This is the golden era for quarterbacks. At least that's what they tell us.
Five passers put up ratings better than 100 last season. There are more elite quarterbacks now than we have seen in the league in a long, long time. But even in this age of the quarterback, where the rules make it easier to succeed, there is a bottom half of the league in which it seems the depths are plunging deeper than the norm.
Tough call is about winning
It's not easy for the many coaches currently dealing with quarterback changes. Pat Kirwan writes that what it comes down to is simple: Winning right now. **More ...**
Ten backups saw action last week, and we're only two games into this marathon. Matt Stafford aside, there haven't been any long-term injuries to top starters, and the crop of quarterbacks is going to thin as the season progresses.
Sure, some youngsters will develop; Ben Roethlisberger is just a few weeks away from returning; and a few teams can go legitimately two or three deep at QB. But I can also rattle off a list of teams who can't feel entirely comfortable with ANY of their quarterbacks heading into Sunday (Buffalo, Arizona, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Carolina -- Jimmy Clausen might be good in time, but the plan wasn't for him to be starting in September -- and Detroit, sans Matthew Stafford).
Now, I know it's early and all, but consider there are already 12 teams with starting quarterbacks who have a rating of 75 or below -- Derek Anderson (Arizona), Matt Hasselbeck (Seattle), Alex Smith (San Francisco), Shaun Hill (Detroit), Sam Bradford (St. Louis), Brett Favre (Minnesota), Matt Moore (just benched in Carolina), Jason Campbell (just benched in Oakland), Jake Delhomme (Seneca Wallace is below 75 -- the Leaf line? -- as well, so take either one in Cleveland), Trent Edwards (just benched in Buffalo), Joe Flacco (Baltimore), and Matt Cassel (Kansas City).
That's nearly half the teams in the league who are in some state of quarterback disarray. You could make the case for a full-blown quarterback controversy, or at least burgeoning one, in a staggering number of cities, each of which we'll dissect. In fact, let's devise a rating system to show the level of volatility in each of these scenarios, given that fall is on the way. Let's stick with the Ryan Leaf theme and use one to four Leafs as the scale, with four being the most troublesome.
Arizona has already cut a former first-round bust (Matt Leinart), and Max Hall got his first taste of the NFL in last week's loss to Atlanta. Derek Anderson is just keeping Hall's place for him, but the Cards will take their lumps with Hall. Arizona is high on him, but he's raw. The odds of Arizona getting quality QB play this season are bleak.
If there is a solution to their long-term QB issues, I can't see him on the roster now. They can toggle between Trent Edwards and Ryan Fitzpatrick, but they lack an athletic passer who can run the spread offense the way coach Chan Gailey would like.
Kansas City Chiefs
Matt Cassel is running out of excuses for his poor play. They can run the ball, and they're playing better on defense. Sure, there isn't an abundance of playmakers, but they didn't give Cassel his big contract to win despite him. I continue to think the Chiefs will strongly consider getting out of this contract in the offseason.
Ditto the Buffalo situation, except in this case Josh Cribbs might be their best option. Why the Browns aren't running more Wildcat with Cribbs and Seneca Wallace in the backfield at the same time is beyond me.
Will the Vikings regret throwing more money at Brett Favre rather than, say, Chester Taylor, who they badly miss right now? Favre is taking sacks already, lacks mobility and threw three more interceptions at home Sunday than he did all of last year. He can't be that good again, and as the hits keep mounting, could there come a point where a heavy dose of the run game and some play action and run/pass option stuff with Tarvaris Jackson makes sense? Regardless, given the fact that Favre is involved, and all the drama it took to lure him back, the entire league will be watching this closely.
Don't get me wrong, they have a luxury of two potential franchise quarterbacks in Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb. But when you play in Philly, where everything is apocalyptic, this isn't necessarily a good thing. Talk radio will eat it up, but every week Andy Reid will be answering questions about his QBs if Vick's play slips.
The wild inconsistency of David Garrard drives some people crazy. And with the run game not looking as potent thus far, the Jags could have issues (not to mention dealing with the locals who believe they should have drafted Tim Tebow). With Luke McCown hurt now, it could get bleak.
I still have some hope for Jason Campbell, and regardless, Bruce Gradkowski is a gamer. His teammates rally behind him. He won games for them last season and can do it again, ugly as it may be. But could it come at the risk of a fractured locker room?
The reality is the immediate expectations for Moore or Clausen are not high. And given how poorly Moore played through two weeks, I figure Clausen gets a decent look. They have to restore the rushing attack regardless of the QB, and no one was banking on getting anything more than a game manager this season.
