By Tom Di Benedetto
Week 2 represented a fall back to reality after a deceptive QB bonanza in the season’s opening stanza. The numbers are still very impressive almost across the board for quarterbacks, but two games have been more than enough to expose some urgent situations around the league. Thus, I’m breaking out the Panic-O-Meter to share some thoughts on four of the most-maligned QBs so far this season.
Aaron Rodgers – Panic Level: 2/10
Mike McCarthy said this week that he trusts Aaron Rodgers more than anyone he has ever coached and I have been firmly in this camp when it has come to the QB’s recent struggles. But his lackluster start this season is far from an isolated anomaly. Rodgers has completed just 58% of his passes to a passer rating of 84.4 over his last 15 regular season starts, marks that aren’t close to average in today’s NFL.
I was more than concerned last season, but Jordy Nelson’s absence and protection issues provided some excuse for his suddenly erratic play. However the reality is dawning that Rodgers has been playing poorly for some time now and simply needs to be better. He aknowledges this, blaming timing issues in the offense. I think he’s uncomfortable in his own pocket and less confident attacking in the passing game. But it’s still too soon to panic. We will see much better football from Rodgers down the road.
Ryan Tannehill – Panic Level: 4/10
Ryan Tannehill has not been a winning QB so far in his NFL career. To be more specific, he has not been good enough to carry his team or poised enough to come through in critical competitive moments. This has again held true through two weeks in 2016. As per usual, Tannehill has been shockingly statistically adequate. And as per usual, he continues to demostrate several impressive tools. But the team is 0-2 and Adam Gase’s offense has been a complete mess.
Panic should be reserved for Dolphins fans who haven’t yet realized that Tannehill is probably not the answer. This isn’t really news for most. I have to give Tannehill and Gase a little more leeway before I jump ship. But the panic level will certainly rise if things don’t start to improve quickly.
Kirk Cousins – Panic Level: 6/10
Kirk Cousins was always an obvious regression candidate after his blistering 2015 breakout. But what we’ve seen from him so far this season can’t be chalked up to the law of averages. He’s been bad; he singlehandedly tanked Washington’s crucial Week 2 matchup with the Cowboys and has acknowledged rumors that the rest of the team is frustrated by his lack of poise.
Despite this, Cousins is 3rd in the league in passing yards and has somehow maintained a very good 65.2 completion percentage. The man puts up big numbers in an offense that has grown incredibly reliant on him and will continue to do so. But will he protect the ball well enough to lead the team back from an 0-2 hole? It’s a tough bet, made tougher by the pressure of the franchise tag contract he’s on. Crunch time in Washington has arrived early for Captain Kirk, who will try to pull out of the nose dive against the Giants in Week 3.
Jay Cutler – Panic Level: 9/10
Is there anyone left who thinks the Jay Cutler/Bears union is going to end happily? I have never been much for over-scrutinizing body language, but Cutler looks comically miserable leading the Bears and has demonstrated none of the competitiveness necessary to elevate the team through his play. It’s been quite the opposite this year, and a throwing hand injury makes it even less likely that he is about to begin a magical-14 game run. It feels like the end is near for Cutler in Chicago. Yet there’s also that $126 million contract that runs through 2020. Panic level 9.
Week 2 Game Balls
It was not a banner day for Matt Ryan versus the Raiders in Week 2, but it was an impressive gritty performance nonetheless as Matty Ice rallied from several glaring missteps to lead the Falcons to a road victory. It can’t be overstated how massive the win was for Atlanta, who had won just twice since Week 7 last year heading into the game. The most exciting takeaway here is the fact that Ryan, who has the league’s top passer rating through two weeks, can clearly play better than he has so far. If he can find that next level, Atlanta will have several more happy Sundays in their future.
Palmer was right back to his impeccable 2015 form in Arizona’s beatdown of the Bucs in Week 2, surely a glorious sight for Cardinals fans. He has yet to throw an interception this year and will look to build on this impressive performance as the Cardinals aim to rectify unfinished business from a season ago.
Bradford came through huge for the Vikings against the Packers and immediately looked an excellent fit in Minnesota’s passing scheme. Last week I mentioned the statistical similarities in Bradford and Bridgewater’s 2015 seasons. This held true last week, as Bradford’s 22-31, 286 yd, 2 td performance was pretty darn similar to Bridgewater’s 2015 numbers at home against Green Bay (25-37, 296, 1). Unfortunately the paradigm has already shifted for the Vikings, as the game plan will now be forced to adjust for Adrian Peterson’s extended absence moving forward.
Carson Wentz Update:
NFL scouting outfit Pro Football Focus ranks Carson Wentz as the top-performing quarterback in the league after two weeks. He has exceeded even the wildest expectations so far and has more than held his own next to the veterans, but his measurable performance has been far more league average [94.1 QB rating (14th), 60.6 completion % (24th), 6.6 yds/attempt (27th)] than elite. Still, he has been the offensive leader of a surprise 2-0 team and has a chance to cement his rocketing status against the Steelers this week.
I decided to revamp the Power 7 this week. The new ranking is now based solely on 2016 performance. Which unfortunately disqualifies previous #1 Tom Brady. Don’t worry New England, I’ve been VERY impressed with Jimmy G. Expect these rankings to be extremely volatile over the next few weeks (this week was incredibly difficult).
1. Philip Rivers
2. Jimmy Garoppolo
3. Carson Palmer
4. Drew Brees
5. Ben Roethlisberger
6. Eli Manning
7. Matt Ryan
Knocking on 7’s Door: Derek Carr, Matt Stafford, Cam Newton