NFL Quarterback Rundown: Week 4
The NFL quarterback landscape is confusing as ever this year. Jared Goff and Alex Smith are two of the most productive quarterbacks in the league, a rookie quarterback (Deshaun Watson) stuck it to the New England Patriots, and a recent third-string player in Jacoby Brissett looks better than who a handful of teams started Week 1. And those are only the most extreme examples of the wackiness.
How is Tyrod Taylor Still Playing Well?
The Buffalo Bills purged their roster this offseason. On offense, they traded star wide receiver Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams and allowed their No.2 wide receiver Robert Woods to walk in free agency, coincidentally landing him with the Rams. Slot receiver and speedster Marquise Goodwin also left in free agency. The replacements for those three were Jordan Matthews, rookie Zay Jones, and Andre Holmes. Without a doubt, the replacement group is significantly worse.
And yet, Tyrod Taylor has not missed a beat. In fact, he looks better and more in control than he did a year ago. He is on pace to match or exceed many of his career highs and is doing so without a receiver who can consistently take advantage of his ability to push the ball downfield. That has not stopped Taylor from doing it, though.
Taylor’s mobility and deep passing are his two best traits. The third-year starter put both traits on display here on an unorthodox rollout play. The play is designed for Taylor to roll to his left and either find a receiver there or throw the ball away (or run). Instead, Taylor knew he had time in the pocket and a deep receiver to his back side. Taylor comes to a halt, back tracks the other way in the pocket, and drops a dime 50 yards from where he is standing.
Later in the game, Taylor had another excellent throw off of a rollout. This time, however, it was not the flash that impressed, it was the savvy.
Quarterbacks are often horrified with bodies around them. When quarterbacks see free defenders crashing down on rollouts, they often stop and panic or make a hurried throw. Taylor kept his cool on this play. As Taylor brought his head around out of the fake hand-off, a Falcons defender was already in his face. Taylor did not fret and he continued his out-and-up path. After clearing the initial defender, Taylor found a target to the left boundary, but had to wait for the receiver to turn around and generate separation. Taylor is waiting on the receiver while another Falcons defenders is barrelling down toward him. Again, Taylor remains calm, maintains his mechanics as he prepares to throw under pressure, and fires a low-and-away strike to his wide receiver.
It is plays like those where Taylor does not get enough credit. Few quarterbacks have the athleticism, confidence, and awareness to make that play consistently. Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson come to mind, but beyond that, good luck.
If Taylor plays this way all season, the Bills would be foolish to move on from him. Maybe Taylor will not ever be “elite”, but he does more than enough to keep the offense running smoothly and there is a not good chance they will find someone better without using a lot of resources, and even then, there is no guarantee.
Cam Newton is (Not) Back (Yet)
Things looked better for Cam Newton this week. After a mediocre first two games, Newton threw three interceptions to the New Orleans Saints in Week 3, putting him at three touchdowns and four interceptions on the year to that point. Newton did not look like himself, both mentally and physically. His throwing motion looked weaker and he made bonehead mistakes, especially toward the end of the Saints game. By all accounts, it was not 2015 Cam Newton.
Super Cam didn’t return this week either, despite how much better the box score looked. Newton threw for 3 touchdowns and over 300 yards at a completion rate of just over 75 percent. This was his first game of the year in which he hit any of those benchmarks, and he hit them all at once in this game. Unfortunately, Newton’s production was less about him and more about how bad the New England Patriots pass defense is right now.
The play above was one of Newton’s touchdown throws. Wide receiver Devin Funchess (in end zone) and running back Christian McCaffrey (right hash) got completely lost in the coverage. Neither player was accounted for and they both could have scored touchdowns here. Newton opted for the player already in the end zone, Funchess, and delivered a nice ball for an easy touchdown. Credit to Newton for making this play, but any competent quarterback would have done the same.
If any play was truly impressive from Newton, it was this one above. The Panthers are running an RPO — a run-pass option. This RPO’s pass option is a post to the middle of the field form Funchess, aligned to the right of the formation. Prior to the snap, Newton recognizes the middle of the field will be wide open. He motions in Funchess from a wide alignment to a tight alignment in order to create a shorter and faster throw than if Funchess was out wide. Once the ball is live, the Patriots linebackers collapse on the play fake and Newton throws over the top of them for a touchdown. The recognition and command Newton showed on this play gives hope he can truly rebound through the rest of the season.
Newton was still plagued in this game. His shoulder and throwing motion did not look any stronger than in previous weeks. The biggest difference was that New England gifted him wider throwing windows and less pressure than he’s seen all year. That being said, this game may still serve as a “get right” game for Newton and rebuild his confidence moving forward. This was a defense he should have destroyed, and he did. Now we need to see him beat superior defenses like he has for the past half-decade.
The Cleveland Browns Have Nothing
2017 was supposed to be the year the Cleveland Browns were not bad. They are bad, though. The offense does not have an identity right now and the brunt of the responsibility to carry the offense has been thrust onto the shoulders of DeShone Kizer. Kizer is one of the youngest starting quarterbacks in the modern era and is fresh out of a poor coaching situation at Notre Dame. Kizer was and is a delicate quarterback prospect, and Browns head coach Hue Jackson has done nothing to help him.
Cleveland’s identity does not make sense given their personnel. Jackson wants to be a shotgun-oriented, three- and five-step drop passing offense with little play-action or commitment to the run. Cleveland does not have the receiver talent for that, especially now that Corey Coleman is missing time with another hand injury. Defenses can blitz the daylight out of the Browns because the offensive line has not gelled together yet and there are zero receivers on the roster who can punish defense for being aggressive. The result is a high-pressure, high-difficulty offense being run by a 21-year-old rookie quarterback.
The two screenshots above are from the same play. The play is stopped at the moment Kizer’s back foot reaches the end of his drop back. On both angles, two Cincinnati Bengals pass-rushers can be seen breaking through the line of scrimmage. One is defensive tackle Geno Atkins, the other is a blitzing linebacker. That type of immediate penetration has been a theme for Cleveland this year. Kizer is inclined to hold the ball too long already, and the constant barrage of immediate pressure is not helping him any.
At the same time, Kizer himself still has a ways to go. He has not been near as bad as the numbers would advertise, but he has not helped in the way one would hope from their rookie quarterback.
Kizer has a complete lack of awareness from time to time. He is generally a smart quarterback, but he spaces reads, coverages, and blitzes on occasion. The play above is one of those occasions.
Kizer should have noticed the linebacker to the wide side of the field creeped up closer than the rest of the unit. A linebacker would almost never play that much closer than his peers unless he was tasked with covering a tight end, but there was no tight end to that side of the formation. It was a blitz all the way and Kizer hardly checked that side of the defense. Once the ball was snapped, the offensive line shifted, a call likely built into the play call. Had Kizer noticed the blitz, he could have changed the protection and/or tossed a quick pass to Isaiah Crowell out of the backfield. Alas, Kizer looked to his left, unaware of the blitz, and took a shot before he could even get beyond his first read.
The Browns offense is a damaging symbiotic relationship. The surrounding environment puts pressure on Kizer, yet Kizer does not do enough right now to counteract the chaos in any way. What the Browns are experiencing now is reminiscent of the Los Angeles Rams a year ago, where their young quarterback was surrounded by chaos and was incapable of functioning. Kizer has flashed more than Goff ever did as a rookie, but the overall structural issues and demise of the Browns offense feels similar. Without any foreseeable talent fixes on the market, it is tough to imagine the Browns figuring it out this season.