NFL1000: Doug Farrar's Week 6 QB Rankings
For one NFC North team, Week 5 brought quarterback clarity the likes of which the franchise has rarely seen. For another, the quarterback situation remains murky.
The Chicago Bears finally decided to start rookie Mitchell Trubisky on Monday night, saving us all from having to watch Mike Glennon play quarterback any longer. And though he made his share of inexperience-based mistakes, Trubisky showed a great arm, a lot of mobility and a skill set that clearly opens up the playbook.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings tried to insert Sam Bradford back into the lineup too soon. It was clear throughout the first half of the Monday night game that Bradford wasn't ready. Putting backup Case Keenum in for the second half allowed the Vikings to pull off a narrow win, but it also threw Bradford's return timeline into further doubt.
Of course, there's one NFC North team with no quarterback problems whatsoever. Once again, Aaron Rodgers dunked on the Cowboys when it counted, showing that he is indeed the most uniquely gifted player at his position.
Still, that doesn't put him at the top of the quarterback rankings this week—that place is reserved for the MVP candidate who's leading the only remaining undefeated team and the most diverse offense in the NFL.
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 they're also adjusted 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 6.
Derek Carr (injured)
Marcus Mariota (injured)
Trevor Siemian (bye)
Matt Ryan (bye)
Drew Brees (bye
Kirk Cousins (bye)
Three usual AFC starting quarterbacks were out of action on Sunday. Trevor Siemian and the Denver Broncos were at home on their bye week, and they will return to action next Sunday night at home against the New York Giants. Both Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota were in street clothes on Sunday, as Carr nurses a back injury and Mariota a hamstring injury.
In the NFC, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Kirk Cousins had bye weeks. These quarterbacks will return to the rankings next week, but as we're ranking based on performance, they're excluded during their byes.
29. Kevin Hogan, Cleveland Browns
Last Week: N/A
Coming on to start the second half in replacement of ineffective starter DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan actually led a touchdown drive on Cleveland's first possession of the second half. The Stanford product hit rookie tight end David Njoku on a corner route where the TE was able to snare a slightly off-target throw and get into the end zone, giving the Browns a short-lived lead.
Hogan finished the day completing 16 of 19 passes for 194 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the second of which was a late running back screen to Duke Johnson Jr. for a 41-yard scamper. Hogan did throw one interception. When he was pressured with a defender in his face, he threw high and behind his target.
Hogan was also effective with his feet, and on a number of run/pass-option plays, he made the right decision to pull the football, keep it himself and attack the edge for good gains on the ground. He also showed the ability to slide around in the pocket, buy some time and make a throw downfield. Perhaps the biggest departure from what we have seen from Kizer to date was his decision-making. Hogan was quicker to get through his reads and made consistently good decisions.
He still stays behind Kizer for the time being. There were moments when we saw the raw ability from the rookie quarterback that Hogan cannot match. Kizer is the potential future of this organization, and Hogan's ceiling appears to be that of a long-term backup/spot-starter. There is nothing wrong with that, and teams would be wise to have a solid No. 2 guy in place.
If the rookie continues to struggle, Hogan might be the guy going forward.
28. DeShone Kizer, Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 31
As I did last week with Jay Cutler, I took to everyone's favorite medium, Twitter, to solicit input on the Cleveland Browns' quarterback situation. The language this week was, again, quite colorful. There were some great GIFs sent over, including this one from Michael Bode which I am required to include because of the Scrubs GIF Auto Retweet Rule. I don't make the laws, everyone.
But the main sentiment was summed up in the two words of this tweet: poorly handled.
Many point to how Hue Jackson has managed rookie DeShone Kizer as the main source of their frustration. First, with how Jackson has set the rookie up to struggle by putting too much on his shoulders and then with how he benched Kizer in a one-score game at the half, replacing him with Hogan.
Kizer did throw a disastrous interception in the red zone when he tried to hit Seth DeValve on a quick out route but stared him down, allowing rookie safety Marcus Maye to undercut the route, secure the interception and prevent the touchdown.
But Kizer also made some good throws that showed his raw talent and promise. He hit Bryce Treggs with a perfect strike on a 3rd-and-14 in the first quarter. Kizer got the ball out of his hands with anticipation, velocity and precision. He had two good throws in the second quarter, first on a post with impressive velocity and later on a throw along the boundary that the receiver could not come down with inbounds. But then came the interception, and shortly after, Jackson made the switch.
A piece by Matt Waldman entitled "Ruining QBs" where Waldman relayed how Marty Schottenheimer handled a young Drew Brees. There were times Schottenheimer was clear with his inexperienced QB that if the situation warranted it, he was going to sit him down and not expose him to more failure. But the Chargers were still his team, and if he was struggling in a one-score game, he would leave him in there to try to win the game.
I know Kizer struggled in this one, but given the situation, I think Jackson should have stayed with the rookie to see how he handled the adversity. Perhaps Jackson had seen enough, but all the evidence to date points to the situation being handled poorly.
27. Matt Cassel, Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 32
Perhaps the biggest play of the day in Sunday's meeting between the Tennessee Titans and the Miami Dolphins illustrated the value Marcus Mariota brings to the Titans offense. On 2nd-and-20 near the end of the first quarter, Matt Cassel dropped back to throw and never saw a blitz coming his way off the right edge. Linebacker Kiko Alonso drilled the quarterback as he was preparing to throw, and safety Reshad Jones scooped up the loose ball and returned it 38 yards for a score.
Adding insult to injury, the play came right after an apparent touchdown pass from Cassel to Delanie Walker was nullified by an offensive pass interference penalty on Jonnu Smith.
