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Quarter pole a good time to evaluate quarterback performance

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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Drew Brees has a 71.4 completion percentage and is averaging 16.2 yards per completion on third down.


Every NFL coach thinks of the season as a four-quarter game. The first quarter just came to an end as Week 4 games are over. There isn't a coach in the league that would gather his team together on the sideline at the end of the first quarter and panic, but owners aren't coaches and they panic when they want to. So, as we head to the second quarter of the season, a general manager and a head coach have already been fired.

September set up the first opportunity to take a look at the best and the worst to date, as well as some storylines I've monitored since the season started.

The debate about the best QB in the league right now

Ask 10 football fans who the best quarterback in the league is right now and you may get 10 different answers. Here's a look at what the top quarterbacks are doing at the quarter pole, but it's a long way to the finish line.

Instead of just looking at the list of quarterbacks by completions, yards or touchdowns, I thought you might like to look at some critical areas to make a case for your favorite QB. Let's take a look at red-zone passing, third-down passing, fourth-quarter passing, throwing against the blitz, and dropped passes to get an idea of who is leading right now.

TD passes vs. red zone attempts
Player Att TDs
Brett Favre 22 7
Kurt Warner 28 6
Jay Cutler 30 6
Jason Campbell 21 5
Philip Rivers 18 5

To establish the right group, I decided winning is still the most important element. So unless a signal caller's team has at least two wins, the player was eliminated from the list. Keep in mind, it's the end of the first quarter, not the end of the season.

Red-zone passing

The question is, how many touchdown passes have been thrown in the red zone? Touchdown passes compared to attempts in the red zone is the basis for the list. You might be surprised by a name or two on it.

Third-down passing

The defense knows you are passing, moving the chains is critical, and there are all kinds of blitz pressures to deal with, which makes this down and distance passing a lot tougher than first-down passing. The list is based on the top five teams in converting third downs and what their quarterbacks did passing the ball in third-down situations.

Third down passing efficiency
Player Third downs Third downs made Third down passing Yards per comp.
Tony Romo, Cowboys 47 27 (57.4%) 23-of-38, 317 yards 13.7
Philip Rivers, Chargers 49 24 (49%) 22-of-37, 312 yards 14.1
Jay Cutler, Broncos 44 21 (47.7%) 17-of-30, 242 yards 14.2
Drew Brees, Saints 48 22 (45.8%) 25-of-35, 407 yards 16.2
Peyton Manning, Colts 35 16 (45.7%) 18-of-28, 246 yards 13.6
Eli Manning, Giants 35 16 (45.7%) 16-of-23, 181 yards 11.3


Fourth-quarter passing

Teams throwing in the fourth quarter are usually trying to catch up, often function in a two-minute situation and the defense is playing for the pass. This list is stacked by fourth-quarter touchdowns.

Fourth quarter pass efficiency
Player Comp. Attempts Yards TDs INTs
Brett Favre 30 37 296 6 0
Philip Rivers 15 25 286 4 0
Trent Edwards 27 35 350 3 0
Jason Campbell 26 36 350 2 0
Tony Romo 20 33 315 2 0


Throwing against the blitz

Quick decision making, avoiding the blitz, and making teams pay for using pressure schemes is a critical element to good quarterback play. This list is based on completion percentage, yards, touchdowns and avoiding sacks.

Passing under pressure
Player Comp. Attempts Yards TDs INTs Sacks
Philip Rivers 21 30 365 2 1 1
Tony Romo 21 29 299 2 1 0
Jay Cutler 25 32 278 1 0 0
Donovan McNabb 25 37 338 3 0 4


Dropped passes

It goes down as an incompletion, which becomes a statement about the quarterback when it really is an issue for the receiver. It is important to keep an eye on which quarterbacks succeed while overcoming dropped passes by their receivers. This can be subjective, but I stayed on the side of the receivers and only went with dropped passes that were obvious.

Dropped passes
Player Passes dropped
Jay Cutler 10
Donovan McNabb 10
Trent Edwards 8
Matt Hasselbeck 7
Aaron Rodgers 7
Peyton Manning 6
Tony Romo 6

Quick hits from Week 4

A. Three game tapes for the scouting report changed things: In the NFL, if you give a coordinator three game tapes of recent regular-season games to base his game plan on, he will make a team miserable. The Kansas City Chiefs scored more points against the Broncos than they did in their other three games combined. The Redskins found a way to beat the Cowboys and frustrate Terrell Owens. The Jets saw something on the Cardinals' tapes that gave them more than a clue on how to put 56 points on the board. Don't be surprised that there are only two undefeated teams among the clubs that have played four games. In another week or two, there probably won't be any undefeated teams left.

B. Some impressive second-half adjustments: Atlanta and St. Louis didn't score a point in the second half. The Chargers came back from down 15-0 to win 28-18. The Bills went into intermission with six points but roared back for 25 in the second half. Even the Cardinals came out of the locker room to put 35 points on the board after being shutout in the first 30 minutes. Halftime adjustments really start on the sideline during the second quarter, but when smart coaches get to the locker room for 12 minutes they usually reduce what the plan will be for the second half and get their team to play faster and with confidence. It is not a time to add new plays to the package.

Week 4 Unsung heroes

1. Sherman Smith

Offensive coordinator, Washington Redskins
Washington is on a three-game winning streak and the win in Dallas was special for a team being ignored as an NFC East contender. Smith works closely with coach Jim Zorn and deserves credit for the game plan and its installation. The Redskins scored 26 points, had 381 yards of offense and controlled the ball for over 38 minutes. Coach Smith, a 14-year veteran of the sidelines, was a running back for the Seahawks (1976-82) and Chargers (1983-84) before getting into coaching.

2. Brian Schottenheimer

Offensive coordinator, New York Jets
The Jets broke a team-scoring record while putting 56 points on the board. Schottenheimer has been criticized in weeks past for running too much or not running enough. Schottenheimer had the challenge of blending the talents of Brett Favre with the players he had on his roster. It's only game four, but it sure looks like the Jets' offense has taken off under Schottenheimer. The young coach is only 35, but has 10 years of NFL experience.

3. Gunther Cunningham

Defensive coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs
The talk in most media outlets was that the Chiefs may not win a game in 2008. They couldn't score and they couldn't stop anyone. They are in a self-proclaimed youth movement and the highest scoring team in the NFL was coming to town. The Broncos put up 114 points in three games and the Chiefs were supposed to be wiped out early. Cunningham doesn't read the predictions, he just keeps coaching his young defense with two rookie corners, a rookie defensive tackle and a group that traded away Jared Allen. The mighty Broncos only mustered three field goals in the second half. Cunningham's defense also had two interceptions, a sack and recovered two fumbles.

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