NFL1000: Doug Farrar's Week 11 QB Rankings
If there's one thing we've learned in 2017 that we already knew, it's that there are few more crucial relationships in sports than the one between a quarterback and his coaching staff and play designers. Against defenses that are more athletic, aggressive and diverse every season, quarterbacks need to get the edge through more than just arm strength and receivers who can beat up cornerbacks downfield. More than ever, quarterbacks need their targets schemed open and their opportunities dictated by their play designers so that they can comfortably execute the game plan.
Our top two quarterbacks this week are perfect examples of that. Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams has been the beneficiary of new head coach Sean McVay's expansive route concepts all season long, and it's been fascinating to watch him grow in a constructive environment as opposed to the debacle that was the Rams offense in 2016. Goff is now showing his physical gifts in an offense that maximizes them while bringing him along as a full-field reader. His definitive performance against the Houston Texans in a blowout win was yet another step in the right direction.
Of course, Tom Brady doesn't need lessons in anything. It's hard to think of a quarterback in NFL history who has adapted productively to more schemes and players in his career, and in the New England Patriots' beatdown of the Denver Broncos on Sunday night, Brady threw deep less than he has this season. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels added in running back option routes and pre-snap shifts that put Denver's linebackers and safeties on edge while avoiding their top-tier cornerbacks.
In both the Goff and Brady examples, coaching matters, and that's true if you're in your second season or your 18th.
Our weekly quarterback rankings are decided and written by myself, NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar, and quarterbacks scout Mark Schofield. I evaluate all AFC quarterbacks, and Schofield does the same with the NFC quarterbacks.
We combine tape analysis and advanced metrics to give you a sense of which quarterbacks are trending up, down and which are better or worse than their reputations might imply.
The rankings are based on recent performance, but they are also adjusted for opponent, talent around the quarterback and the player's history over the last few years.
Good news for some, bad news for others. Here are the NFL1000 quarterback rankings ahead of Week 11.
The following quarterbacks had byes in Week 10:
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
The bye week quarterbacks will return to the rankings next week, but as we're ranking based on performance, they're excluded when they're not playing.
29. Tom Savage, Houston Texans
Last Week: 25
Teams tend to get the quarterback situations they deserve. The position is so hard to play, it's exceedingly rare that you get a Tom Brady in the sixth round, or a Russell Wilson in the third round, who's able to start at a top-tier level without years of NFL reps. Most of the time, the best you can do is scheme around the guy you have at the position and hope for the best.
When the Texans lost Deshaun Watson for the rest of the season in early November, they chose to go with Tom Savage because, as a fourth-round pick of the Texans in 2014, he understood head coach Bill O'Brien's system. He had been in enough meeting rooms and on enough practice fields to understand what his coaches wanted him to do, and never mind his career 54.1 completion percentage or two career touchdowns against three career interceptions. The Texans were going to stay in-house as opposed to, say, signing an available quarterback who would have been potentially marvelous in the system O'Brien had put in place for Watson.
So, when Savage completes 18 of 36 passes for 221 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and two lost fumbles, as he did in Houston's 33-7 loss to the Rams on Sunday, the Texans are telling you they're OK with that version of a quarterback. When Savage gets sacked three times and is pressured on play after play because his line is suboptimal and he's not effectively mobile in or out of the pocket, the Texans are telling you they're OK with that version of a quarterback. And when O'Brien says, as he did on Monday, that Savage will start against the Arizona Cardinals, the Texans are really telling you they're OK with that version of a quarterback. With other and better options available to them, the Texans are standing pat.
This isn't really Savage's fault—he is the player he is, and no competitive quarterback in his right mind is going to turn down a starting job in the NFL. But he completely missed the backside pressure from all-world defensive tackle Aaron Donald on his first sack/fumble in the first quarter, and he missed the front-side pressure from linebacker Samson Ebukam on the second sack/fumble in the third quarter, missing a wide-open Braxton Miller in the right flat. Whether he didn't see Miller or was simply too slow to respond, we've seen enough of these plays in which Savage gets himself blown up in the pocket with slow response time to adhere a percentage of blame to the quarterback.
The game log says that Savage's interception late in the second quarter was intended for tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, but as there were two Rams defenders in front of Fiedorowicz, it would be equally accurate to say that the pass was intended for Mark Barron, who picked it off easily.
The Texans are now 3-6, and they are sticking with a quarterback who removes most of the playbook from on-field reality because they don't have any more inspiring options on the roster. That they recently signed Josh Johnson, who hasn't thrown a regular-season pass since 2011 and was Colin Kaepernick's third-string backup in San Francisco in 2012, sends a strong message as to how deep the invective against Kaepernick goes. This isn't a referendum on Kaepernick as much as it is a statement of incredulity that there are NFL teams who would prefer to put themselves in potentially losing situations than address a modicum of controversy for the betterment of their offenses.
No team better reflects that right now than this one.
28. Nathan Peterman, Buffalo Bills
Last Week: N/A (DNP)
Nathan Peterman, the Buffalo Bills' fifth-round rookie from Pitt, got his first regular-season action with 4:53 left in Buffalo's blowout loss to the New Orleans Saints after the team had apparently seen enough of Tyrod Taylor for the day. He completed seven of 10 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown on two drives when New Orleans was generally playing a more passive "Let's get out of the stadium" defense.
Most of Peterman's completions came from short passes underneath that coverage, though he did connect with new receiver Kelvin Benjamin on a deep pass, which Taylor could not—of course, Peterman was able to find Benjamin in a more forgiving coverage situation than Taylor generally faced. Near the end of this game, the Saints defensive backs weren't as aggressive with their man-on-man pattern-reading stuff.
Still, Peterman did show poise in the pocket and an ability to step up to avoid pressure and scan his reads. And he showed good timing with tight end Nick O'Leary on his seven-yard touchdown pass on a shallow cross with 1:54 left in the game. Whether that turns into a starting shot in the near future probably has more to do with whether Taylor can rebound after the worst starting performance of his career.
There will likely be a lot of calls from Bills fans for a change at quarterback, but it's important to remember that Peterman wasn't that impressive in the preseason, completing 54.4 percent of his passes, and he wasn't facing an optimal version of the Saints defense when he was in this game. The backup is always more attractive when the starter is struggling—call it the allure of the unknown—but that doesn't make Peterman the answer. At least, not yet.
27. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 24
It was not pretty, but in his first start of the 2017 season in place of Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick guided the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 15-10 victory over his former team, the New York Jets. The journeyman backup completed 17 of 34 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown, with one interception.
Fitzpatrick, like he did last week, showed some ability to move around in the pocket and extend plays with his footwork as well as his play strength. On a 3rd-and-10 play late in the first quarter, he was able to climb the pocket and stay upright with defenders at his feet, but his passing attempt was off the mark. One thing that was noticeable was how often Fitzpatrick looked to slide to his left while in the pocket, regardless of the route structure or protection scheme.
His scoring pass came in the fourth quarter to running back Charles Sims on a slant/flat concept with the running back executing the slant route. Fitzpatrick looked immediately in his direction and made both a quick decision and an accurate throw for the score.
Another positive development for Tampa Bay was the game from rookie wide receiver Chris Godwin. Fitzpatrick looked in his direction often, and the rookie had his best game as a professional, catching five passes for 68 yards. A good example of the relationship between Fitzpatrick and Godwin came on a deep out pattern late in the third quarter where Fitzpatrick put the throw right on the boundary and the rookie receiver made the catch and got both feet inbounds for the completion.
One final twist to this game of note. Something that was noticeable watching Fitzpatrick against his former team was his long, elongated throwing motion. For Jets fans watching this game—and perhaps pining for Sam Darnold—you got a taste of what that motion can do against NFL defenses. Against the speed of NFL defenders, every millisecond matters, and on a few throws Sunday, such as his interception, Fitzpatrick was late and it cost him.
26. Drew Stanton, Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 23
Drew Stanton made his second start of the 2017 season on Thursday night against the visiting Seattle Seahawks but was unable to lead the Cardinals to a second straight divisional win. In the 22-16 loss, Stanton completed 24 of 47 passes for 273 yards and a touchdown, without an interception. But on perhaps the biggest play of the game, it was Stanton's decision-making, or lack thereof, that cost the Cardinals.
His touchdown came on a well-designed tight end screen to Jermaine Gresham, who might be the biggest beneficiary of Stanton's time under center. With the backup in the game Thursday night, the tight end caught five passes for 64 yards and a touchdown, and his production has increased with Stanton as the starter, as Gresham has caught touchdowns in back-to-back weeks. Stanton also showed good touch and anticipation on a variety of throws against the Seahawks, most notably on a 4th-and-4 pick play in the fourth quarter where he hit Larry Fitzgerald on a wheel route.
But there were some missed opportunities in the passing game as well. On a 4th-and-9 play before halftime, Stanton looked to J.J. Nelson on a vertical route, but the pass was just a hair in front of the receiver, who could not secure the reception. In the third quarter, Stanton looked to Troy Niklas in the red zone on a post route, but even though the tight end was open, the pass was high and fell incomplete.
Stanton also faced a situation early in the second quarter where the Cardinals faced a 1st-and-10 deep in their own territory. Seattle put eight defenders in the box, and the quarterback stayed with the running play, which the Seahawks stopped in the backfield for a safety. Stanton might have been wise to get out of that play given the formation, alignment and situation, and he had a stack-slot alignment to the left side of the formation that might have provided an opportunity for a quick throw.
25. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 7
On Sunday, Tyrod Taylor was the latest victim of a Saints pass defense that has improved drastically over the 2017 season, with more man coverage and receiver pattern-reading as opposed to passive trailing. Taylor had his worst game of the season, completing just nine of 18 passes for 56 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. In fact, it was the worst game of his career as a starter. This despite the debut of receiver Kelvin Benjamin, whom the Bills acquired from the Carolina Panthers on October 31, and the return of tight end Charles Clay, who had been out since Week 5 with a knee injury.
Taylor connected with Benjamin just once on three targets for nine yards—it was Peterman who threw two complete passes to the new guy in the fourth quarter. Taylor overthrew Benjamin on an end-zone fade with 11:12 left in the first quarter. He threw behind Benjamin on the next play, a simple 10-yard out route underneath the coverage of cornerback Ken Crawley. Aside from a nine-yard slant to Benjamin with 44 seconds elapsed in the first quarter, Taylor couldn't get on the same page with his new receiver.
Route and timing miscommunications are common with quarterbacks and receivers who are just getting to know each other, but as this game was the Bills' first since Taylor's seven-sack disaster against the Jets on November 2, and you can imagine how much the Bills wanted their quarterback to get into some kind of rhythm, this was a major disappointment.
Taylor almost hit receiver Deonte Thompson on a nice deep throw in the third quarter, but Thompson couldn't hang on with cornerback P.J. Williams forcing the issue. Taylor overthrew several deep passes, showing issues both in the pocket and on the move in getting his timing together with his targets. And this wasn't just an issue with Benjamin—Taylor had an opportunity to connect with running back LeSean McCoy on a deep ball in the third quarter and threw the ball clear of his target.
Taylor's interception wasn't really his fault—Clay bobbled a short pass and lineman Sheldon Rankins picked it off—but he had more than enough troubles on his own. Right now, it appears that Taylor is playing too frantically in the pocket, he's having trouble with the timing of his reads, and he's not making tight throws into coverage. It doesn't help his case that both the Jets and the Saints aligned their defenders to force Taylor to throw from the pocket when he wanted to run to expand the pocket, and you can bet other teams will pick that up. Taylor will have to adjust.
Head coach Sean McDermott said after the game that Taylor will be the starter going forward, per ESPN's Mike Rodak, but if this game is more than a negative one-off against a wonderful defense, it's hard not to imagine Peterman pressing the issue.
24. C.J. Beathard, San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 26
In the "Showdown in Santa Clara," C.J. Beathard and the San Francisco 49ers notched their first win of the 2017 season by dispatching the visiting New York Giants, sending their NFC East opponents home with a 1-8 record. Beathard turned in his best performance in the league by far, completing 19 of 25 passes for 288 yards and a pair of touchdowns to go with one interception. It was the first time he completed more than 60 percent of his passes in a game this season (76 percent, where his previous high was only 57.9 percent), and it was his highest single-game QBR of the season (92.5, topping his previous high of 57.6).
Beathard's first scoring strike of the afternoon came on a gorgeous deep ball to Marquise Goodwin for an 83-yard touchdown on a well-run post route. That play will likely be remembered because of the emotional outpouring after the score. Goodwin, who was playing mere hours after he and his wife lost their baby boy because of complications during pregnancy, was swarmed by his teammates after reaching the end zone.
Later in the second quarter, Beathard threw his second touchdown pass of the game when he hit Garrett Celek on a crossing route. Beathard spotted him matched up against a linebacker, and once again, the Giants failed to cover a tight end, and Celek was off to the races with a long scoring play.
Beathard added a touchdown run of his own in the second half when he rolled out to his right but spotted a lot of open space in front of him. Rather than force a throw into coverage in the red zone, the rookie simply tucked the football and darted into the end zone for the score.
After taking a beating last week from the Cardinals on a whopping 51 passing attempts, Beathard enjoyed a much more pleasant afternoon in the pocket against the Giants. At some point, Kyle Shanahan might turn to the recently acquired Jimmy Garoppolo, but on this afternoon at least, Beathard was the quarterback of the present for the 49ers, and his play helped earn them their first win of the 2017 season.
23. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 17
At one point in the Jacksonville Jaguars' 20-17 overtime win over the Los Angeles Chargers, it looked like Blake Bortles had it all figured out. From 6:15 to 2:10 of the third quarter, the Jaguars went on an 11-play, 84-yard drive that ended with a six-yard touchdown pass to receiver Marqise Lee. All 11 plays were passes—a radical shift from the team's general philosophy of hiding its quarterback behind a physical running game and a great defense—and Bortles completed seven of those attempts.
Bortles reacted well to pressure for the most part, though he did have a couple of weird throwaways, and he found open targets created by pre-snap motion. The drive tied the game at 14-14, and it appeared the Jaguars finally had the quarterback they'd always hoped Bortles would be: a drive-extending passer with the capacity for the big play.
But he threw two interceptions within the fourth quarter's two-minute mark. First was an ill-conceived throw under pressure that cornerback Casey Hayward tipped to safety Tre Boston. Then, after being hit as he let the ball go, Bortles overthrew deep on 3rd-and-25 to Boston again, with no Jaguars receivers in the vicinity.
Philip Rivers' overtime interception to cornerback A.J. Bouye set up Josh Lambo's 30-yard field goal, and the Jaguars won their third straight game to move to 6-3.
As much as Bortles helped set up the win, he also put the Jaguars in position to lose more than once, which seems to be the script when he shoulders the load as a passer. He completed 28 of 51 attempts for 273 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, and it was clear he was jumpy and balky under pressure in ways top-tier quarterbacks just aren't. There's a randomness to Bortles' play that seems to show up at the worst possible time, often just after he's shown a glimpse of the ability required to be a franchise QB. The Jaguars have had to learn to live with these inconsistencies.
22. DeShone Kizer, Cleveland Browns
Last Week: N/A (Bye)
Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson said DeShone Kizer probably played his best NFL game against he Detroit Lions in Cleveland's 38-24 Sunday loss. While Jackson has mismanaged his own quarterback situation more than once this season, he's right in this case. Kizer has struggled with the quickness of the game through his rookie campaign, leading to late throws and unnecessary sacks, but he looked far more comfortable against Detroit's defense.
As Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com points out, when Kizer left the game in the third quarter with a rib injury, the score was 24-24, and Kizer had completed 15 of 24 passes for 178 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions, with 57 rushing yards and a touchdown on seven carries. Kizer came back into the game with 4:28 left in the fourth quarter, but the Lions had scored two touchdowns in his absence, and it was too late for a comeback.
The failed quarterback sneak attempt at the end of the first half was a bad decision, but Kizer made up for that with a one-yard run late in the third quarter. He was quicker to release the ball and stayed in the pocket longer to let plays develop. His touchdown pass to Kenny Britt was a quick one-read play on a cross-body throw, and his interception late in the fourth quarter wasn't a bad decision; it was just as much the fault of receiver Ricardo Louis for allowing cornerback Darius Slay to take all the real estate in the right side of the end zone. Louis needs to be more aggressive in those situations.
Kizer still has a lot of work to do. He's a quarterback who needs quick, one-read concepts to succeed, and he's not going to be able to carry a full playbook just yet. But he's proven he has the capacity for improvement, and the development he showed against the Lions should be encouraging for his coaching staff and front office, provided they don't change their minds about the position five times in the next week.
21. Brock Osweiler, Denver Broncos
Last Week: 27
Nobody will ever mistake Brock Osweiler for a franchise savior. At best, he's a decent backup who was once misplaced as an NFL starter. But he was far from the Denver Broncos' biggest problem in their 41-16 loss to the New England Patriots. Denver's special teams were an abomination, and its defense fell apart most uncharacteristically for the second straight week. Osweiler doesn't have the talent to overcome all of that as an Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady would, but he completed 18 of 33 passes for 221 yards, one touchdown and one interception, which would have been good enough to keep the Denver Broncos of yesteryear in the game.
This throwaway that beaned a poor sideline observer right in the face was unfortunately his most-discussed throw on social media. But when he threw to Emmanuel Sanders, who was abusing New England cornerback Malcolm Butler, results were far more positive. Someone on Denver's coaching staff clearly deduced Sanders could eat Butler's lunch with quick angle routes and foot fakes on more vertical concepts, as Sanders was often Osweiler's first read. Osweiler took advantage of the much-needed easy openings Sanders gave him, and that's the ideal game plan with an average quarterback.
Not that everything was perfect. Osweiler isn't a great mover, but he's mobile enough to get out of the pocket when pressure comes. He needs to be, because he tends to freeze up when defenders are around him. He doesn't always throw on time with slants and drags, and game plans have to be catered to him. Once in a while, he'll get on a roll and make a few tight-window throws, but he can't be consistently relied upon to do so. Perhaps his best throw of the night was his touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas, who was his third read, in which Thomas helped his quarterback by moving into his line of sight.
The Broncos are still waiting to see if they'll be able to start injured second-year man Paxton Lynch this season, and Osweiler didn't exactly nail down the job in this game. But he was facing a bad pass defense and did enough to exploit it.
20. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Last Week: 20
Midway through Sunday's second quarter, the visiting New York Giants faced a 2nd-and-4 on the San Francisco 49ers' 22-yard line. The Giants held a 6-3 lead and were looking to add to their advantage when quarterback Eli Manning dropped to pass. But facing pressure off the edge, Manning tried to climb the pocket before channeling his inner Pete Weber and simply rolling the ball forward in an attempt to avoid the sack. The play was ruled a fumble recovered by San Francisco, and the 49ers would score a touchdown on their ensuing possession and take the lead for good.
