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Thursday, 13 September 2012

Week 1: The Good, The Bad & The Weeden

5 rookie quarterbacks started week 1, that’s a crazy-high number.

But at the same time, most of the situations really limited the options of teams. Either they had to start the guy, or he forced his way into the starting job (or the GM’s seat is so hot he needs to get the rookie in there straight away).

So with all eyes on the top picks from April Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III I thought, after my piece in pre-season about rookie QB’s, I would start a weekly piece about just how they all performed.

Yes, I’m aware that this means subjecting myself to not only the horrific uniforms of Seattle, but also the terrible, terrible Cleveland Browns. But I will get the fun cutaways to Mrs. Tannehill, the joys of Mike Shanahan’s skin colour being EXACTLY the same as the Redskins maroon and I just plain love Russell Wilson.

So let’s get into this. Every week I’ll rank the 5 rookies (and any others that might start their game that week like Philly’s Nick Foles or maybe Denver’s Brock Osweiler) on their performance THAT WEEK. Nothing carries over week to week, I’m not overly interested in stat lines for this. I want to see the QB make their progressions, sense pressure and stay calm. I expect to see mistakes of course, but it’s how do they bounce back from those. Do the mistakes snowball into awfulness or spur them to better things?

1: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins vs. New Orleans Saints

There are good debuts, and then there’s this. Mike Shanahan took the Cam Newton blue print from his hot start last year and applied it really, really well.

They started Griffin off with a lot of screens, both running back and wide out, before Griffin hit Garcon for his maiden touchdown in the NFL off a play action. I wasn’t a perfect pass by any means, Garcon had to reach out and snag the ball before racing downfield, but they all count, and it was good play.

"This NFL thing is pretty easy"
The Redskins then started to use Griffin’s athleticism to it’s most. Roll outs, boot legs, even a designed QB sweep with the right guard pulling out to take him for a 1st down. They kept the Saints defense off balance all day with good use of the run game.

But it was more than just gameplanning that resulted in Griffin’s big day. He executed his play-fakes REALLY well, consistently continuing his action after handing it off which resulted in slow back-side pursuit on runs and some very affective play-action passes. His arm strength really came into effect on some deep throws across the field and he generally had a nice time when dropping straight back too.

One of the main things to remember is that this was against the Saints, who have a poor defense and are finding their feet under the interim interim head coach. The ‘Skins defense put Griffin in a really comfortable position and meant he didn’t have to throw the ball nearly as much as New Orleans would have liked.

This was a fantastic debut, accurate throws, a cool head and importantly, the big fat W. But I expect some more trying tests to come for RG3.

2: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks vs. Arizona Cardinals

No, Wilson wasn’t as impressive as he was in pre-season, but Pete Carroll played it really, REALLY safe in his play-calling. They called 42 passes (including Wilson runs) to 25 runs, the passes were conservative, rarely down field and as a result the Cardinals defense quickly bought everyone down closer to the line of scrimmage. They blitzed a lot and the line, particularly right tackle Breno Giacomini, couldn’t handle it. Wilson’s athleticism allowed him to keep plays alive and he made some plays with his feet that were very nice.

The game, which was in hand until Kevin Kolb came in and was miraculously good, will be remembered for the replacement refs messing up the timeout situation at the end of the game. But Wilson put them in position to win, with the last pass of the game going through Braylon Edwards’ hands (sound familiar to anyone?).
Not matter what, Russell Wilson won't be able
to outrun those horrible green shoes
 All in all I thought Wilson did well in a tricky road game against a defense that is quietly very good at every level. He’ll have tough tests in the weeks ahead at home against Dallas and then Green Bay, if Pete Carroll feels able to put a bit more of the offensive burden on Wilson’s shoulders, I think he could see the rewards come. The next few weeks are all about progression for Wilson, not about the scoreboard.