Cassel finished the day 21 of 32 for 144 yards and a touchdown, to Phillip Supernaw on a tight end wheel route midway through the third quarter. That was a well-designed red-zone call off play action, and Cassel capped it off with a beautiful touch pass over the underneath defender and into the arms of Supernaw, who executed the over-the-shoulder catch for his first professional touchdown.
But it was that sack and lost fumble—and other plays like it—that was emblematic of Mariota's importance to this offense. Cassel was sacked six times on Sunday, matching the high number of the week posted by Matthew Stafford and Tyrod Taylor. On some of these, like the Alonso sack-fumble, you would anticipate Mariota would be able to get himself out of trouble with his athletic ability. Cassel cannot match the athleticism of the Titans starter. With him in the lineup, pressure shifts to the offensive line and the protection schemes to make sure the pocket is clean because Cassel lacks the ability to make up for mistakes up front.
26. EJ Manuel, Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 33
Starting in the place of the injured Derek Carr, EJ Manuel faced an uphill climb very early in Sunday's game against the visiting Baltimore Ravens. Joe Flacco and company scored on their first offensive possession, and on the Raiders' opening drive, Jared Cook fumbled and the loose ball was returned for a touchdown—14-0 Baltimore before most of the fans had truly settled into their seats.
From that point on, however, Manuel was fairly effective. He completed 13 of 26 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown and did not turn the football over. He was most effective on the move. The touchdown, a 41-yard deep ball to Michael Crabtree, came on a scramble-drill situation where he got outside the pocket, found Crabtree adjusting his route vertically and dropped in a nicely placed throw for the score. He also was able to do something similar later in the game, buying time with his feet before finding Seth Roberts for a big gain. On both plays Manuel showed great athleticism as well as the ability to keep his eyes downfield and find a target in the passing game.
Stepping back for a moment and looking at the bigger picture, the Raiders are struggling right now. Even before Carr was injured, the offense was sluggish and lacked the crisp execution of the first few weeks. Whether Manuel or Carr is taking the snaps, the offense lacks consistency right now, and part of that might be the ineffectiveness of Amari Cooper. He was targeted only twice by Manuel on Sunday, catching only one pass for eight yards. Oakland needs Cooper to get going again to take coverage away from other targets and relieve some of the pressure on Manuel or Carr. Until that happens, the Raiders are likely to stay struggling.
25. Jay Cutler, Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 25
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Miami's trip to London last week was the image of Jay Cutler, with his hands on his hips, seeming disinterested when aligned as a wide receiver in the Wildcat formation. Cutler defended the play this past week, stating that his job was to get out of the way and not get hurt, but it was not a good look.
Worse still was seeing him standing on the sidelines when the Dolphins used the Wildcat on Sunday. Cutler had a good vantage point to see tight end MarQueis Grey line up to take the snap and actually attempt a pass, which fell incomplete.
The Dolphins escaped their home opener with a 16-10 victory over the Matt Cassel-led Tennessee Titans, but Cutler and the offense continued their ineptitude. Cutler completed 12 of 26 passes for a meager 92 yards and a woeful 3.5 yards per attempt. Usually when you become the first person in franchise history to accomplish something, it is a good day, but the mark Cutler set on Sunday stands as a monument to offensive ineptitude. He became the first QB in Dolphins history to win a game with fewer than 100 passing yards on at least 25 attempts, per Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders.
Congratulations on a job...done.
He did have one touchdown throw on a switch concept where he hit Jarvis Landry on a pivot route along the goal line for the score. That was his best throw of the day—it came with great anticipation and was put in the perfect spot for his receiver.
But the rest of the day was a poor showing. Cutler's interception came when he forced a throw in the direction of tight end Anthony Fasano after trying to buy time with his feet under pressure. Fasano had Tye Smith draped over him in coverage, and Smith came down with the interception. Cutler also had a chance to hit Julius Thomas on a deep corner route on a play-action boot concept, but his throw was badly undercooked and Thomas, who was wide open, could not get back to the football.
I'm not ready to call the Dolphins' Jay Cutler Quarterback Experiment over yet, but it is clear the offense has issues that need to be rectified. Cutler still has the ability to make the necessary throws in this league, but whether it is scheme, execution or both, there must be improvement.
24. Sam Bradford, Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: N/A
It's tempting to avoid ranking Bradford at all based on his abbreviated performance against the Bears on Monday night. He was clearly unready to get back in the game for the first time since Week 1, and his performance does not reflect the healthy version of the player. Bradford is still recovering from knee issues, which is why the Vikings replaced him with backup Case Keenum late in the first half. The starter completed five passes in 11 attempts for 36 yards—nothing complicated—and looked unstable when trying to plant and throw.
As a result, he took too long to make decisions more than once, which led to four sacks and a first-quarter safety. Head coach Mike Zimmer shouldn't have put Bradford back in action yet, and Bradford was walking gingerly as a result of all those hits before he left the game. If his starting quarterback is out for additional time, Zimmer has nobody to blame but himself.
23. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 16
Jacksonville found their recipe for success. Take a strong rushing attack in the form of 181 yards on the ground from Leonard Fournette, intercept the opposing quarterback five times, return two of those for touchdowns and make the passing game an afterthought. Blake Bortles attempted only 14 passes—dropping back just twice in the second half—in Jacksonville's 30-9 win on the road over the Steelers.
Bortles completed eight of those 14 passes for 95 yards and one interception. The turnover cannot really be put on the quarterback, as Bortles hit James O'Shaughnessy with a pass, but the tight end was stripped of the ball for the interception before he completed the catch. One throw you can put on the signal-caller was an overthrow to an open Marqise Lee on a deep 9 route which could have been a touchdown.