That was New York's season in a nutshell.
Manning finished the afternoon having completed 28 of 37 passes for 273 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Normally numbers like that might see a quarterback higher up on this list, but week-to-week performance is just one aspect of these rankings. Right now the Giants are going nowhere fast, and it is hard to see them winning another game, even with the emergence of rookie tight end Evan Engram and a strong performance from young wide receiver Sterling Shepard.
Manning did make some good throws in this game. The touchdown pass to Engram came on a well-executed stick/nod route from the tight end, and Manning made a perfect throw. He hit Roger Lewis later in the game for a touchdown on a curl route, leading the receiver upfield and away from the nearest defender. Manning also tried to hit Engram on a vertical route earlier in the game, but the safety rotated over late in the play and prevented a big completion. But even with these good throws, Manning and this offense cannot string together enough plays to be consistent and win games. That, much like Manning's failed attempt at hitting that difficult 7-10 split, sums up their 2017 campaign.
19. Josh McCown, New York Jets
Last Week: 12
It is an indictment of the fickle New York sports media that in one week, Josh McCown somehow turned from franchise savior to a guy who should perhaps be replaced by Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg. Head coach Todd Bowles had to field those questions after the Jets' ugly loss to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team missing Jameis Winston and Mike Evans, and whose pass defense has been an oasis for opposing quarterbacks all season long.
McCown completed 23 of 39 passes for 262 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the 15-10 defeat. His second-quarter interception to cornerback Brent Grimes came on a deep post to receiver Robby Anderson that appeared to be overthrown right into Grimes' hands. But he also hit Anderson with a nice deep touchdown as time was running out, throwing the ball where his receiver could grab it over Grimes' head.
Multiple incompletions were the result of drops, and it's difficult to discern how either Hackenberg or Petty would be any better under those circumstances. The Jets running game was also shut down one week after going buck-wild against the Buffalo Bills.
McCown should not be benched; in fact, he's been the offense's only bastion of relative consistency all season. The Jets should feel fortunate to have him as they're working through changes at so many other positions.
18. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears
Last Week: N/A (Bye)
The Chicago Bears used their bye week to try to shore up the passing attack under rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. While the elements did make it a tough day for both passing games in Chicago, Trubisky turned in his best statistical performance of the season. The rookie signal-caller completed 21 of 35 passes for 297 yards and a touchdown in Chicago's 23-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
On the positive side of the ledger, Trubisky showed glimpses of the quarterback the Bears were hoping to acquire when they made him the 2017 draft's second overall selection. His touchdown pass to Josh Bellamy came on a vertical route where the quarterback was pressured in the pocket but delivered a bucket throw to his receiver for a score. That came early in the fourth quarter and cut Green Bay's lead to six. He then had a great throw rolling to his right before coming back to his tight end on a crossing route for a solid gain on a drive that ended with a field goal.
However, there were times Trubisky was slow to make decisions, and it cost him. Late in the third quarter, Trubisky executed a play-action fake and rolled to his left. He had wide receiver Dontrelle Inman wide open in the flat but didn't pull the trigger, and he was eventually dragged down from behind for a sack. Earlier in the game, Trubisky dropped to throw on 2nd-and-15 and opened to the left side of the field. He was slow to work through his progressions and was nearly intercepted by Blake Martinez when he tried to find Tarik Cohen late in the play.
Trubisky showed signs of improvement and development, but the rookie mistakes are still there. He'll need to speed up his processing and decision-making as he continues to adjust to life as an NFL quarterback.
17. Jay Cutler, Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 13
One week after the Dolphins beat the Oakland Raiders' unimpressive defense with three touchdown passes and a bunch of underneath stuff, Jay Cutler and his offense visited the Carolina Panthers and got poleaxed, 45-21. Cutler proved unable to get his passing game going. He completed 22 of 37 passes for 213 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, but the stats were padded late in the game as Carolina laid off. Cutler simply didn't play well.
Cutler has never been a great rhythm passer. He tends to hit what he sees, and if the windows close before the ball gets there, that's just an inevitable consequence of a scattershot player who generally relies on the explosive play over consistency. It appears head coach Adam Gase's idea is to get Cutler in more of a rhythm with drive-extending throws, but bad things will happen when Cutler is pressured as much as he was against the Panthers.
Cutler's worst throw of the night was his interception to Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly with 47 seconds left in the first half. Tight end Julius Thomas was running an out route to the left sideline, and the LB was carrying him all the way. Kuechly is one of the better coverage linebackers in recent NFL history, and when he reads a tight end route from the snap, you're better off throwing elsewhere. But Cutler threw right into the eye of the coverage for one of Kuechly's easiest interceptions ever.
Thomas took a shovel pass in the first quarter for one score, and Cutler hit Jarvis Landry for a nine-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter when things were way out of hand. A couple of touchdowns doesn't cover up what seems to be a broken Dolphins passing game. Gase wants to keep Cutler under control, but the quarterback's rogue tendencies come out at the worst possible times.
16. Brett Hundley, Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 22
A week after a subpar performance against the Detroit Lions at home on Monday Night Football, Brett Hundley responded with his best outing as a starting quarterback in the NFL. Battling the rain and a divisional foe, Hundley completed 18 of 25 passes for 212 yards and a pivotal touchdown as the Green Bay Packers topped the Chicago Bears 23-16 at a rainy Soldier Field.
As with many inexperienced quarterbacks, there were plays where Hundley was slow to process information and make decisions in the pocket. On 2nd-and-2 early in the game, Hundley came out of a play-action fake and opened to the left side of the field, working through his progressions to the right. He then tried to hit Jordy Nelson on an out route, but the throw came out late and was nearly intercepted. On his first attempt of the second half, Hundley saw a blitz coming off the right edge, and his first instinct was to pull the ball down and look to run. But then he tried to reset and hit a quick pivot route, but the throw again came late and was broken up. Had Hundley simply slid away from the pressure, he could have completed the throw.
But late in the game, Hundley was at his best. On 3rd-and-5 midway through the third quarter, Hundley was much more poised in the pocket, scanning through his progressions while pressured before finding Lance Kendricks in the flat for a nine-yard gain. On 3rd-and-2 later in the quarter, Hundley saw a Bears rusher twist inside, and he immediately cut upfield with the ball for a 17-yard gain. His scoring strike came on a 2nd-and-9 late in the third quarter. Hundley broke the pocket, saw Davante Adams turn upfield in a scramble-drill situation and found his receiver for a touchdown with a well-thrown ball. On perhaps the most pivotal play of the game, Hundley hit Adams on a vertical route just before the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter. He opened to the left but was much quicker to turn to the right and find his receiver.