3: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts vs. Chicago Bears

Life without an offensive line is going to be very, very tough for Andrew Luck. He didn’t have a single play where he wasn’t getting harried or hounded by the Bears defense. Sacked 3 times, knocked down multiple more times and, chasing the game, was picked off 3 times.

Doesn’t sound like that great of a performance for the #1 pick and people were, jokingly I hope, already asking if the Colts regret not taking Robert Griffin III. It’s a crazy statement that I hope won’t be repeated again.
Pac-12 defenses didn't quite look like this...
 Luck’s performance, between the picks, was fairly good given just how much pressure the Bears were putting on him. Having him drop back 50 times in his debut is far from ideal, the run game was pretty decent and Donald Brown went at an impressive 5.3 yards a carry, but on just 9 carries. You have to give a rookie with such a shaky offensive line more protection than that. The game wasn’t even out of hand early, it was 24-14 at the half, perfectly within reach.

Yes, they’ll be a lot of growing pains with a new head coach, a new quarterback and a poor team. But there are bright spots. Reggie Wayne was fantastic and Luck targeted him 18 times, showing a lot of trust and understanding there, which has got to be a good sign for Colts fans. As has rookie TE Coby Fleener playing well in week 1.

The impression I got from week 1 is that Luck is as good as advertised, but it’s going to be very difficult for him to impress against defenses who can pressure, especially as the Bears did, with just 4 a lot of the time. He doesn’t have the O-line to hold up in a pass-heavy game which could end up doing him a serious disservice this season.

4: Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins vs. Houston Texans

In the pre-season I outlined the risks with starting such an inexperienced QB in week 1. And really, Ryan Tannehill expertly showed what I was worried about.

A poor day against a very good defense is kind of expected in your 1st start in the NFL, but one of the big problems was the amount of tipped passes.8 in total show just how on the edge Tannehill was playing. Even more worrying however, is that stud defensive end JJ Watt was able to bat or tip 3 passes (2 of which lead to intereceptions). As big a reach as Watt has, he didn't have to go up high to get a hand on the ball, he took up good positions in passing lanes and Tannehill either didn't see him, or couldn't adjust himself to throw over him. Which ever it was, it's a worry.
NB: Throw it to the people in green
There are always going to be kinks to iron out in rookie QB's, but you would hope that a guy you spend an 8th overall pick on has elementary things like sliding in the pocket and throwing over the DL down. Look, I think Tannehill could one day be a good QB, but not right now. He got pressured and hit all day as the Texans attacked him, and he responded with exactly 3 points off a 45 yard drive, which was their longest while the game was competitive.

The Miami camp is still positives, with nothing but respect for Tannehill, and there is a lot of sense in starting his learning curve now, even if it will lead to some tough games ahead and a really rough season in the wins column.

Tannehill will have easier games that's for sure, perhaps starting with this week's against Oakland.

5: Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Weeden started the game getting caught under the giant USA flag. I think he wishes he could have stayed there.

It was a seriously ugly game from the 28 year old QB, if it wasnt a slant route, Weeden had a very tough time hitting the receiver, and when the Eagles started taking that away it was really all over. Anything down the field was wayward and was always a threat to be picked off. Twice he went down the sideline to a blanketed WR and saw it picked off by a perfectly placed Dominuque Rodgers-Cromartie.
Brandon Weeden couldn't find the strike zone, so the
natural place for him to end up is in Cleveland
 Weeden didnt get any help from the run game, with Trent Richardson going at just 2.1 yards a carry, but when youre completing passes at just a 34% rate you really dont have many excuses to make.

As the game went on, and Weeden started getting pressured more, his throws got worse and worse. He was simply incapable of getting close to his WRs on even medium routes, its hard to think that Colt McCoy couldnt have done a better job.

Yes, the Eagles have a good defense with plenty of playmakers at the back end, and no, Weeden doesnt have any good receivers, but he should still be doing better than this. It was an abject performance and Cleveland will need him to get better. 

- Toby Durant (@TDonSport)
- The Pulling Linemen

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