QB Watch: Week 1
Going into week 1 there were some storylines that I was very interested to see how they played out. For a selection of quarterbacks, this is an important season. On one hand you have some seasoned veterans who need to prove they have what it takes to lead a team to playoff contention, and then there are several young QB’s who have questions to answer about whether they can be a success in the NFL. I’ve picked out a few of the ones that stepped up and answered some questions, along with some who picked up right where they left off last season.
The unknown quantities:
Derek Carr goes into a season on the back of a statistically season in 2018, where he set career highs in completion percentage and yards, but a career low in touchdowns. Following a stellar 2016, he was average at best in 2017. 2018 saw a bit of a rebound but not enough to quiet some of the doubters. This is viewed as a make or break season as to whether he is the future for the soon to be Las Vegas Raiders.
Carr started going 5 for 5 and leading the Raiders to a touchdown in the opening drive of the game. He was comfortable, confident and made quick decisions. The ball came out quickly with perfect placement and that only continued throughout the game. He did all the right things, spreading the ball around 7 different pass catchers, taking check downs when his first read wasn’t there and moving off his spot to avoid pressure on the rare occasions the Broncos generated some. Midway through the 3rd quarter, he only had 2 incompletions, finishing with 4 in total. One of the incompletions was lucky not to be picked off but when you play this well, a little bit of luck isn’t out of the question. The highlights were a 95-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown and also a beautiful throw to his new weapon Tyrell Williams. Tyrell was running down the seam with a CB in tight coverage but Carr put it up there in a spot where only Williams could get to it, and he obliged by high pointing the ball and bringing it in for his QB.
This was arguably Carr’s most impressive showing since 2016 when he led the Raiders to the playoffs only to miss out when he broke his fibula on Christmas Eve. If he can keep this up, the Raiders will win a lot more games than they will lose.
Baltimore finished 2018 with a run heavy offence that gashed teams, until San Diego found a way to stifle them in the playoffs. As a result, one narrative that dominated the offseason was; could Lamar Jackson be effective as a passer? Lamar answered with an emphatic ‘Yes’. 158.3, that’s a perfect passer rating. 17 for 20, 324 yards and 5 touchdowns. Those are eye-popping stats no matter how you look at it.
Let’s look a little deeper though, it was against a Dolphins roster that only had a handful of players returning from the year before, so I looked at the game film to see how easy it was for Lamar. It was pretty easy in truth but I still saw enough reasons to be impressed. Even if receivers are open, a misplaced pass can still lead to a drop, or an off-target throw can let a defender catch up and limit yards after the catch. Lamar was accurate and had zip on his throws, he looked like a natural passer.
I’ve picked out three throws in particular that were big time NFL throws. First was the second TD he tossed to ‘Hollywood’ Brown. It was a pass which travelled 45 yards in the air while it looked like he barely flicked his wrist and it the ball hit Brown perfectly in stride. The second was the TD strike to Willie Snead V, which he fit perfectly over the defender and again dropped right into the bucket. If that one is underthrown it’s an INT, or at least gives the defender a chance to make a saving tackle. The last TD of the first half was a pass to Miles Boykin, which at first, I thought was just a desperation heave as he was falling back away from pressure. On watching the film, I think he sees the defender running across trailing Boykin and he throws it behind the defender where Boykin can come back to it. That ball is picked off if it is in any other location, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Moving onto one of the most anticipated NFL debuts in recent memory, Kyler Murray. For three quarters this looked like a baptism of fire. He was overthrowing deep balls, having the short ones sail on him and had passes batted at the line of scrimmage. There was an ugly INT where he simply just didn’t see the defender sitting underneath waiting for him to throw it. He was under a lot of pressure in the early stages, he didn’t get much help from the o-line and I think it rattled him. When he had time,
he looked uncertain and on a few occasions, could’ve let the ball go but held it for a fraction too long. Receivers also made a few drops, at least 4 or 5 incompletions hit the receivers right in the hands and while they might not have been perfect throws you expect NFL receivers to make those.
Then it all changed in the 4th quarter. Helped by better protection and play calling that got the ball out quicker he found a groove. After hitting a few passes in quick succession, he visibly grew in confidence, going 15 for 19, 154 yards and 2 touchdowns. That production led to 3 scoring drives and completed an 18-point comeback that included a dime to Larry Fitzgerald when he was in tight coverage and a perfectly arched throw over the defender to David Johnson who was running up the seam. During overtime, he led one more scoring drive off of the back of another precision 45-yard strike to the evergreen Fitzgerald. While the game ended in a tie, Murray showed enough potential to give Cardinals fans hope.
A question I asked myself was, can Washington win with Case Keenum or are they just going through the motions until Haskins is ready to step in? Keenum answered with a thoroughly impressive performance going 30–44, 380 yards, 3 TD and a 117.6 passer rating. The fact they lost the game had little to do with his performance. As we approached half time the rushing attack dried up, offensive penalties piled up and the defence capitulated giving up to 50-yard TD passes to Desean Jackson.
They are who we thought they were:
These QB’s picked up right where they left off and showed no first week rust:
Up first, Deshaun Watson who was surgical at times, despite having to move around and escape pressure. Despite being sacked 6 times Watson was 20–30, for 286 yards and 3 TDs. Those numbers would look even better if not for two uncharacteristic drops by Hopkins. Particularly impressive was the last drive where he went 75 yards in just 2 precision throws to go ahead with just 30 seconds left. They may have lost but nonetheless it was an impressive performance, particularly considering he was pressured or rushed on an awful lot of his drop backs. I’ve said it often but this o-line needs to be better. If they can protect Watson, he could have a Mahomes type season. Without an effective o-line, it really limits how far he can carry this team.
Staying with what was the game of the weekend, Drew Brees showed up when it mattered. This offence might have evolved to take some pressure of the hall of fame worthy QB, but it’s not because he’s lost anything. When you have a playmaker like Alvin Kamara, you feed him the ball but when the game is on the line, and you have 30 seconds to get into field goal range Drew will get you there. He also continued to spread the ball around, recovering from an early interception to go 74% completion percentage, 370 yards and 2 TDs through the air. Neither of these QB’s deserved to lose this one.
Conventional wisdom says Patrick Mahomes will experience some sort of drop-off. He can’t continue to play at such a high level as he did last season. Well no one told him that. If it happens, it’s going to have to wait a week. If we were going to see regression, week 1 against one of the few defences that gave him a hard time last season would have been a good candidate but he sliced them up for 378 yards and 3TD’s, despite rolling an ankle early in the game. Also, he did it with Tyreek Hill leaving the game hurt after just 2 catches for 16 yards.
Tom Brady carved up the Steelers in Foxboro. Nothing surprising about that, except that the Steelers didn’t really make it difficult for him. At times on defence they looked confused and set receives free, but Brady still has to make the throws, even to open receivers. What was impressive was the velocity and accuracy, hitting receivers in stride just like the Tom Brady of old. There was one throw to Josh Gordon travelled over 40 yards in the air, into a tight window. Father time may be coming, but he’s still a few stops away based on this performance.