The Packers remain an outside playoff shot, but if Hundley can perform like he did down the stretch against the Bears, they can make things interesting.
15. Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 14
It's been lost in the he-said-he-said battle between Andrew Luck's camp and the Colts' front office regarding Luck's injury situation and long-term recovery prognosis, but Jacoby Brissett is a good under-the-radar quarterback who keeps getting better. In the last three weeks (against the Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans and Pittsburgh Steelers), Brissett has completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 763 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions.
Brissett wasn't at his most efficient in the Colts' 20-17 loss to the Steelers on Sunday, completing just 14 of 24 passes for 222 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, but he did have his moments. His 60-yard touchdown pass to receiver Donte Moncrief in the second quarter was a perfectly timed rainbow of a throw that Moncrief took in stride after beating cornerback Artie Burns. And his third-quarter deep dart to Chester Rogers, also open, once again showed Brissett's deep arm, as well as his ability to keep pass-rushers hesitant with option and play-action concepts.
Brissett's interception wasn't his fault—tight end Jack Doyle dropped a pass that went right into the hands of Ryan Shazier—but Brissett also wasn't quite as accurate in the fourth quarter, and he was more prone to taking sacks. Whether that was a result of a head injury from a Stephon Tuitt hit or more attributable to the Colts' leaky offensive line is a point of conjecture.
Brissett will be in the league's concussion protocol this week with the Colts on a bye, and they'll next take the field against the Tennessee Titans on November 26.
14. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 18
The Cincinnati Bengals have had trouble keeping their offense on the field recently; they had the ball for just 19:51 in their 24-20 Sunday loss to the Tennessee Titans. That, and a running game that has gone missing in action, puts more pressure on Andy Dalton. The stat line wasn't bad; he completed 20 of 35 passes for 265 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. But he's not the kind of quarterback who can succeed without a good offensive line and a complementary ground attack. That the Bengals ran the ball just 14 times in a close game, and had seven of their 13 drives end in punts after three or four plays, tells you everything you need to know about where this offense is.
Dalton isn't a drive-sustaining quarterback; he completed four of 10 third-down passes against the Titans for 22 yards and lost a fumble on a sack. On Cincinnati's first third down, he overthrew tight end Tyler Kroft on a short pass because he was flat-footed. He overthrew John Ross by a good five yards on a deep sideline route in the second quarter. He missed Brandon LaFell in the third quarter with a quick throw into tight coverage. And on and on.
Dalton's two touchdown passes were both on blown coverages. His first-quarter touchdown to LaFell happened after the receiver motioned from a stack-right look to the slot and nobody covered him on a deep vertical route. And his 70-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green in the fourth quarter was more about Green abusing cornerback Logan Ryan on a slant-and-go.
With few exceptions, this is who Andy Dalton is; a good quarterback who needs everything around him to work at a certain level if his offense is to go. This is not a quarterback you want throwing 50 times to mitigate a bad ground game or a leaky defense. He's a cog as opposed to an alpha, and while there's nothing wrong with that in the big picture, expectations must be aligned.
13. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: N/A (Bye)
The Pittsburgh Steelers moved to 7-2 with their 20-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts, and with the team near the top of the AFC playoff picture yet again, it may seem like folly to worry about Ben Roethlisberger's overall performance. But after a second half of the 2016 season in which he was not as consistent as we're used to, Big Ben has continued to be maddeningly inconsistent at times.
So it was against the Colts. Roethlisberger completed 19 of 31 passes for 236 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. On the season, he has just 12 touchdown passes to 10 interceptions. The scores came easy against the Colts' vulnerable defense. He hit rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on a seven-yard slant in the third quarter as cornerback Pierre Desir struggled to keep up with the route, and Vance McDonald was left wide open by a coverage breakdown in Indy's zone defense on his seven-yard touchdown catch.
At times, like on the deep ball to Smith-Schuster in the third quarter for 44 yards, Roethlisberger had the pulse of both the offense and the defense. He discerned man coverage from pre-snap motion and trusted Smith-Schuster to beat Desir down the right sideline. With that confidence came a perfect throw. His first-quarter interception to Desir was a similar concept, but to receiver Martavis Bryant, who didn't run the sideline route as well and left position to Desir.
But Roethlisberger was also reckless with the deep ball, missing Antonio Brown on more than one easy deep throw when his receiver was open. At these times, and when he's misaligned with his best receiver, the randomness in Roethlisberger's mechanics, velocity and accuracy takes over. And it's more than a one-game fluke.
Yes, the Steelers are in prime position for a playoff push. But can they trust their quarterback on a play-to-play, week-to-week basis? That remains to be seen.
12. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
Last Week: 4
The Washington Redskins' day against the Minnesota Vikings can be summed up with a three-play sequence early in the second half. After the visitors opened the third quarter with a touchdown drive to extend their lead to 35-17, the Redskins found themselves with a 1st-and-goal at the Minnesota 3-yard line. On first down, Kirk Cousins came out of a play-action fake and rolled to his right toward Josh Doctson. The receiver did a great job of selling the defender on a run block before breaking to the outside. But as Cousins went to throw, the wide-open Doctson slipped.
On second down, Cousins looked to hit Jamison Crowder near the front pylon, but the receiver could not complete the catch.
Cousins again looked to Crowder on third down, but a well-thrown pass was bobbled and then broken up by a Vikings defensive back.
Washington would settle for a field goal.
Cousins completed 26 of 45 passes against Minnesota for 327 yards, a touchdown and one interception. The TD strike came early in the game on a vertical route to Maurice Harris, where Cousins trusted Harris would get separation downfield. Harris rewarded him with an incredible diving catch for the score. But Cousins did make a mistake later in the game when he overthrew Crowder on a pivot route and was intercepted. In addition to the previous sequence, Cousins took a bad sack late in the game for a loss of 14 yards that nearly pushed Washington out of field-goal range when trailing by 11 points. Nick Rose converted the 55-yard attempt, but Cousins needed to have better awareness in that situation.
Washington's victory out in Seattle was the kind of win that could have propelled them to a big second half. But this loss seems to eliminate that possibility. Cousins was okay against Minnesota, but on many afternoons in the NFL, playing okay is not good enough to lead your team to victory.
