Last week, I focused on the five
rookie starting QB's behind center on opening day. This Sunday, continuing the theme, I spent
the afternoon watching the five QB’s drafted in the first 35 picks last year,
all of whom are now starters. I tried to
evaluate each QB within the context of his team -- no QB can be successful
without the complimentary pieces of the equation surrounding him, both on
offense and on defense. Here are my
Andy Dalton was the only rookie QB to
lead his team to the playoffs last year, and he’s definitely right there with
Cam Newton as the best of the 2011 draft class right now. He’s got great footwork in the pocket; nimble on his feet while sidestepping
pressure. And when we consider how much
pressure he was under – the Bengals injury riddled line was really struggling
unable to consistently run or pass block – Dalton’s performance was even that
much more impressive.
This team is loaded with WR talent; not just AJ Green, although Green
is really developing into a Top 10 NFL receiver. Armon Binns made plays all over the field
today; so did Brandon Tate, and I certainly don't want to forget mentioning
Jermaine Gresham or Andrew Hawkins, both downfield playmakers. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the perfect
complementary piece for this offense. He's
only had one negative rushing carry all year and no fumbles in his career. This team doesn't need a big play RB, they
need a steady one, and Green-Ellis is the epitome of steady.
What's happened to this defense? Marvin Lewis’ stop unit was a real strength
last year, but they were torched by Baltimore in their opener and were unable
to get off the field on third down here. Cinci was gashed by Trent Richardson on the
ground, missing tackles all over the place, in sharp contrast to last year' D
that stopped the run cold. An explosive
passing game and a struggling defense make for a team that cashes Over tickets!
Blaine Gabbert is not really taking
shots downfield; nothing but dink and dunk. He completed only one pass to a
wide receiver before halftime – a half of football where the Jags had a net of
-4 passing yards thanks to a couple of sacks.
Gabbert’s fundamentals are not good either, still
looking very much like the rookie he was last year. He gets flustered in the pocket, unwilling or
unable to make tough throws in the face of pressure. When Chad Henne is getting cheers from the crowd
after Gabbert got benched (officially a ‘leg strain’), it's never a good sign.
This injury riddled offensive line is
getting annihilated. The Jags have four
linemen already on IR and were missing two projected starters today. To make matters even worse, these WR's aren't
beating man-to-man coverage. #1 draft
choice Justin Blackmun is a complete non-factor right now. So is the big free agent signing, WR Laurent
This defense spent the entire
afternoon getting gashed, unable to stop the run at all. It’s easy to understand why this team drafted a
punter in the third round -- Bryan Anger was booming 60 yarders today, and he
was used A LOT, dropping three of his nine punts inside the 20 yard line. There’s
no sugarcoating the truth -- the Jags are the single worst team in the NFL
right now, primed for another dismal campaign.
This defense was a sieve last
year. They got gashed on the ground last
week. And Drew Brees had open receivers
to throw to all afternoon here, although Brees and the Saints offense suffered
through a pretty bad case of the dropsies here, allowing Carolina to pull away.
I like offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski's
play calling - this team is taking shots downfield, opening up their running
game. They had good protection up front
for Cam Newton. Newton had time to throw
all afternoon, but he's holding the ball too long before he releases, resulting
in sacks like Ben Roethlisberger gets in Pittsburgh. Newton’s just not settling for his checkdown
routes (only three completions to running backs all day), a real weakness– he’s
always looking for the home run ball.
That being said, when an NFL QB can
run for 40 yards down the sidelines on an option play, and then fling it with
velocity 60 yards on a dead run on the next series, you know you’re dealing
with a #1 overall draft choice type talent.
And when the running game is working like it was today against a second
tier defense, this offense is going to be very hard to stop.
Jake Locker is making poor decisions,
throwing off his back foot, trying to float passes, showing awful footwork,
overthrowing receivers, underthrowing receivers -- lots of mistakes. He didn’t come out ready to play here. Locker’s
first two passes were a bad interception and a desperation heave throwing the
ball away under pressure. Positive signs? Well, he did get the ball out of his hands
But the fact that Locker was the Titans leading rusher (two carries
for 21 yards) speaks volumes about their offensive line woes right now. Tennessee couldn't get any push up front,
with Chris Johnson stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage repeatedly. Locker didn’t take a sack, but he was under
constant pressure. Any thought that the
return of playmaking WR Kenny Britt to the lineup would have an impact was dead
wrong, with only one catch for five yards.
To make matters even worse, this secondary got lit up badly. And the Titans special teams were awful. Brett Kern almost had a punt blocked. Kick returner Darius Reynaud came out of the
back of the end zone only to get tackled at the ten yard line. He did it again on the next drive, this time
an illegal block in the back call left the Titans inside the ten again. This team lost the field position battle
throughout, a hidden factor in their second straight blowout loss.
Rookie kicker Blair Walsh nailed
another 50+ yarder to open the game here after hitting four field goals in the
fourth quarter or OT last week, including a pressure filled 55 yarder with no
time on the clock. That's a real
confidence boost! And with Percy Harvin
returning kicks 50+ yards here, these special teams are decent; in sharp
contrast to last year.
The coaching staff doesn't seem to trust Christian Ponder very much at
all. Ponder didn't complete a pass longer than 15 yards on his first six drives
-- all dink and dunk -- and the Vikings didn’t have an offensive play from
scrimmage where they gained more than 20 yards all day. And once Minnesota got into the red zone, they
didn't let Ponder create at all; nothing but conservative, safe throws. Even running the two minute drill trying to
tie the game late in the 4th, it was nothing but dink and dunk passes. That being said, Ponder has led scoring
drives late in the fourth quarter to tie the game in each of the last two weeks,
another chemistry builder.
Despite facing an offensive line missing three starters by the second
half, the Vikings didn’t record a sack. And for the second straight week, with
the game on the line in the fourth quarter, this defense couldn’t get a stop –
this secondary is very young and it showed!
Teams will be able to throw on the Vikes in 2012, just like they did in
Teddy on twitter @teddy_covers.