It was always going to be a rough year for the NFL’s veteran quarterbacks. Peyton Manning retired. Tom Brady accepted his DeflateGate punishment and sat out the season’s first four games. Tony Romo’s glitchy back banished him to the shadow zone of Dallas’ sideline.
Even so, few people could have predicted the downward trend the rest of the league’s established passers would face. Through four weeks of the NFL season, here are your quarterback rating leaders:
1. Matt Ryan, 126.3
2. Jimmy Garoppolo, 119.0
3. Sam Bradford, 105.5
4. Derek Carr, 104.6
5. Philip Rivers, 104.5
You have to cycle through Brian Hoyer, Carson Wentz, and Trevor Siemian before you hit Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers. Carson Palmer sits one slot behind Cody Kessler. Joe Flacco is a fraction of a point worse than Blake Bortles.
Injuries have played a role, giving former backups a chance to shine. Romo hasn’t played yet this season, instead ceding time to a rookie who has yet to throw an interception through one quarter of the season. Garoppolo, No. 2 on the list, had his own breakout performance cut short by a bum shoulder. His replacement, Jacoby Brissett, has a rating that ranks him higher than Palmer, Flacco, and Cam Newton.
So is the star fading from some of the most popular quarterbacks in the game? Are we in for an entire season where the best QBs are steady, non-flashy veterans (Ryan, Rivers) or shiny new faces (Wentz and Carr)?
Panic index: TOM BRADY’S BACK
Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are regressing
There are two breakout candidates you won’t see near the top of any quarterback rankings: Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. The two sophomore passers have been anything but super in 2016. Mariota sits 29th on the list of the league’s starters. Winston is even lower; he ranks ahead of only Ryan Fitzpatrick, who may or may not be throwing with his non-dominant hand this season.
Here how these two young passers stack up in 2016 compared to promising rookie starts:
Each quarterback has been plagued with a lack of downfield success. Their yards per pass attempt numbers have both dropped precipitously this season, especially in Winston’s case. While the former No. 1 draft pick is completing approximately the same percentage of his passes, each dropback has accounted for 1.3 fewer yards for the Buccaneers. He’s passing the ball more (33.4 attempts per game in ‘15, 44.3 in ‘16) while being much less efficient. His 8:8 TD:INT ratio confirms this.
He’s also turning the ball over more often. He’s on pace for 40 giveaways this season after combining for 18 fumbles and interceptions as a rookie.
Mariota’s regression is less clear. The second-year passer keeps almost leading the Titans to comeback wins, but in the end he’s just throwing a lot of passes with little to show for it. The Heisman winner has been inaccurate as a sophomore, completing just 48 percent of his attempts in Tennessee’s two-game losing streak. While he’s doing a better job of protecting the ball in the pocket, his interception numbers are way up from 2015 (from .83 per game to 1.25).
Part of the blame can be placed on his receiving targets; the Hawaiian lacks the weapons Winston does. His most targeted receiver is rookie fifth-rounder Tajae Sharpe. His leading wideout is Rishard Matthews, whose best season in the NFL netted 662 receiving yards. Even if Mariota were living up to his potential, the Titans’ passing game would strike fear in the hearts of few opponents.
But Mariota isn’t and neither is Winston. With a quarter of the season wiled away, their teams sit in the basements of their division, and history doesn’t shine brightly on their playoff chances. Unless the pair can turn it around, 2016 could represent a lost season for the 2015 NFL Draft’s most talented passers.
Panic index: High if you believe in sophomore slumps. Low if you’re a Tennessee fan and thus numb to football altogether.
The San Diego Chargers can’t hold a lead
The Chargers’ latest collapse came on Sunday when the team let a 13-point lead slip away against the New Orleans Saints in the last five minutes. In all three of the Chargers’ losses this season, the team has blown a lead with under five minutes remaining. That’s not good.
In the past two seasons with McCoy as their head coach, the team is just 3-12 in games decided by eight points or fewer. They’ve been plagued with injuries the past couple of seasons, and have lost both Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead for the 2016 season. It’s bad enough when you can’t hold a lead, but the confidence in their ability to even try and do so has to go down with two of their best players out.
Panic index: They’ve lost 15 of their last 20 games under McCoy. At this point, Chargers fans are probably hoping the team can’t hold on to its coach.
The Jaguars are stuck with Gus Bradley forever
The Jacksonville Jaguars, who have now gone eight straight seasons without a winning record, are used to being one of the biggest laughingstocks in the NFL. But 2016 was supposed to be different. After a celebrated offseason that included signing high-profile free agents and acing the NFL draft, the Jaguars looked ready to compete in the AFC South.
And yet, going into their Week 4 matchup against the Colts in London, they were a massive disappointment at 0-3. But there was a silver lining: Gus Bradley’s time as head coach could be ending. An NFL coach has been fired each of the last two seasons following a loss in London. For Gus Bradley, who had just a 12-39 record before Sunday, this seemed like fate.
Then the oops, the Jaguars screwed it up by racing out to a 23-6 lead that even they couldn’t blow. They came close — the Colts scored 21 points in the fourth quarter and had a chance to win before falling just short, 30-27. Perhaps if the Colts had completed the comeback, that would have been the final nail in Bradley’s coffin. Instead, the Jags hung on until the clock ran out, and they flew back across the Atlantic with their first win of the season.
Panic index: Sorry Jaguars fans, you now have your own Jeff Fisher.
The Rams and Texans are leading their divisions
You won’t find two teams more unlikely to be 3-1, but here we are. The Rams and Texans are the only teams above .500 with a negative point differential, -13 for the Rams and -4 for the Texans. That’s unusual for winning teams because, and this is some really advanced stuff, you typically have to score more points than you allow to win games. Mind. Blown.
According to Football Outsiders and their DVOA stats, the Rams (-21.9 percent) and the Texans (-23.3 percent) have the league’s two worst offenses. However, they can both tout effective defenses, and the Rams have the third-best special teams unit right now using those same stats.
Using estimated wins, both teams would be 2-2. Something else to consider is how close the games have been. All three of the Rams’ wins were within six points or fewer. The Texans have yet to win by more than seven points. It’s hard to keep winning games decided by one score or less, so that along suggests some correction is coming.
So just how long can this continue? Who knows. The Rams don’t have a particularly difficult schedule, but this is Jeff Fisher we’re talking about. Precedent says the Rams will only win four more games. The Texans have the luxury of playing the AFC South, but they have some tough games on the schedule, including trips to Minnesota and Denver before the end of the month.
Panic index: If you’re a Rams or Texans fan, you should just enjoy the ride. If you pull for another team in those two divisions, maybe just wait it out and know that the wheels might come off.