11. Case Keenum, Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: N/A (Bye)
Teddy Bridgewater made an emotional return to the sidelines in Washington. It was a great moment for the 2014 first-round draft choice, whose playing career was briefly in jeopardy in the wake of last season's knee injury. But the story of the afternoon was fellow quarterback Case Keenum. The Vikings QB completed 22 of 29 passes for 304 yards, four touchdowns and a pair of interceptions.
The two turnovers were troubling and came on back-to-back passing attempts in the second half. On the first, Keenum was pressured and attempted to loft a pass in the direction of Kyle Rudolph. But the throw was forced into coverage, and D.J. Swearinger was able to high-point the football and make the interception. Keenum then stared down Rudolph in the flat, and Swearinger stepped in front of the pass. Only a quick recovery and effort from the quarterback chasing down the defender prevented the play from going for a touchdown.
Other than those two big mistakes, Keenum was virtually perfect on the afternoon. He started the day with a great bucket throw to Stefon Diggs for a huge gain that set up Minnesota's first rushing touchdown. He then hit Diggs while rolling to his left on a smash concept for his first score of the game. Keenum's second touchdown pass came on a double-slant concept where he put the football in the perfect spot for Adam Thielen, who was able to shield Josh Norman and use his strength at the catch point for the score. Keenum later found David Morgan II in the flat on a play-action pass to give the Vikings a 28-17 lead at the break. A quick strike to Jarius Wright in the second half gave him his fourth touchdown pass.
However, those two mistakes were critical and allowed Washington to hang around and fight back into the game. If Keenum is going to remain Minnesota's starting quarterback, he will need to eliminate plays like those. The Vikings have a shot to become the first team to break the home-market Super Bowl curse with mistake-free quarterback play.
10. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 5
When news of the Ezekiel Elliott suspension broke late last week, I turned to fellow #NFL1000 scout and Dallas Cowboys scribe Marcus Mosher for instant analysis. As is often the case, Marcus was right on with his immediate reaction.
While many were focused on what the loss of Elliott might mean to the Cowboys offense, losing their left tackle was what truly impacted Dallas on Sunday. Quarterback Dak Prescott was sacked eight times in the 27-7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, and he was under constant pressure the entire game. He finished the contest completing 20 of 30 passes for only 176 yards and no touchdowns.
The game actually started fairly well for the Cowboys, as a Prescott touchdown run gave them an early 7-0 lead. Prescott again showed his ability to make plays with his feet as well as how dangerous his legs are in the red zone. Prescott took the snap and executed a run fake to the right edge before rolling out to that side, and when he saw the Falcons in man coverage and defenders with their backs to him, the QB quickly cut upfield and into the end zone for the score.
Sadly for Dallas, that would be the high point of the afternoon. From then on Prescott was under constant pressure from his blind side. Backup left tackle Chaz Green struggled to handle Adrian Clayborn, who amassed a Falcons-record six sacks during the game. Former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman said in the booth that "[Green] can turn around and shake hands with Dak Prescott after every pass play." At times the offense tried to give the left tackle some help with chips and protection schemes, but it was not enough. Green was benched in the second half, but even that could not spark the Dallas offense.
The Cowboys are in trouble. They sit three games behind the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East, and while they have two games coming up against their bitter rivals, they will still need some help to overtake them in the division. If Smith remains sidelined, focus needs to be on helping the replacement tackle more effectively and getting the ball out of Prescott's hands quicker. The second-year QB is very talented, but it is hard to be effective under constant pressure the entire game.
9. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
Last Week: N/A (Bye)
The Los Angeles Chargers' history of losing games late and in agonizing fashion over the last few years made Sunday's 20-17 overtime loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars unsurprising. Philip Rivers completed 21 of 37 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns against the NFL's best pass defense, but his interception killed his team's chances of winning.
With 5:31 left in the extra period, the Chargers had a 3rd-and-9 at their own 11-yard line. Rivers pushed a deep ball down the left sideline in the vicinity of receiver Travis Benjamin, but cornerback A.J. Bouye was all over Benjamin, and the lack of velocity on the throw gave safety Barry Church time to move to the sideline in coverage, as well. Bouye took the pass at the Jacksonville 47-yard line and returned the ball to the Chargers' 2-yard line. After a taunting penalty backed the Jags up 15 yards, Josh Lambo kicked a 30-yard field goal to end the game.
Rivers almost had another interception in the first quarter when he tried to hit Keenan Allen on a short pass. Pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue got in his face, and the pop-fly throw was tipped by cornerback Jalen Ramsey and nearly picked by defensive tackle Abry Jones.
Both of Rivers' touchdown passes went to rookie running back Austin Ekeler, with Jacksonville's secondary and linebackers doing a nice job of shutting down the Chargers' receivers. Ekeler scored his first touchdown with 56 seconds left in the first half, tiptoeing down the right sideline after a short out route. The second came with 10:32 left in the third quarter, when Ekeler ran a whip route and dove into the end zone following the catch.
Rivers challenged Jacksonville's defense with several deep passes and wasn't able to complete one of them. His passes were overcooked, thrown away under pressure or bounced Travis Benjamin's hands. It was a frustrating day for a great passer against a defense that seemed to have an answer for just about everything he did.
8. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 11
Are the Tennessee Titans sneaking up on us as one of the AFC's best teams? They stand at 6-3 after their 24-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, which is the franchise's best record at this point in the season since 2008.
Marcus Mariota, who completed 25 of 44 passes for 264 yards, one touchdown and one interception, has quietly been the point man in an offense that sets defenses on edge with its formational diversity. A fascinating second-quarter play had the Titans lined up in a diamond formation to the right. Receiver Taywan Taylor went on a fake sweep motion, and Mariota hit Rishard Matthews on a deep vertical route down the numbers on the right side, but Matthews simply dropped the ball. The Titans weren't able to beat Cincinnati's defense with the deep ball, though Mariota was fairly efficient on shorter passes.
The interception, which came late in the second quarter, was a weird read in which Mariota tried to fit the ball in on an attempt to rookie receiver Corey Davis, who ran a curl route behind Bengals cornerback Darqueze Dennard. Mariota threw the ball to where he thought the first-year receiver would be, but Dennard was there instead. Mariota also had Eric Decker open underneath to the same side, so the result was even more disappointing. Mariota's touchdown pass came with less than one minute left in the game; he hit running back DeMarco Murray on a short pass after stepping up in the pocket, and Murray knifed over for the game-winning score with 36 seconds left.
