The Morning Huddle: Why Were NFL Quarterbacks So Bad in Week 1?

Tuesday September 12th, 2017

When Alex Smith, Jared Goff, and Sam Bradford are leading passing categories, you know something has gone awry—even if we are just one week into the season. Despite Bradford’s sterling Monday night showing, quarterbacks put up the worst combined Week 1 passer rating since 2012. And when it came to actually scoring through the air, they tallied the fewest touchdowns per game for an opening group since 2010. Yes, some truly putrid performances brought down those numbers. But even Pro Bowlers and MVPs (Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson) were mediocre at best. Why?

1. Bad Quarterbacks. If we assume a QB is in his prime from age 27 through 31, then we only had nine such players start on Sunday (Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Tyrod Taylor, Kirk Cousins, Mike Glennon, Andy Dalton, Brian Hoyer, and Scott Tolzien). That leaves a lot of young and old signal-callers, the types prone to inconsistency. Plus, QB quality usually decreases over the course of the season as injuries mount. Uh oh.

2. Bad Offensive Lines. There were more sacks per game in Week 1 than in any opening weekend since 2011. That could be the result of teams prioritizing pass rush in today’s NFL or of new blocking units failing to congeal in time for the regular season. Either way, it could prevent us from seeing high-level football if the issues continue. Jenny Vrentas dives deeper into the topic by looking at the Giants and Seahawks’ failure to score a touchdown on Sunday.

3. Bad Matchups. Rodgers had to face a stacked Seahawks front seven. Dak Prescott battled with a Giants defense that should finish among the league’s best. Same with Drew Brees against Minnesota. Maybe once those guys get to face more manageable opponents, they’ll get back on track. How’s that for, uh . . . optimism?

But that still leaves last year’s top two MVP finishers and Super Bowl combatants: Tom Brady (lowest completion percentage since 2006) and Matt Ryan (avoided his first scoreless outing since 2015—and possibly an upset loss to Chicago—with a touchdown toss in the fourth quarter). To find out what went wrong with them, I turned to The MMQB’s resident film expert, Andy Benoit. You can hear him every week on The MMQB 10 Things Podcast.

FELDMAN: Andy, what did the Chiefs and Bears do to limit these two QBs?

BENOIT: For Brady, the Chiefs frequently rushed three and dropped eight into coverage. Corners Marcus Peters and Terrance Mitchell were winning one-on-one outside, so the overloaded coverage really clogged the middle of the field. That reduced New England's passing attack, and it didn't help that top interior receiver Julian Edelman was out.

For Atlanta, the Bears took away the run and played a lot of their usual two-deep coverages. Ryan was compelled to check it down often, and the Falcons never got into the dynamic downfield route combinations that defined them last year.

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FELDMAN: Will Brady and Ryan—and their offenses—rebound?

BENOIT: It's too soon to panic. The Patriots and Falcons are two well-oiled machines. It'll be interesting to see how the Falcons do under new OC Steve Sarkisian. The jury could be out on that for a few more weeks.

FELDMAN: What else has jumped out to you as you’ve started looking at Week 1 QB play?

BENOIT: It hasn't been all bad quarterbacking. Alex Smith was tremendous against New England—much more aggressive than he typically is. Matthew Stafford was also textbook in his pocket mechanics against Arizona. Defenses got the better of the offenses in Week 1 overall, but the NFL is still a passing league. I would be surprised if things don't stabilize soon.

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HOT READS

NOW ON THE MMQB: Gary Gramling and Andy Benoit discuss Christian McCaffrey and Cam Newton … Peter King’s MMQB and more in our archive.

LATER TODAY ON THE MMQB: Michael Beller provides his fantasy rankings … Jacob Feldman—well, this is an awkward use of the third person!—evaluates a modern running back resurgence … the staff publishes its power rankings … and more. Stay tuned.

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PRESS COVERAGE

Chargers rookie Younghoe Koo had a game-tying field goal blocked at the end of Week 1's best game.
David Zalubowski/AP

1. Broncos 24, Chargers 21. If you stayed up past 1 a.m. Eastern time, you were treated to the best finish of the “weekend.” Los Angeles nearly eliminated a 24-7 deficit in the fourth quarter (Denver has never lost when leading by that much that late) but fan favorite Younghoe Koo had a game-tying 44-yard field goal attempt blocked by Shelby Harris at the end of the fourth quarter. (Koo’s first attempt sailed through the uprights but was rendered moot by a Denver timeout just before the snap.)

2. Vikings 29, Saints 19. I think I was in the minority in predicting before the season that Minnesota would make the playoffs (and win a postseason game). In Monday night's spotlight, Bradford and the Vikings’ defense presented their bull case. In the win, Dalvin Cook broke Adrian Peterson's record for rushing yards in a Vikings rookie debut, spoiling AP's return to Minneapolis. Relatedly, Drew Brees Deserves Better Than The Saints’ Defense.

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3. Texans coach Bill O’Brien can’t help himself from inciting QB controversies, it seems. After subbing rookie Deshaun Watson in for Tom Savage midway through Sunday’s opener, O’Brien yesterday refused to name a starter for Thursday’s game at Cincinnati. Watson, limited with an ankle injury on Monday, is still the smart choice according to Jenny Dial Creech.

4. He's a black high school quarterback. Five of his teammates were pictured in white hoods. It may get worse.”

Chiefs safety Eric Berry faces a lengthy rehab after tearing an Achilles tendon. He's already overcome something way worse.
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

5. “Eric’s doing good with it,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of safety Eric Berry’s reaction to a season-ending left Achilles tendon tear. “I mean, he’s overcome cancer, right? I mean, he’s fought for his life before.” Two more injury updates:

Myles Garrett is out for at least one more week, and appears to be in no rush to return to the field.

—Bad news for Cardinals fans (and many fantasy owners): David Johnson could miss four months with a wrist injury.

6. Yes, Washington is in for at least 15 more weeks of referendums on how much Kirk Cousins should or shouldn’t be paid. Dan Steinberg is already feeling the Kirk Cousins Contract Fatigue.

7. Three NFL players have recently been ejected for throwing punches. Except none of them actually threw a punch. Kevin Seifert tries to figure out what’s going on.

8. This story ran in The Charlotte Observer last Friday, but it’s still worth a read: Luke Kuechly is hoping an experimental device will save his brain.

9. The Rams won big on Sunday, but hardly anybody went to the Coliseum to watch.

10. With their Week 1 game postponed, the Dolphins asked to get an October London matchup moved to their home stadium. The league refused.

Have a story you think we should include in tomorrow’s Press Coverage? Let me know here.

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THE KICKER

Stefon Diggs honored Randy Moss with custom cleats on Monday night. I’m calling them Moonboots.

Question? Comment? Story idea? Email me directly or let the team know at talkback@themmqb.com

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