One standout play from Bortles was a completion on 3rd-and-7 early in the game. Facing the blitz, the QB hung in the pocket until the last moment and hit Lee on a seam route for a big gain. The throw came under heavy pressure, but Bortles showed toughness to stay in the pocket and deliver for his team.
Jacksonville is going to rely on its rushing attack and defense to win games, and given their their sole lead of the AFC South, it appears that script is working for them. With a favorable schedule over the next few weeks, there is a chance we will be giving serious consideration to Jacksonville as a playoff-caliber team when the calendar flips to November. If Bortles can take care of the football and eliminate costly mistakes, that might be all the team needs to reach that status.
22. Brian Hoyer, San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 30
With 9:51 left in the fourth quarter and his team down 23-9 to the Indianapolis Colts, 49ers quarterback Brian Hoyer did what he has so infrequently done this season—he put the offense on his shoulders and engineered a crucial scoring drive. He started with a perfect slot-post pass into the teeth of Indy's zone defense to speedy receiver Marquise Goodwin for 20 yards with safety Malik Hooker lurking. Hoyer then threw an arcing deep pass to a diving Goodwin 51 yards downfield, past cornerback Vontae Davis and safety Matthias Farley, who were tracking their man closely.
Three plays later, fullback Kyle Juszczyk scored from six yards out. Hoyer ran the drive with no huddle on the big plays, and it was an encouraging sign for a quarterback who had failed for the most part to unleash anything big.
The stats reflected Hoyer's turnaround—29 completions in 46 attempts for 353 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Hoyer didn't attempt a ton of deep balls outside of that drive, but with running back Carlos Hyde limited to 11 yards on eight carries and backup Matt Breida gaining 49 yards on 10 carries, it was up to Hoyer to sustain drives.
But after that touchdown drive, the 49ers were still down 23-16, and it was up to Hoyer to tie the game. He hit tight end George Kittle on a coverage bust to open the next drive, with 5:29 left in the game, and held the ball for the next five minutes. The drive ended with a five-yard touchdown pass to Kittle with 24 seconds left in regulation.
That the 49ers lost the game 26-23 in overtime and fell to 0-5 is obviously a disappointment, but Hoyer did show something with those two fourth-quarter touchdown drives. He's still a limited quarterback, and not likely in San Francisco's long-term future at the position, but the fireworks were nice.
21. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears
Last Week: N/A
No matter his inexperience, it was clear from his preseason performances that Trubisky would be a quicker responder both physically and mentally than Mike Glennon was through Chicago's first four games. That's why Trubisky got the start on Monday night against the Vikings; the Bears simply couldn't tolerate any more of Glennon looking like a second-string arena league signal-caller.
Trubisky's stats didn't entirely reflect his performance—12 completions in 25 attempts for 128 yards, one touchdown and one interception—because the Bears were racked by ticky-tack penalties and have a glaring lack of explosive options outside of Tarik Cohen.
For the most part, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains wisely stuck with the plan that worked so well for Trubisky in the preseason. The one-year starter at North Carolina operated primarily out of boot-action looks, which allowed him to use his mobility, froze the linebackers, opened up throwing lanes to the left and right and condensed his reads to one side of the field. He showed once again that he has the arm to make any throw, and though several big early plays were negated due to penalties, the 2017 second overall pick lucked out on his first regular-season touchdown pass. He threw to tight end Zach Miller in the middle of the end zone but didn't see Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo. Fortunately for the rookie, Sendejo tipped the ball to Miller. Then, on the subsequent two-point conversion, Trubisky handed the ball to running back Jordan Howard, who pitched it to Miller to throw back to Trubisky, who ran in for the score.
Chicago hasn't had an offense this fun since Sid Luckman was running the old T Formation in the 1930s and '40s, and it's clear Trubisky opens up the playbook for option possibilities.
Of course, Trubisky showed his inexperience when he missed safety Harrison Smith ready to jump a route on a throw to Miller with less than three minutes left in the game. That pick led to Minnesota's game-winning field goal, but the long-term message is clear: The Bears have their franchise quarterback, and they'll just have to work through his inevitable growing pains.
20. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Last Week: 17
If you wondered how much worse things could get for Eli Manning, consider that in the loss to the previously winless Los Angeles Chargers, Manning lost four receivers due to injury. Odell Beckham Jr. will be out the rest of the season due to a broken ankle, Brandon Marshall suffered his own ankle issue which led to year-ending surgery, Dwayne Harris is lost for the season with a fractured foot and Sterling Shepard is considered day-to-day with an ankle issue.
So, how was your Sunday?
It's unknown how the Giants will spackle their roster in the wake of this, but after watching Manning's performance in Big Blue's 27-22 loss, it's clear he needs more help than he's getting. His stats weren't awful—21 completions in 36 attempts for 225 yards, two touchdowns and one interception—and both of his touchdowns came on impressive deep throws.
Manning found Roger Lewis in the left corner of the end zone on a gorgeous cross-body fade throw with 6:53 left in the third quarter, putting the ball over the head of Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward, one of the best corners in the NFL. And before Beckham was hurt, Manning threw a 48-yard touchdown to him in the fourth quarter, shaking off the attempted blitz of defensive back Desmond King.
The interception came on the last offensive play for the Gants on 4th-and-10 with 49 seconds remaining. He rolled around in the pocket against the Chargers' deep coverage and threw a bad ball that was tipped at the line by Corey Liuget and sailed into triple coverage. Safety Tre Boston was simply the closest to the ball.
