NFL Quarterback Rundown: Week 5
This is the “well, that changed quickly” week. Mere weeks ago, there were quarterbacks I highlighted who did not have good weeks. A few of them have already rebounded and proven there is no reason to worry right now.
Carson Wentz had the best game of his young career this week versus the Arizona Cardinals. The Philadelphia Eagles offensive line gave Wentz plenty of time to work with in the pocket and the young quarterback took advantage. Wentz threw four touchdowns to just one interception, marking the first time Wentz has ever thrown three or more touchdowns. He ended the day with his highest single-game marks in adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) and quarterback rating, and took just one sack.
More than anything, Wentz’s comfort and patience shone through. With a healthier and better offensive line than he had last season, Wentz has learned to better use his willingness to stand in the pocket and survey the field. He has also learned to better understand when it is time to run, rather than dance in the pocket with no real plan.
This play highlights his growing poise and awareness. As Wentz hits the top of his drop, a pass rusher is already in his face. Wentz carefully slides up and to his left, then resets his feet with his eyes aimed downfield. He then continues to ease upward in the pocket, but quickly senses another pass rusher to his left. Wentz wastes no time in taking off to pick up the first down by himself. Last season, and even earlier this year, Wentz showed he had the athleticism to consistently make these plays, but he too often looked lost. This week and last, Wentz has shown great improvement.
Deep shots were one of Wentz’s most glaring issues last season. He regularly missed wide open targets down the field. Even earlier this season vs. Kansas City and Washington, Wentz did not look sharp trying to push the ball down the field. Over the past two weeks, though, Wentz has hit vertical routes and deep shots at a high enough rate to give the Eagles offense some real explosivity.
The play above not only shows Wentz’s improvement in keeping his eyes up and throwing down the field, but in navigating the pocket and protecting the ball in the process. Wentz made a great move up in the pocket while tucking the ball into his chest. The move protected the ball while allowing Wentz to slip away from the pressure and get the ball out.
The past two weeks have been arguably the best of Wentz’s career. While he struggled earlier in the season, the past two weeks have displayed the traits many were excited about. Hopefully Wentz continues to make those types of plays.
CaMVP is Back
The Carolina Panthers offense opened the season with a handful of poor outings. In Week 1, they stumbled to a 23-3 win over the San Francisco 49ers, followed by a combined 22 points versus the Buffalo Bills and New Orleans Saints over the following two weeks. Cam Newton was at the center of their faulty play. He was not accurate, decisive, or well thought out through the early portion of the season. Newton did not look anywhere near the same player that won the MVP award in 2015.
The Newton of old is back in town. He regained his footing versus a bad New England Patriots defense in Week 4, but performing against that defense was somewhat expected. Any capable quarterback ought to torch that defense with the way it is playing right now. This week, however, Newton eviscerated a Detroit Lions defense that was fifth in passing DVOA through the first four weeks of the season. Cornerback Darius Slay and safety Glover Quin are each in the top tier of their positions, and Newton destroyed their secondary.
Newton came out firing. This was Newton’s first pass of the game and it was better than most any throw he had made to that point in the season. At first glance, it just looks like a 15-yard out, but a few factors made this throw more than meets the eye. First, Newton is throwing from the right hash to the left sideline. Throwing that far across the field, especially when backed up near one’s own end zone, is generally accepted to be something a quarterback can’t and won’t do. It’s risky and difficult. Second, Newton makes this throw with a defensive lineman compromising his feet. Newton does not have room to reset his feet or comfortably use his upper body—he has to throw from where he is. None of this stops Newton from cocking back and ripping a throw across the field right into Devin Funchess’ mitts.
Later in the game, Newton tossed one of his signature deep passes to Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin got man coverage down the left sideline and Newton had the confidence to throw him open. Even as the ball is hitting his hands, Benjamin is never really open. Newton places the ball just high and wide enough to keep the ball away from the defensive back, while putting it in a spot that Benjamin’s pterodactyl arms can easily reach. Deep passing does not get any more perfect than that.
The season is still young, and Newton has put forth more poor performances than good ones thus far. His revival over the past couple weeks, this week in particular, is encouraging, though. A league with Newton playing at his peak is more fun and better off than without.
Aaron Rodgers is the best to ever do it. Nobody comes close to Rodgers in career touchdown-rate, interception-rate, and adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A). The manifestation of his numbers is more fascinating than the numbers themselves. Rodgers creates magic every Sunday. He can be the savvy, controlled system quarterback just as well as he can be the chaotic gunslinger. Rodgers can wear any hat any quarterback before him has worn, and wears them better than any before him.
This week was a reminder of just how excellent Rodgers is. He picked apart the Dallas Cowboys en route to a heroic game-winning drive with less than two minutes to go. The Cowboys did not have much of an answer for him for the first 58 minutes of the game, and certainly did not during the final two.
There is no throw Rodgers can not make. This ball could only be fit into one exact spot for a chance at completion and Rodgers found it. Thirty yards down the field while rolling out is no small feat. Even the best arms across the league, past and present, have a tough time giving that throw a chance, but Rodgers does it on the regular. Mind you, this is also an outstanding catch by tight end Martellus Bennett, and could have fallen incomplete to a lesser receiver.
More impressive in this game was Rodgers’ final drive to put the Cowboys to rest. The Packers started the drive at their own 25-yard line with 1:13 remaining in the fourth quarter. Rodgers kicked off the drive with two straight 14-yard completions, one to Davante Adams and the other to Bennett. The Packers followed up with an incompletion and a two-yard run by Aaron Jones. With just under a minute left, Rodgers had to take matters into his own hands to advance the drive.
The Cowboys tried their best. They really did. But sometimes the best player on the field simply wins out, and Rodgers is always that player. Despite two defenders getting a hand on him, Rodgers was able to shimmy out of the pocket and run for an 18-yard gain. Rodgers’ run put the Packers offense just outside of the Cowboys’ 10-yard line. On first down, Rodgers attempted a fade route to Adams, but it was well defended. Then he went right back to it on second down.
Rodgers placed this pass high and wide, so as to shield it from the defender. The timing and velocity of the throw also help get the ball there before the defender can even think about how to defend it. It was the type of perfect pass you expect from Rodgers in a moment like that.
If this series were only about picking the best quarterbacks each week, Rodgers would make an appearance every week. His excellence is so common for him by now that sometimes it can go underappreciated. This week, however, his excellence was evident and deserved to be highlighted.