It was a tough game for Mariota, and it's a bad time for him to have a short week. After playing through shoulder and ankle injuries and what looked like a concussion after he banged his head on the field late in Sunday's game, Mariota will have to face the Pittsburgh Steelers pass defense on Thursday night. One never knows which version of the Steelers defense is going to show up on any given week: They gave up over 400 passing yards to the Detroit Lions in Week 8 and followed that up by limiting the Indianapolis Colts to 196 passing yards in Week 10 after a bye.
7. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 6
If someone told you in preseason that the New Orleans Saints would go on the road and blow out the Buffalo Bills 47-10 come Week 10, you'd likely picture quarterback Drew Brees throwing four touchdowns or so. But as our Doug Farrar argued last weekend, these are not your father's Saints. Led by an impressive ground game and a defense that held Buffalo to only 198 total yards, New Orleans pulled out the victory without Brees throwing a single TD pass.
You get the sense Brees is quite content with the level of talent around him. The veteran quarterback spread the football around in the passing game, completing passes to six different receivers. The Saints used a variety of quick-passing concepts as well as screen plays to move the football, and that worked to sustain drives and keep the Bills defense on the field. When pressured, Brees was very effective at sliding around in the pocket before calmly finding outlets or checkdowns to keep the offense on schedule.
Unlike in the past, Brees was just one part of the offense. On a statement 10-play, 94-yard scoring drive that ended in a Brees scramble for a touchdown, the Saints did not attempt a single pass. That might have been unheard of in years past, but the 2017 Saints can win in different ways.
New Orleans faces a critical few weeks, as it hosts Washington before squaring off against divisional leaders Los Angeles and Carolina. But after winning seven straight games, there is no doubt this team is for real. With the help around its veteran quarterback, the different ways it can put points on the board and a defense improving each week, it remains perhaps the league's hottest team.
6. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Last Week: 10
After a crisp, clean performance last Monday night against the Green Bay Packers, Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions passing game took a while to get going Sunday against the visiting Cleveland Browns. That was a bit surprising, given that the Browns entered the game with the 28th-ranked passing defense, according to Football Outsiders' DVOA. But the offense eventually got on track, and Stafford was able to finish the afternoon completing 17 of 26 passes for 249 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
The pick came early in the game on a very poor decision akin to calling Pink Floyd the most "overrated" band of all time. Facing a 3rd-and-5 in Lions territory, Stafford attempted to hit Golden Tate on a shallow route. But the throw came under pressure, with Stafford forced to throw off his back foot, and Jamie Collins stepped in front of the receiver for the turnover. Cleveland would go on to score a touchdown and take an early 10-0 lead.
In the second half, Stafford settled into the flow of the game and upped his level of play. His first scoring strike came on a Texas route to Theo Riddick for eight yards. Stafford saw that the Browns were in zone coverage, and the running back split the area between the cornerback and the linebacker. His second touchdown came on a perfect vertical route to Eric Ebron. On that play the Lions split the tight end out to the left, and Ebron ran a stutter-and-go route before Stafford dropped in a perfect throw for the touchdown. The third and final touchdown came on a tunnel screen to Tate, where the quarterback got the football out of his hands quickly and let his receiver do the rest.
Stafford and the Lions remain two games behind Minnesota in the NFC North. But with one game left against the Vikings, as well as two more games against the Bears, Detroit can make things interesting in the division as the calendar turns to December. However, it will need its quarterback to eliminate turnovers and mistakes to work its way back into the playoff picture.
5. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 16
Heading into Sunday afternoon's game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Atlanta Falcons, a bevy of columns were dedicated to predicting how Dak Prescott would fare without Ezekiel Elliott. But Atlanta entered Sunday having lost four of five games and looking up at both the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South standings. In addition, its offensive production and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian's game-planning were hot topics of debate.
They say winning cures all, and the Falcons took care of the Cowboys, 27-7. Matt Ryan and the offense seemed to get on track in the win, with Ryan completing 22 of 29 passes for 215 yards, a pair of touchdowns and one interception.
The turnover came on a forced pass in the direction of Mohamed Sanu on a comeback route during Atlanta's opening drive. With tight coverage, the throw was deflected into the air and intercepted by Xavier Woods, but Ryan settled into a rhythm afterwards. His first touchdown came on a beautifully thrown post route in the red zone to Justin Hardy along the back line for the score. Atlanta used a pivot route along the goal line, which occupied two defenders, and Hardy came over the top to get open behind that route. Ryan showed precision and aggression to challenge that throwing window in the red zone.
His second touchdown pass came on a play-action boot concept, where Ryan hit Austin Hooper on a shallow under route off the run fake. The tight end was wide open at the goal line, and Ryan had an easy throw to make. That and the previous play (another boot-action throw to Hooper), were reminiscent of the offensive designs Kyle Shanahan used last season to help guide the Falcons to the Super Bowl.
It was just one performance, but Atlanta seemed to be on track offensively. Whether the Falcons can sustain that level of production over the remainder of the season remains to be seen, but they'll need to if they want to get themselves back in the mix in the division.
4. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 15
That's the word that always comes to mind watching Cam Newton throw the football. Newton is explosive in his throwing motion, using his chest, left shoulder and upper body to create velocity on every throw. A perfect example came on an attempt right before the two-minute warning in the second quarter. Newton was pressured and could not step into the throw, but he generated incredible torque and threw a strike to Ed Dickson along the left sideline for a big gain. We also saw it on the touchdown to close out the first half, when Newton hit his tight end on a Bang 8 post route with incredible velocity and ball placement.
We also saw Mike Shula's movement to incorporate Newton's ability as an offensive weapon into the game plan. In the first quarter, the Panthers executed a fake quarterback draw, and Newton hit Curtis Samuel on a curl route to move the chains on a 3rd-and-7. That set up the Panthers to run a QB lead draw a few plays later, and Newton picked up a first down with his legs. Shula returned to this late in the second quarter. The offense came out with a bunch look to the right and then sent Christian McCaffrey in motion to that side to set up a quad formation, but then Newton ran the quarterback draw for a decent gain. The Panthers brought in Taylor Moton as an extra tackle on a third-quarter 3rd-and-1, but Newton carry ran a naked bootleg for a big gain around the other end. Getting Newton involved as both a passer and a runner has made the offense click the past few weeks. And when the Dolphins cut into the Panthers' lead with a Kenyan Drake touchdown run, it was Newton who ripped off a 69-yard scamper on Carolina's next offensive play to spark another scoring drive that ended with a short touchdown pass to McCaffrey.