Manning is in a precarious situation, as he has been all season—his line does not protect him, his running game is not consistent enough to lean on, and now with so many of his receivers lost, 2017 will be more about survival than advancement. Head coach Ben McAdoo and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan aren't creative enough with their route concepts to elevate inexperienced backups. Manning doesn't have the physical talent to overcome adversity as an Aaron Rodgers might; he needs the offense around him to work to a point, and right now it seems completely broken.
19. Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 27
For the second time this season, Jacoby Brissett threw a bad interception in overtime. Thankfully for he and the Indianapolis Colts, they were able to overcome the mistake, pulling out a victory in the extra session over the visiting San Francisco 49ers.
The turnover came on a 1st-and-goal on the opening drive of overtime. With a chance to put the game away, Brissett tried to hit Darrell Daniels on a seam route, but failed to see the three—yes, three—defenders in the line of the throw. San Francisco dropped a defensive lineman into an underneath zone, and the defensive back aligned across from Daniels pre-snap was also in position. The third player, linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong, stepped in front of the pass for the interception, extending the game for a few more drives.
That one mistake was the main blemish, albeit a rather large one, on a solid afternoon for Brissett. He completed 22 of 34 passes for 314 yards and was held without a touchdown pass, although he did have a scoring play taken away when T.Y Hilton dropped a perfect throw on a corner route.
Brissett was at his best on the move, and between scramble-drill situations and designed rollouts, he had many opportunities to shine in this area. Late in the second quarter on a 2nd-and-11 play to Hilton, Brissett did an excellent job of sliding around in the pocket, extending the play and then finding his man along the boundary with a strike. With two straight games coming up against AFC South foes, the Colts have a chance to make some noise in the division under their backup quarterback.
18. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 7
It was posited last week that storm clouds were on the horizon in Pittsburgh. Well, they arrived Sunday with a vengeance.
All you need to know about Roethlisberger's game is that he completed almost as many passes to Jacksonville Jaguars players—five—as his counterpart Blake Bortles. Does it come as a surprise that in the wake of Antonio Brown's outburst last Sunday that he was the intended target on three of the turnovers?
It wasn't all Roethlisberger's fault. The first interception, on an attempted post route to Vance MacDonald, was a great play by Jalen Ramsey. The defender was in trail technique on the back hip of the tight end and jumped the throw at the last moment for the turnover. The fourth interception, when Big Ben tried to hit Justin Hunter on a seam route, came from the receiver falling down. With Hunter on the turf, the pass sailed right into the chest of the safety helping over the top.
The three interceptions in the direction of Brown, however, were poor plays from the QB. First, Roethlisberger tried to hit Brown on a slant route but never saw the underneath linebacker, who stepped in front of the pass for a pick six. The second pick six of the day came when Roethlisberger forced a throw to Brown in triple coverage that was tipped into the air before being intercepted. Finally, Roethlisberger tried to hit Brown on a vertical route but was pressured, and his badly underthrown floater was intercepted to end a late scoring threat.
After the game, the veteran quarterback wondered if he had lost it. The comment appeared to be largely in jest, but Roethlisberger is struggling with his ball placement, particularly on deep throws. Pittsburgh is still a talented team offensively, and given the quality of play in the AFC North they remain a playoff contender, but they need to sort out their struggles and quickly. Otherwise those storm clouds will continue to hang over Heinz Field.
17. Case Keenum, Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 29
Keenum entered the game late in the second quarter after it was clear that Bradford hadn't fully recovered from his knee issues. The backup did what he generally does: play mistake-free football and put his team in a position to succeed.
Two weeks ago against the Buccaneers, Keenum threw a ton of deep balls in an uncharacteristically explosive performance, but he's a game manager, and that's what he did in the second half against the Bears. He completed 17 of 21 passes for 140 yards, showed mobility when it was needed and got the ball to Jerrick McKinnon.
Most notably, the offense could move with Keenum as it could not with an injured Bradford—he proved that by leading his team to two touchdown drives—and he should be the starter until Bradford is completely healthy.
16. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
Last Week: 23
It's not that Jared Goff had padded his highly impressive second NFL season against weak defenses—nobody would classify the Washington Redskins, San Francisco 49ers or Dallas Cowboys defenses as below-average units. But against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, Goff saw a regression from the cakewalk that the first month of the season appeared to be. Goff had led the league with 9.2 yards per attempt, but he managed just 6.1 yards per attempt in a 16-10 loss.
Goff's primary issue was accuracy on the deep ball—he completed just one pass of 20 or more air yards on nine attempts. That led to his overall inefficiency in completing just 22 of 47 passes for 288 yards and two interceptions. Despite the excellence of the Seahawks defense, several of those deep incompletions came with a clean pocket and an open receiver. His end-zone throw to tight end Gerald Everett was broken up by safety Kam Chancellor, but he overthrew Sammy Watkins more than once—balls were sailing on him as Goff tended to get too upright with his release point without pressure. He also has a tendency to back out of the pocket, which adds complication to his footwork.
The primary problem here was Seattle's secondary being able to take away the concept that had helped Goff above all others this season—that head coach and offensive play-designer Sean McVay was able to present him with an easy first open read. Against Seattle, those first reads were challenged from the line of scrimmage, so Goff had to make throws into finer windows. And that's not something he's quite prepared to do just yet.
Goff's two picks were on shorter passes—he inexplicably overthrew running back Todd Gurley on a simple screen and was intercepted by defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, and he tried an arm throw over the middle that was easily stolen by safety Earl Thomas.