The Ravens spent at least $3.5 million to land Marc Bulger, and while the organization is devoted to Joe Flacco, the rumblings for Bulger have already started here (I live here, trust me). If Flacco has a few more four-interception games, the roar will grow louder with this defense again dominating and Super Bowl expectations in tow. Again, it would take a heck of a lot for me to see a permanent switch here, but if Flacco is having another day like last week, might they turn to Bulger coming out of the half?
San Francisco 49ers
It remains to be seen if Alex Smith is the guy beyond this season, but I don't see much to push him there now. He had a nice bounce-back game Monday night against the Saints, and I loved his composure in the fourth quarter, especially. I still expect this team to win the NFC West, however, and to do so with Smith at the helm.
A lot of teams had, perhaps, defining victories last week, and none perhaps more so than the Bengals' win over the Ravens. There was a sense in that locker room that the team was falling prey to the hype and hoopla that comes with being the hunted, and with all of the attention that comes with having Batman and Robin on the roster.
This is a team with a real dearth of vocal leaders, according to those inside the locker room, who got pummeled in Week 1 and faced a tough division rival in the Ravens last week. That the Bengals found a way to win ugly and run their AFC North winning streak to eight games was critical to their psyche and confidence, and staved off some potential unrest.
"Last year was the first time we really achieved success," one Bengal said, "and I think it's a good thing that happened to us in New England (in Week 1). It was humbling and a wake-up call we needed. We'd never really had super stars here, and I'm not sure if everyone was really confident being the front-runner for the first time.
"Losing like we did let us know we can't just show up and win. We had to get back to being a grind-it-out, blue collar football team."
The Bengals' defense responded after missing 17 tackles against the Patriots, Adam Jones continued to spark the special teams and the superior secondary feasted on Flacco's mistakes. The Bengals regained their balance on offense, sticking with the power run game even with the Ravens playing tough run defense, and didn't get pass happy. Players were hungry for more running plays against the Ravens, and they got it.
Chemistry could still tell the tale with these Bengals. Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens spoke at length about the need for continued reps in practice to get the passing game going -- "We haven't come close to showing what we can do," Owens said after the win Sunday -- and keeping them happy and productive will take some effort. Finding veteran leaders could be imperative as well. Linebacker Dhani Jones and guard Bobbie Williams are trying to fill that role, according to several people close to the team, but obviously neither has the heft or fire of someone like a Ray Lewis or a James Harrison.
"We really don't have that kind of guy, that's a fair statement," one Bengal said. "That's not really in the nature of a guy like Chad, or T.O. or Carson (Palmer). We don't really have that kind of 'in your face' guy. That hasn't been us, and we didn't need it last year. This year, with all of the expectations, I guess that's a fair question to ask."
» I continue to hear great things about Steelers rookie receiver Antonio Brown. He earned rave reviews mimicking Chris Johnson on the scout team ahead of the game with the Titans (the Steelers ended up limiting Johnson to 34 yards, snapping his 12-game streak of 100-yard games). Brown also won the game in some aspects with an opening kickoff return for a touchdown.
Pittsburgh special teams' revival is no small accomplishment. For all the talk of the limited run game and the loss of Troy Polamalu last season, the collapse of specials teams above all else probably resulted in the Steelers missing the playoffs.
» Just as a follow up on Favre, he threw 25 touchdowns and two interceptions at home all of last season, including the playoffs, and tossed three on Sunday against Miami to go with three sacks. The Vikings have been held to 10 points or less in consecutive games for the first time since 2006.
» What a second half for Antonio Cromartie on Sunday. He shut down Randy Moss and came up with an interception in the final two quarters with Darrelle Revis hurting. With Revis out for this week's game against the Dolphins, Cromartie figures to be locked on Brandon Marshall in another huge AFC East game.
» Huge, huge kudos for Mike Martz getting Jay Cutler on the right path right away this season. My concerns with the Bears are with the offensive line and the secondary, and I'm still not sold on them overall. But few people know quarterbacks the way Martz does.
A few stats on how dominant the Ravens have been on defense: The offense has already committed seven turnovers, and the defense has allowed just three field goals off those turnovers; opponents have had eight drives this season go inside the 30, which have resulted in just seven field goals; already this season opponents have had five drives begin inside Baltimore's 40-yard line, and those drives have resulted in just 15 points (five field goals); Baltimore is the only team yet to allow an offensive touchdown. Pretty impressive.
The picks are in
I had a pretty awful week picking winners last week, going just 8-8. I'm 19-13 for the season and 2-0 in the can-only-pick-them-once-lock-of-the-week category, going with Atlanta, who won big. In Week 3, I like the Titans, 49ers, Cowboys, Patriots, Ravens, Vikings, Falcons, Steelers, Bengals, Redskins, Eagles, Colts, Raiders, Chargers, Dolphins, and Packers. And sticking with my trend of not going with obvious top teams early season for my lock, I'll go with the 49ers this weekend over Kansas City.