Newton's best play Monday night might have come with his mind. On a 3rd-and-10 early in the third quarter, the Dolphins showed blitz, putting two defenders in the A-Gaps. So Newton adjusted to a smoke screen to Devin Funchess, and the quick throw went for a touchdown to increase Carolina's lead to 24-7. Winning pre-snap like that, in addition to involving Newton in all phases of the offense, will keep improving the Panthers' record.
3. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 8
Russell Wilson might be the tip of the spear when it comes to evaluating the new era of NFL quarterbacks. Some evaluators worry his style cannot be sustained over long periods and point to questionable throws and decisions outside of the pocket. Others argue Wilson is shuffling in the new breed of professional quarterback with his ability to mask his poor offensive line and make dynamic plays outside the pocket.
Perhaps no play exemplified this dichotomy more than Wilson's pass to Doug Baldwin early in the fourth quarter of Seattle's 22-16 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night. The play was designed to be a sprint-out to the left, with two receivers running a hitch/seam concept to that side of the field. Baldwin aligned as the inside trips receiver and was tasked with blocking on the edge to give Wilson room to operate. But as the quarterback rolled out, the coverage on both routes was solid, so he reversed field multiple times. Baldwin saw his quarterback in trouble and released toward the sideline. Wilson awkwardly found his target while falling away, and Baldwin was able to secure it and then race down the sideline for a 54-yard gain.
Some called the throw risky, while others thought it was a prime example of Wilson's greatness. I lean heavily on the latter side of the argument. Wilson has shown throughout his career that his ability to extend plays and operate off the play structure makes him nearly impossible to game-plan against. Even when teams try to keep him in the pocket, Wilson has the ability to break down defenses. He keeps the Seahawks in more games than he costs them and is a roadmap for future quarterbacks with similar playing styles (cough, Baker Mayfield, cough).
Wilson's throwing motion is a concern, however. Cris Collinsworth noted his long windup during the broadcast as something that has been an issue for a while, but the elongated delivery seemed much more pronounced on Thursday night. Fellow #NFL1000 scout and wise quarterback mind Derrik Klassen noted this could be a sign of a lingering shoulder injury, which is something to watch down the stretch.
2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Last Week: N/A (Bye)
It's difficult to know what's left to say about the man who has become unquestionably the best quarterback in NFL history, but if there's one thing that consistently amazes about Tom Brady, it's how he's able to deal with the personnel and schemes he's given and produce at a high rate. Year after year it happens, and it's happening again. This season, the Patriots have dealt with the injury loss of Julian Edelman by having Brady throw more deep passes, and while he's able to do that with aplomb, it's also put him in harm's way at a higher rate.
The Patriots had a bye last week, and that gave Bill Belichick and his coaching staff time to add a few new wrinkles. Against the Denver Broncos in Sunday night 41-16 win, the Pats spread the field, and Brady threw more short passes away from Denver's talented cornerbacks. He completed 25 of 34 passes for 266 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, barely throwing deep balls as Denver's defensive and special teams implosions allowed the Pats to charge ahead.
New England used running back Rex Burkhead and fullback James Develin in some creative ways, not unlike how the Atlanta Falcons used their backs under Kyle Shanahan last season. One could imagine Matt Ryan watching with a sense of envy at home. They'd flare Develin wide to spread the linebackers and safeties, while Burkhead and fellow back James White were used as Edelman clones, catching underneath passes and giving Brady relief from pressure.
Brady's first-quarter touchdown to Burkhead had the halfback running a quick in-cut near the end zone, beating safety Darian Stewart for the score. He hit tight end Dwayne Allen for a TD near the end of the first half out of a trips-left formation in which Allen looked like the blocking tight end to the right. Brady completed his touchdown passes on the day with a six-yarder to White in the fourth quarter. The running back started with what looked like a simple wheel route and then shot out to the left side of the field, leaving safety Will Parks in the dust with an unfair stutter-step.
New and creative formations and concepts in New England? That's bad news for the rest of the NFL. Here they go again…
1. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
Last Week: 2
It took awhile for the Los Angeles Rams offense to get on track Sunday against the visiting Houston Texans, but once it did, Jared Goff and Company were off to the races. Goff completed 25 of 37 passes for 355 yards and three touchdowns, and the Rams rolled over the Texans at L.A. Memorial Coliseum, 33-7.
In the early going, Goff seemed to struggle against Jadeveon Clowney and the Houston pass rush. On the Rams' second drive of the game, Goff rolled out on a play-action boot concept, and his throw under duress was tipped and could have been intercepted. On a subsequent 3rd-and-11 play, Goff slid to his right in the pocket again under pressure, but his pass was well short of the target.
However, late in the second quarter, the Rams offense got going a bit as Goff led Los Angeles on a field-goal drive just before halftime to give his team a 9-7 lead at the break. That drive featured a well-thrown out pattern on a 3rd-and-10 to get the Rams into field-goal range for Greg Zuerlein.
Then in the second half, the offense exploded. It began with a 94-yard scoring strike from Goff to Robert Woods. That play came on a post-/out-route combination that caught the Texans in a difficult coverage to contain the concept.
Houston was using bracket coverage on Cooper Kupp in the slot, and Kupp ran the out route, leaving Woods isolated against cornerback Johnathan Joseph with no safety help in the middle of the field. The receiver got inside leverage, and Goff dropped a perfect throw for the score.
The second scoring play came on a quick tunnel screen to Sammy Watkins, and Goff's third TD toss of the game again found Woods. This play was another example of head coach Sean McVay's utilizing concepts that worked for other teams.
In Week 6, Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler hit Jarvis Landry on a short touchdown toss against the Atlanta Falcons: Landry showed an end-around before reversing toward his starting point on a swing route. Against the Texans, McVay called for a similar design. Woods faked the end-around then peeled back to the right on a swing route. Goff hit him in stride with Watkins in front blocking, and the Rams were in the end zone again.
Now at 7-2, the Rams seem to be for real. But over the next two weeks, they face stiff tests. First, they travel to Minnesota next Sunday to take on the Vikings at U.S Bank Stadium before hosting the New Orleans Saints in Week 12. This quick slate of games among three NFC divisional leaders will help sort the conference's playoff picture heading into December.