This game should not serve as an indication that Goff's excellent progress through the 2017 season is fool's gold, but it does say that he's still a product of his system, and when his system is upset by a defense that knows what it's doing, he's not yet able to overcome it. In the long run, this loss will serve as a learning experience.
15. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 26
Over the past few weeks, the articles almost wrote themselves. The Baltimore Ravens were anemic on offense, and many pointed to the inability of Joe Flacco to hit on the deep ball. ESPN's Jamison Hensley pointed out Flacco had completed only two passing attempts of 15 yards or more prior to Sunday but had thrown four interceptions on such attempts. Hensley also highlighted that Flacco's yards per attempt of 5.09 was the worst in the league since Bruce Gradkowski posted a 5.06 mark in 2006.
Perhaps that is why the Ravens looked to open up the passing game on Sunday. On their first drive of the game, Flacco hit Mike Wallace with a nice touch pass on a vertical route along the left sideline for a 52-yard gain. In the second quarter, Flacco again hit Wallace, this time behind two defenders, with a deep ball working off play action. The pass was slightly underthrown, which allowed the defenders to tackle Wallace short of the goal-line, but it was well-executed. In the second half, Flacco once more hit Wallace deep, this time on a deeper crossing route for a big gain.
Flacco finished the day completing 19 of 26 passes for 222 yards, and while he was held out of the end zone, the game was arguably his best of the 2017 season. Looking at more advanced statistics, his yards per attempt of 8.54 was well above what he had posted so far this year, but the big outing only minimally improved his position in terms of Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt. Sunday bumped his standing in that category to 3.70 on the year, where he is currently ranked 31st in the league, above only DeShone Kizer. So while it was a good performance from Flacco, we'll need to see more outings like this before we start moving him back up these rankings.
14. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 24
Against the Philadelphia Eagles, Palmer threw incompletions on his first three passes, took a sack from Eagles end Brandon Graham on his fourth dropback before finally completing a quick pass to halfback Elijhaa Penny on 3rd-and-16 when Philly's defense was playing back. Throughout Arizona's 34-7 loss, Palmer struggled with the combination of pressure and tight coverage, completing 28 of 44 passes for 291 yards and a touchdown. His first pass of the third drive was a cross-body intermediate throw to J.J. Nelson that was nearly intercepted by cornerback Patrick Robinson.
Palmer did hit Jaron Brown at the start of the second quarter for 20 yards, but his best throw came later in that quarter—the touchdown pass to John Brown with 11:47 left in the first half. Palmer waited through a double A-gap blitz and hit Brown perfectly out of a stack release against cornerback Jalen Mills. This play showed that when Palmer has protection and receivers get open within the designs of their routes, he can still sling it.
Sadly, it doesn't happen a lot. Palmer is stuck in an offense where there's far too much five-man protection for the quality of line play, and through he does have a pretty good stable of receivers, the lack of protection and Palmer's slow feet through the pocket have forced the Cardinals to employ more of a short passing game to get their quarterback in any kind of rhythm. This was a problem last year as well, but with running back David Johnson on the field making great yards-after-catch gains and taking to his backfield routes like a true receiver, it was masked. With Johnson out, the Cardinals must choose between praying a few deep shots will work and reinventing their offense around a dink-and-dunk philosophy. That Palmer has been able to make those deep shots happen is a testament to his toughness and resiliency.
Through five weeks of the 2017 season, Palmer has completed 11 of 31 deep balls for 318 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. In the entire 2016 season, he completed 22 of 69 deep balls for 700 yards, five touchdowns and five picks. The offense's regression is not on Palmer; it's more on an offensive line that doesn't protect for deep passing and seven-step drops.
13. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 14
The rogue quarterbacking gene that has Jameis Winston throwing far too many bad passes despite his obvious talent showed up in Tampa Bay's 19-14 loss to the Patriots last Thursday night. Winston completed just 26 of 46 passes against what had been just about the worst pass defense in the NFL, and though he did make some big plays with his arm, consistency is the order of the day for the league's best quarterbacks, especially against vulnerable defenses.
Winston completed just three of nine deep balls against New England for 71 yards and a touchdown, and the incompletions seemed to come from two sources—inefficient mechanics on the move and a desire to throw into really tight windows. Winston was throwing late with a clean pocket, meaning he had to make fine throws into tight windows instead of throwing his receivers open. And when he was pressured, Winston struggled to do what quarterbacks must do on the move—square their shoulders to the target and have some sort of foundational base. Too often, Winston's mechanics were random, and his throws were random as a result.
The slot fade he tried to throw to DeSean Jackson with 2:35 left in the third quarter was a perfect example of what happens when you throw late into coverage. Jackson had cornerback Malcolm Butler beaten to the boundary if Winston had made the over-the-top throw a tick earlier, but by the time he released the ball, safety Duron Harmon had moved from his deep fourth to bracket Jackson and almost came up with an interception.
Right now, Winston is not playing with timing, rhythm or consistency, and Tampa Bay's offense will be a boom-or-bust entity until that changes, no matter how much talent is on the field.
12. Josh McCown, New York Jets
Last Week: 28
Remember the summer? When the takes were flying and everybody knew exactly what to expect in the upcoming football season? The New York Jets were looking at 0-16, and one of the young quarterbacks in the collegiate game, perhaps Sam Darnold or Josh Allen, would be the savior. Now, those young arms are struggling, and the Jets are tied for first place in the AFC East with a chance to take sole possession on Sunday if they can beat the New England Patriots at home.
