By Tom Di Benedetto
A couple of QBs jumped out at me on tape and on paper in Week 3 for very different reasons. The commonality between them is a similar placement square in the middle of the top flight and below average QBs so far this year. Is either one ready to take the next step? Or is a tumble from grace the more likely path? Some thoughts:
We were all reminded of Jameis Winston’s youth on Sunday after an infuriating performance which saw him play well at times but stumble in a comical series of second half errors that led to a home loss against the Rams. There were at least four badly missed throws that would have likely changed the outcome of the game, most notably a sailed 2nd & 10 attempt from the 15 with 26 seconds left in which Vincent Jackson beat the zone to get free at the near pylon. It was a standard throw that would have ended the game. And then there was the debacle of a final play that saw Jameis tackled from behind in the red zone after he inexplicably kept the ball cocked and his eyes downfield despite wandering well beyond (like by 8 yards) the line of scrimmage.
Frankly, middle of the pack is a generous mark for Jameis through three games. It is worth considering though that the Bucs, due largely to the injury to Doug Martin and the incompetence of the defense, have become completely reliant on Winston’s arm (leads the league in attempts, including a whopping 58 on Sunday). As a result he’s 6th in yards and tied for the lead in TD passes but is second only to Mr. Interception himself Ryan Fitzpatrick in that distinguished category.
I do believe the much anticipated breakout is still possible for Jameis this season. But he’s now facing a sink-or-swim moment bearing the burden of responsibility for a first-year coached team with a defense that can’t stop anybody. May well be an uphill battle from here in 2015.
We’ve arrived at an interesting crossroads when it comes to ultimate game manager Alex Smith after three weeks. Coming off a career season, he has truly been mediocre so far ranking 15th in QB rating, 9th in completion percentage, 16th in yards, tied for 19th in TDs and 23rd in yards per attempt. He also hasn’t (Week 3 aside) looked nearly as sharp or consistent as he did a year ago. However, he has nonetheless been generally effective in guiding the Chiefs to a 2-1 start.
Where it gets interesting is in my ever increasing suspicion that the Chiefs are a significantly better all-around football team than they were last season when they went 11-5. The much-maligned receiving corps is actually growing into an enticing one featuring four solid targets: Jeremy Maclin, Travis Kelce, Chris Conley and promising 5th round rookie Tyreek Hill. Charles, Ware, West and Knile Davis comprise one of my favorite total backfields in the league and the defense, led by the outrageous Marcus Peters, is off to a fantastic start.
It’s all right there for Smith, who looked better in Week 3 and will look to continue to build on that. He is in his prime, has developed a great rapport and fit with Andy Reid and has the team behind him to inflict some major damage on the league.
Week 3 Game Balls
It was a breakout day for Trevor Siemian in Week 3 against the Bengals that once again demonstrated rapid development in the young Denver quarterback. Siemian flashed a bigger and bolder downfield arm with great success, an element that was lacking from the offensive game plan last season under Peyton Manning (and sorely missed). Most impressive was the fact that Gary Kubiak let loose on the reigns a bit and allowed him to finish the game with aggressive pass plays late into the second half. The result was a victory and this gem of a road line for Siemian: 23/35, 312 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTS.
Matt Ryan is my top QB of the season so far and proved why with a key divisional road win in primetime over the Saints. Something had to give between Ryan and Brees, who had both been very good through two weeks. Ryan prevailed with a convicing performance which saw him at one point lead five consecutive touchdown drives and finish with a tidy 20/30, 240 yard and 2 TD stat line. The obvious knock on him so far has been the schedule (Bucs, Raiders, Saints) but he can answer those doubts over the next three weeks as the competition sharply improves with games against the Panthers, Broncos and Seahawks.
Carson Wentz is now scouting outfit Pro Football Focus’ top-rated NFL QB this season and the highest-graded rookie through three weeks they’ve ever evaluated (his 90.2 mark edges RGIII’s 89.4 through Week 3 of 2012). He was scintillating in Philadelphia’s Week 3 blowout of the Steelers, completing basic plays with technique and precision while also punishing Pittsburgh’s secondary deep on multiple occasions. Simply put, the man has become the next rookie super phenom alonside the likes of Todd Gurley last season, Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014 and Robert Griffin III in ’12. I will put in a word of caution: there is a ton of season left and no team will be taking this young man for granted going forward.
It got no easier this week, as a true top class has yet to separate itself. Jimmy G should enjoy his lofty status as he’ll be getting the boot from this list upon Brady’s return. I maintain that it would be both professionally and fiscally prudent for him to sit Week 4. What he’s already put down on tape will be enough to land him his own job or get him paid. Or both.
1. Matt Ryan (2-1) Tied 1st QB Rating (119.0), 1st Yards/Attempt (10.3), 3rd Comp % (70.9)
2. Philip Rivers (1-2) 2nd QB Rating (109.5), 4th Comp % (68.7), 0 INTs
3. Jimmy Garoppolo (2-0) Tied 1st QB Rating (119.0), 1st Comp % (71.2)
4. Drew Brees (0-3) 1st Yards (1062), Tied 1st TDs (8), 1 INT
5. Carson Wentz (3-0) 7th QB Rating (103.8), Tied 4th TDs (5), 0 INTs
6. Matt Stafford (1-2) Tied 2nd TDs (7), 3rd Yards (985), 6th Comp % (67.5)
7. Derek Carr (2-1) Tied 4th TDs (5), 8th Comp % (66.9), 1 INT
Knocking on Seven’s door: Sam Bradford, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning