Why NFL QBs looked so bad in Week 1

Your favorite NFL quarterback probably stinks right now. It’s just one week of odor, but who knew such a tiny sample could be so putrid? It’s the stench of an established star stubbornly making elementary mistakes, of team management building spongy offensive lines that cannot protect their precious signal callers and of the extreme preseason precaution that contributed to Week 1 failure because quarterbacks still hadn’t removed all the bubble wrap.

Prolific offenses and record quarterback efficiency have carried the NFL discussion for more than a decade. But as the 2023 season debuted, nearly every game turned out to be a struggle fest, and it was a particularly cruel time for some of the sport’s most celebrated quarterbacks. The week began with Patrick Mahomes sloshing around Thursday night in a mystifying predicament, trying to operate a suddenly skill-deficient Kansas City Chiefs attack without injured tight end Travis Kelce. And it ended with Aaron Rodgers tearing his left Achilles’ tendon four plays into his Broadway premiere with the New York Jets. In between, rain-soaked Cincinnati Bengals superstar Joe Burrow managed a career-worst 82 passing yards during a soggy loss to the Cleveland Browns just days after signing a record-setting contract extension.

Burrow was one of 14 starters who didn’t reach 200 passing yards — a pedestrian number nowadays — in their season openers. The list included Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts and Deshaun Watson. It was no great surprise that Carolina Panthers rookie Bryce Young produced just 146 yards, but veterans Dak Prescott, Geno Smith and Daniel Jones all threw for fewer than that.

At least Prescott could claim the need to be conservative because, in a wild game of turnovers and special teams gaffes, the Dallas Cowboys jumped all over the New York Giants in a 40-0 victory. Jones, the recipient of a fresh $160 million contract extension, set off alarms with his inability to handle anything that the elite Cowboys defense threw at him. And Smith, who received $40 million in guarantees after his breakout 2022 season with the Seattle Seahawks, was caught on video screaming, “Oh my God!” as Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald rushed him.

The good news is that quarterbacks were so bad everywhere that you can dismiss it as an early-season novelty. In recent years, defensive sloppiness had been a frequent September storyline, which coaches, executives and pundits blamed on revised policies that limit tackling and other training methods during the offseason and training camp. This time, however, it looks like offenses haven’t used their preparation time wisely. It felt like the old days, when defenses often started fast and offenses needed up to a month to run smoothly.

Perhaps this is another indicator that balance is gradually being restored. NFL defenses are prioritizing speed, versatility and stickier coverage in space to combat the spread offensive concepts the league has adopted. There is much more defensive shape-shifting now, and clever coordinators are modernizing classic two-high safety schemes and masking their coverages to play mind games with quarterbacks.

Defenses are forcing passers who had grown accustomed to frequent big-play opportunities and simpler decisions to throw into tighter windows, target the middle of the field and economize their games. Aggressive quarterbacks can’t be too greedy, or they risk performances such as Josh Allen’s season debut. Allen, the Buffalo Bills’ do-everything star, reverted back to his hazardous ways, throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble in a 22-16 overtime loss to the New York Jets on Monday night.

“I hurt our team tonight,” a sullen Allen said. “I cost our team tonight. It feels eerily similar to last year, and I hate that it’s the same. I do.”

Jason La Canfora: Joe Burrow’s megadeal will impact more than just his bank account

Allen led the league with 19 turnovers last season. He has a league-worst 84 giveaways since 2018. He has a gunslinging style as a passer, and he also runs like a power tailback, lowering his shoulder, throwing around his 237-pound frame and trying to hurdle defenders for no good reason other than he can. The mentality has helped him become a perennial MVP candidate, but through him, you can see how the NFL is changing. For several seasons, he seemed unstoppable. Now, the game is asking quarterbacks — who have enjoyed so much freedom directing systems that were way ahead of defenses — to play chess again. But it’s difficult for a bulldozer to be subtle.

“Trying to force the ball,” Allen said, sighing, in explaining his problems against the Jets. “Same s—. Same place, different day.”

Allen isn’t only player engaging in self-examination this week. His issues represent more of a trend than some of the isolated quarterback struggles, but there are a lot of players locked in the film room right now. Fifteen starters posted passer ratings under 80 last week, with Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill representing the most feeble of them all at 28.8. Seventeen — more than half the NFL — averaged fewer than six yards per pass attempt, a stunning demonstration of how hard it is to throw down the field right now. Tua Tagovailoa may have thrown for 466 yards to lead the Miami Dolphins to victory, but theirs is an anomalous offense with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, one of the fastest starting wide receiver tandems in NFL history.

For most of the league, it will take time and smart play design to open up the field. At this stage of the season, that could mean scores will be lower. There were just three games in Week 1 in which the teams combined to score at least 50 points. In today’s NFL, 25 points is not an extraordinary offensive number, but just seven teams scored more than 25 last week.

Fourteen defensive players recorded at least 1.5 sacks, more than the combined number of offensive players who either logged 100 receiving yards (eight) or 100 rushing yards (four). That’s how you end up with a collective Week 1 performance in which quarterbacks averaged a mediocre 194.5 yards, with 37 touchdowns and 25 interceptions. Overall, the group played like Davis Mills did last season.

Mills is no longer a starter for the Houston Texans.

C.J. Stroud, the No. 2 pick in the draft, runs the show in Houston now. The rookie threw for 242 yards in his first start, the eighth-highest total of Week 1. He didn’t throw an interception, either. But the Texans didn’t score a touchdown in a 25-9 loss to Baltimore.

Although teammates praised him, Stroud shrugged and made a soft-spoken declaration.

“Honestly, I think I could’ve did better,” he said.

In a pass-crazed league, a lot of quarterbacks felt the same.

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button