Josh McCown has been a big reason for New York's surprising start. He was effective and efficient yet again on Sunday, completing 22 of 30 passes for 194 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The first scoring play came on a perfectly placed fade route to Austin Seferian-Jenkins on a goal-line fade play. The second was a longer strike, a 24-yarder to Jermaine Kearse. That play was a well-designed fake smoke screen, and McCown hit Kearse streaking up the sideline after pumping on the screen.
The one interception highlights the ceiling the Jets face with McCown under center. He tried to throw a quick out pattern to the left boundary, and even though he did not stare the route down and got the football out on time with some anticipation, Jason McCourty was able to read the play and drive on the throw for the interception. That's why the team likely addresses the position in the next draft regardless of how the rest of the season unfolds.
Under new offensive coordinator John Morton, a man heavily influenced by West Coast minds such as Jim Harbaugh and Sean Payton, McCown is running New York's offense very well. He is getting the football out quickly and avoiding mistakes. With a stout defense, the Jets might be developing into legitimate contenderslike we all expected them to back in the blazing heat of August.
11. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Last Week: 8
Matthew Stafford has been one of the most prolific quarterbacks of his era, but in 2017, he's learning to become more of an integrated player in an offense with a more coherent run game. That's one reason for his slow statistical start—right now, he's on pace for a 3,571-yard season, which would put him under 4,000 yards for the first time since 2010. Another reason for Stafford's slow start—he doesn't have a 300-yard game yet in 2017—is a depleted offensive line that forces him to get rid of the ball more quickly than he'd like.
Against the Panthers' stout front seven in a 27-24 loss on Sunday, Stafford did the best he could to sustain drives, mostly through short aerial gains. He attempted just two passes of 20 or more air yards, completing neither, and the only big play the Lions got through the passing game was a free play in the first quarter after linebacker Thomas Davis jumped offside, and cornerback Daryl Worley interfered with Marvin Jones downfield. Stafford had a route miscommunication with Jones to the right side and a throwaway to the left side to tight end Eric Ebron for his two deep incompletions.
Despite leg injuries that hobbled him through the second half, Stafford hung in and played tough. But the line can't sustain protection, and Stafford was sacked six times for the second straight week. There are those who have issues with offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter's refusal to call deep passing plays, but the truth is most route concepts have at least one deep option, and Stafford can only hit what he has time to see. Everything about Detroit's offense, from the increased focus on the run game to Stafford's less-than-impressive yardage numbers, should be seen in that context.
10. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 12
Conditions in Cincinnati were difficult for passing, and it certainly showed with Tyrod Taylor. From his first passing attempt on the afternoon to his final throw, Taylor seemed to struggle a bit in the wet conditions.
Taylor opened the game trying to hit tight end Charles Clay in the flat on a quick out route, but the ball came out of his hand awkwardly and was very low, and the wide-open tight end could not make the catch. Taylor closed the day by air-mailing a throw that was intercepted with the Bills trying to put together one last drive and potentially take the lead. But Taylor's throw to Zay Jones was well off the mark and was intercepted to seal the game.
Taylor completed 20 of 37 passes for only 166 yards, one touchdown and the single interception. The touchdown pass, a 12-yard throw to Brandon Tate, was a perfect 3rd-and-10 throw on a seam route right along the back line of the end zone over and around multiple underneath defenders.
His willingness to bail out of clean pockets stood out too. On multiple occasions Taylor looked to make something happen with his feet rather than giving the play a chance to come together, and there were other instances when Taylor exited the back door and got himself into trouble rather than staying patient and climbing the pocket. This was reflected in the six sacks for a loss of 47 total yards. While Taylor is a threat on the run and does a great job extending plays with his feet, there are times he needs to stay in the pocket and work within the structure of the play.
9. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 19
Two things have happened in the last three weeks to make Carson Wentz a better and more comfortable quarterback: The Eagles have found a consistent running game, and the offensive line has improved in both run-blocking and pass protection. With his mobility, sense of improvisation on the big play and deep arm, Wentz is an ideal play-action quarterback, and the Eagles offense suits that perfectly.
In Philly's 34-17 thrashing of the Cardinals, Wentz may have enjoyed the best game of his young career, completing 21 of 30 passes for 304 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Three of those touchdown passes came in the first quarter, with Wentz hitting tight end Trey Burton on a slot fade to the left over safety/linebacker Deone Bucannon out of trips left for the first. Wentz's second touchdown went to tight end Zach Ertz on a quick angle route where his receiver out-muscled safety Tyvon Branch. He ended his trio of first-quarter scores with a deep post to Torrey Smith, who beat cornerback Justin Bethel.
Wentz's fourth touchdown came with 6:29 left in the third quarter and may have been the best throw he had all day. He moved up in the pocket to evade pressure and threw a beautiful over route to slot receiver Nelson Agholor. The ball was placed just where Agholor could get it, and safety Budda Baker could only watch as his man cruised by.
Wentz's ability to reset out of pressure has been a happenstance thing to date, but he's learning to merge his physical tools to an understanding of the passing game, and the progression has been impressive. That the run game has come along as well makes Philadelphia's offense one of the NFL's most dangerous.
8. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 5
Russell Wilson has generally struggled against the Rams, no matter how bad their offenses may have been in the Jeff Fisher era, because Seattle's undermanned and poorly designed offensive lines generally have no answer for the Rams defensive line. That proved true again on Sunday, as Wilson completed just 24 of 37 passes for 198 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Most of his throws were designed to get the ball out as quickly as possible before Aaron Donald and friends destroyed the pocket.
