
But those two scores came after the Texans had raced ahead, and Mariota then left the game with a hamstring injury.
The blowout results in three teams (Texans, Titans, Jaguars) sitting tied at 2-2 atop the AFC South. Provided Mariota can go Sunday, he'll get a chance to get the offense back on track against a Dolphins team that has struggled the past two weeks.
Provided Mariota can cut down on the miscues, the Titans should be able to take care of business.
5. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 7
It's a football cliche, but Russell Wilson's Sunday night against the Colts was a tale of two halves.
In the first 30 minutes, Wilson was a victim of his own mechanical inefficiency and his wildly inconsistent offensive line, completing eight of nine passes for 113 yards, no touchdowns and an interception thrown to safety Matthias Farley when Farley jumped a deep ball thrown to tight end Jimmy Graham. Wilson was hurried, he frequently looked lost, and the Seahawks had a 15-10 deficit at halftime.
All it seemed to take for Wilson to turn it around was decent pass protection and the ability to believe in it, which he had in the second half. Wilson finished his day with 21 completions in 26 attempts for 295 yards, two touchdowns and two picks.
Both of Wilson's interceptions came with Graham as his target, and Graham has never fit in this offense. But Wilson hit him for a 33-yard deep boundary route when the Colts inexplicably had pass-rusher Jabaal Sheard covering Graham deep. Wilson made a great throw over Sheard's head.
It's hard to see these days given the splintered tempo of Seattle's offense, but over the years, Wilson has developed a top-level touch and velocity on his intermediate and deep throws. His 41-yard pass to Tyler Lockett at the start of the fourth quarter was an excellent example. Wilson had to move to his left after Sheard nearly took him down in the pocket, and he hit Lockett downfield with a ball that had the perfect arc, timing and velocity for him to break his coverage from cornerback Vontae Davis.
Like Aaron Rodgers, Wilson is able to make accurate deep throws on the run without setting his feet because he squares his shoulders to the target and understands how to finesse throws midair.
Seattle's 36-point second half is an indicator of what this team and its quarterback can do if the offensive line plays at even a league-average level.
4. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 3
There was no way the Saints were going to lose to the Dolphins and their dumpster fire of an offense in London; indeed, the 20-0 final score doesn't indicate just how putrid Miami was in that game.
As for Drew Brees, he was efficient enough, completing 29 of 41 passes for 268 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He didn't test Miami's defense deep much, though he didn't have to. He hit receiver Brandon Coleman on a deep over route early in the third quarter and stuck with the short stuff for the most part outside of that.
One key story of the Saints offense this season is the emergence of rookie running back Alvin Kamara as a receiving threat. Brees targeted Kamara 10 times against the Dolphins, and Kamara caught all 10 passes for 71 yards and a touchdown.
The 10-yard score was less a pass and more a shovel handoff with fake sweep motion (a Saints staple from the Reggie Bush days), and Kamara may turn into the Saints' best receiving back since Bush in the late 2000s.
We saw a more conservative game plan for Brees and the Saints to control the clock and keep the ball away from a Miami offense that couldn't do much of anything. Expect Sean Payton to dial up more interesting things in the passing game next Sunday when the Saints face the Lions and their underrated defense.
3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Last Week: 1
Shortly after 1 p.m. ET, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots offense took the field for their opening drive. In the wake of last week's thrilling last-second victory over the Houston Texans, expectations were high in Foxborough for the Patriots to emerge victorious over the underdog Carolina Panthers, get to 3-1 on the season and get back on schedule.
Things did not work out that way.
Brady delivered on his end of the bargain for the most part. He completed 32 of 45 passes for 307 yards and a pair of touchdowns without an interception. Those numbers pushed his stats on the season to over 1,000 yards passing, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions, making him the first player in NFL history to reach those numbers in the first four games of two separate seasons.
Once again, the Patriots needed Brady down the stretch, as they were trailing by two scores in the fourth quarter. On New England's final two drives, Brady completed 11 of 14 passes, including his second touchdown of the day. That scoring play came on a 4th-and-goal situation from the 1-yard line, when Brady found Danny Amendola along the back line of the end zone, drilling in a throw with good velocity and placement.
But this is not to say Brady was flawless.
There were opportunities for him to make plays in the downfield passing game that he missed. On New England's opening drive, Brandin Cooks was open deep on an out-and-up route, but Brady overthrew his attempt. Later, Cooks was open on a dig route, but Brady was pressured and his throw was high. He also missed Dwayne Allen on a deep crossing route off play action, underthrowing the pass.
In a year where it looks like New England's defense needs work, Brady can't miss many opportunities like these. He'll get a quick turnaround versus Tampa on Thursday.
2. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 4
A topsy-turvy Week 4 closed out Monday night with perhaps the week's most tantalizing matchup.
The undefeated Kansas City Chiefs, with their high-powered offense, stout defense and powerful home-field advantage, hosted the Washington Redskins. The same NFC East team that in prime time a week ago silenced Derek Carr and the previously high-powered Oakland Raiders offense. Would the visitors be able to slow down Alex Smith and Co.?
Yes...for a while.
But after a sluggish start, Smith and the offense got on track. The quarterback's performance was similar to his Week 2 effort against the Philadelphia Eagles. Pressured often, playing behind an offensive line with some new faces inside, Smith made quality throws under duress.
When he had to, he made the Washington defense pay for ignoring him as a runner. Until Kareem Hunt ripped off a few runs in the second half, Smith was Kansas City's leading rusher on six carries for 51 yards, including a long 32-yard scramble off a botched shotgun snap late in the first half.
Smith also impressed as a passer once more this season.
Whether it was the deep post route to Travis Kelce early in the game to get the offense on track, the touchdown strike to Kelce on a red-zone post route, or even a completion like the fourth-quarter curl route to Tyreek Hill that showed precision timing and anticipation, Smith was on target throughout.
He missed perhaps two throws against Washington, a vertical route near the end of the half as well as a vertical route to Chris Conley that was overthrown. But he made the plays in critical moments against a tough but battered defense that allowed Kansas City to pull out the victory. None was bigger than the throw he made on the move to Albert Wilson in the closing seconds to get the Chiefs down into Washington territory, setting up the game-winning field-goal try.
Considering the total picture, including how well the Chiefs are playing right now as a team and the weapons around him, it's time to slide Smith up to the top spot in the AFC. Given how well this offense is playing, the myriad ways Andy Reid can choose to attack a defense and what Smith means to this offense, he's earned that position.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 2
For the second straight week, Rodgers found himself under heavy pressure because of an offensive line decimated by injuries, and he came through predictably well in a 35-14 win over the Bears on Thursday night.
Rodgers completed 18 of 26 passes for 179 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, which told the story. He didn't have the time in the pocket to be spectacular, but he was good enough when he had to be.
Rodgers countered the inefficiencies along his offensive line by eschewing the deep ball for the most part, completing just two of four passes of 20 or more air yards on the night for 84 yards.
The standout deep ball came with 5:28 left in the first half. Rodgers took the snap from under center, deduced that the Bears were playing man coverage and moved up in the pocket as the pocket collapsed. The deep throw to Jordy Nelson was slightly underthrown into converging triple coverage, but Rodgers timed it well enough that Nelson, who had just beaten cornerback Marcus Cooper on a deep post, was able to come back to the ball.
Beyond that, Rodgers stuck with the short stuff, distributing the ball to seven different targets and with an unusual amount of schematic diversity from head coach and chief play-caller Mike McCarthy. If McCarthy can keep that up as Green Bay's offensive line gets healthier, there's no telling how effective Green Bay's offense can be.