Wilson was pressured on 22 of his 43 dropbacks, with three sacks and 12 completions in 17 attempts for 94 yards. His interception didn't come out of pressure—with 10:39 left in the first half, Wilson tried to find tight end Luke Willson on a simple out route, but safety John Johnson III jumped the route and was only prevented from scoring a touchdown by Wilson's ankle tackle 68 yards downfield.
For the most part, deep passing wasn't an issue for Wilson, and it wasn't because he didn't have time to find his receivers downfield. Three of his four deep misses came with a relatively clean pocket. He threw Doug Baldwin into coverage on a deep throw early in the first quarter, overthrew running back J.D. McKissic on a slot go route later in the game's opening stanza, cornerback Kayvon Webster broke up a subsequent deep boundary throw to receiver Paul Richardson, and Wilson missed receiver Tyler Lockett in the third quarter on the only long throw in which he had real pressure.
In the end, Wilson was bailed out by his defense in Seattle's 16-10 win. But with running back Chris Carson injured, this offense has to go through Wilson, and he had big plays to be made against the Rams' impressive defense. He couldn't get it done, and for once, it wasn't entirely the fault of his line.
7. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
Last Week: 13
In a showdown between two of the remaining quarterbacks from the 2004 draft class, the previously winless Los Angeles Chargers went on the road and pulled out a victory over the now 0-5 New York Giants. For his part, Philip Rivers shook off some of the criticism levied his way this week by completing 21 of 44 passes for 258 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
We can get the interception out of the way first. It was a poor decision and a worse throw. Facing a 3rd-and-7 in the red zone, Rivers locked onto his primary read, Keenan Allen, on a seam route and threw right to a defender for a bad turnover. That throw came on the Chargers' opening drive of the second half when they with the team clinging to a 10-9 lead, and it negated a chance for the visitors to pick up critical points.
That was Rivers' biggest mistake on the afternoon, but his overall play was more in line with the three touchdowns he threw against a struggling Giants defense. He opened the scoring with a slant/flat combination throw to Melvin Gordon for a short touchdown. On that play, Rivers first looked to the slant with the Giants in man coverage, but when the slant receiver started to stumble, Rivers flashed his eyes outside to his running back for the score. The second TD strike, a throw to Hunter Henry for a red-zone touchdown, showed Rivers doing a great job of sliding in the pocket and away from pressure before driving in a high-velocity throw off his back foot for the score. The third touchdown, another to Gordon, came on a well-designed RB out route where Rivers spotted his running back wide open in the flat for a walk-in score.
6. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 20
At first blush, Andy Dalton's numbers from Cincinnati's 20-16 victory over the Buffalo Bills at home do not seem impressive. Dalton completed 22 of 36 passes for 328 yards with one touchdown and a pair of interceptions. But moving past the box score and putting the game into context, it was one of the stronger outings of the season from Dalton.
As noted in the Tyrod Taylor slide, the game was played in wet, rainy conditions, which impacted Taylor but did not affect Dalton. Most of his throws were on target and in near-perfect spots for his targets to secure receptions and gain yardage after the catch. In fact, both of his interceptions were decently placed throws to A.J. Green where the usually sure-handed receiver could not secure the catch and the ball deflected into the waiting arms of a Buffalo defender. You might put a bit of blame on Dalton for the first, when his throw on a slant route was high, but the second was in almost perfect position.
The scoring strike, a deep vertical route to Green, was a thing of beauty. Green was able to get separation on his route against man coverage, and Dalton dropped in a perfect bucket throw through the rain.
However, it was noticeable that some of Dalton's decisions seemed to be slow in the pocket. Whether it was due to the coverage he was seeing, the conditions or something else is hard to tell, but on a few plays he could have gotten the ball out quicker, and that made his eventual throw a tougher one due to the converging defenders.
Don't look now, but with two straight wins—and struggles in Pittsburgh and Baltimore—the Bengals are suddenly back in the mix in the AFC North with Dalton starting to play well under new offensive coaching.
5. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 22
Cam Newton certainly made a mess of things with his comments about female reporters discussing routes, but on the field, he's been far more on-target of late. Per ESPN's Field Yates, Newton's completion rate has improved every week this season—from 56 percent in Week 1, to 62.5 percent, 65.4 percent, 75.9 percent, and finally 78.8 percent in Carolina's 27-24 win over the Lions on Sunday. Newton turned tight end Ed Dickson into a star with a five-catch, 175-yard day, and he distributed the ball well to primary receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess.
Newton hit Dickson on a skinny post with 6:14 left in the first quarter that Dickson turned into a 64-yard play after the catch. Newton timed the throw perfectly with optimal lower-body mechanics and a quick, efficient release. The second big play to Dickson came on a 3rd-and-1 early in the second quarter with the Lions reading run. Newton faked the ball to halfback Jonathan Stewart out of an I formation, then rolled to his left as Detroit's defense cheated to the run. Dickson was wide open to the left side for a 57-yard gain. The Lions were outfoxed again and again by the specter of the run and option games, which are a huge part of Newton's best passing performances. His touchdown shovel pass to rookie halfback Christian McCaffrey was a perfect example of this.
The Panthers had the ball at the Lions' 6-yard line with 11:09 left in the first half. Stewart was in the backfield in an offset pistol and McCaffrey in a right-side H-back placement. At the snap, rookie receiver Curtis Samuel ran a fake sweep from left to right, forcing both nickel linebackers to take a step the wrong way. Stewart then flared out to the left as the first read in the run-pass option, and McCaffrey pulled with the right guard from right to left. With the Lions focused on four possible options—the pitch to Stewart, the pass to McCaffrey, Newton running or Newton throwing—it was easy for the sginal-caller to give McCaffrey the his first NFL touchdown.
Newton's stat line—26 completions in 33 attempts for 355 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions—would be a great day for any quarterback. That the Panthers were able to fully integrate their ground game into Newton's improving reads and mechanics makes them a very tough out for any defense they face.
What a difference a month can make.
4. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
Last Week: 21
Many expected Sunday night's matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans to be the first true test of rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson. The rookie would be facing a tough defense that had given more seasoned QBs such as Brady, Kirk Cousins and Philip Rivers trouble. For the most part, Watson passed that test with flying colors.
His numbers were inflated thanks to a late touchdown to DeAndre Hopkins, but they were impressive nonetheless. Watson completed 16 of 31 passes for 261 yards and five touchdowns without turning the football over. While there were some decisions he got away with, such as a throw to Hopkins on a slant that could have been intercepted by the underneath linebacker, Watson was strong in the vertical passing game. His first touchdown, a red-zone strike to Hopkins on a Bang 8 post route, was a precision throw along the back line of the end zone that was drilled into his target with great velocity and placement.
But it was his touchdown strike to Will Fuller V that opened many eyes. On that play, Watson was pressured off the edge and as the defender looked to strip the ball, the QB deftly changed hands to avoid the strip, before switching back to his right and and uncorking a beautiful deep ball for the score. It was a move that Arya Stark would admire.
Looking at the overall picture for a moment, the main story regarding Watson is that the rookie quarterback is improving week to week. There will continue to be mistakes—all young QBs make them—but Watson is growing before our eyes with each throw, play and drive. With home games the next few weeks against both Cleveland and Indianapolis, Watson can turn in some more solid performances and continue to develop into a more complete NFL quarterback.
3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Last Week: 3
Tom Brady's Thursday night did not start the way he hoped, as he threw his first interception of the 2017 season on New England's opening drive. The veteran QB also lost a fumble on a sack later in the game. But despite those two miscues, Brady helped propel the Patriots back into the win column down in Tampa Bay in their 19-14 victory over the Buccaneers.
With Rob Gronkowski sidelined, the Patriots relied on their wide receivers as well as their running backs to attack a banged-up linebacker group, and Brady sprayed the ball around to James White, Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola among others. On one of his bigger throws, a long completion to James White, Brady showed why defenses can get burned if they blitz an experienced passer. Brady saw that White was in one-on-one coverage with a defensive end and laid in a perfect bucket throw on a deep wheel route for a big gain.
Another play which showed Brady's wisdom, but went largely unnoticed, was a no-throw decision he made in the second half. Facing a 3rd-and-goal situation, Brady looked to Amendola on a spot route over the middle. But just before he pulled the trigger, Brady saw rookie linebacker Kendall Beckwith driving on the route. Brady held onto the ball and managed a short gain, but it was a much smarter decision than forcing a throw that might have been intercepted. By pulling the ball down, Brady kept his team in position for three crucial points.
The victory pushed New England back to 3-2 and set up a showdown at MetLife Stadium this weekend with the 3-2 New York Jets, with first place in the AFC East potentially on the line.
2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 1
When Aaron Rodgers is on his game, it's just about impossible for any defense to stop his combination of mobility, velocity and accuracy. Rodgers had such a game against the Cowboys on Sunday afternoon, completing 19 of 29 passes for 221 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. The yardage numbers weren't "elite," but the Packers were also able to get their run game going with relative unknown Aaron Jones.
Jones' success opened up play action, and Rodgers connected with tight end Lance Kendricks on a 24-yard play with 5:37 left in the first quarter against a Cowboys three-linebacker base defense. When he faked to Jones, it gave Kendricks an intermediate opening on a seam route.
None of his touchdowns were deep balls, but each showed his mastery of the passing game. The 10-yard first-quarter strike to Davante Adams was as pretty a fade throw as you'll see, as Rodgers put the ideal arc and timing on the throw for Adams to get past cornerback Anthony Brown. He baited Dallas' linebackers with play action at the start of the fourth quarter and hit Jordy Nelson wide open in the middle of the end zone on a 10-yard score, and his cross-body throw to Adams to win the game with 16 seconds left was equally impressive—he put the ball where Adams could get it, and all cornerback Jourdan Lewis could do was watch. Lewis had great coverage on Adams through the route, but he couldn't match the catch point.
This wasn't the most statistically impressive game of Rodgers' career, but ask the Cowboys how important his throws were—and how tough they were to defend.
1. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 2
Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs continued their dream start to 2017, handling the Houston Texans by a final score of 42-34 on Sunday night. The final score was closer than the game truly was, as the Texans scored a touchdown in the final seconds to close the gap with the contest already decided.
Smith was nearly flawless, much like he has been throughout the season, completing 29 of 37 passes for 324 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. His ability to use his legs, extend plays outside of the pocket, and remain deadly on the run stands out right now. His first touchdown toss of the night is a prime example. Smith took the shotgun snap and was pressured, so he rolled to his left to buy time. Then, he spotted Charcandrick West along the goal line with a step on his defender. While rolling to his left, Smith was able to stop and throw back to West, dropping his arm angle to fit the football around a defender closing on him and place the pass perfectly for the touchdown. Plays like this make Smith and the Kansas City offense almost impossible to defend.
There were a few mistakes, such as a 3rd-and-5 incompletion on Kansas City's opening drive to an open Travis Kelce. Smith's tight end was open, and the play could have gone for a touchdown, but Smith was slightly pressured and could not get enough on the throw. However, Smith was on point for most of the night and did not make any mistakes. Right now, the Chiefs are playing great football, and Smith is a huge reason for their undefeated start.