Joe Flacco might start for the Browns. Brock Purdy could deliver payback to the Eagles. Aaron Rodgers could be nearing a return four months after his Achilles injury. It's just another week in the life of NFL quarterbacks. Here are 10 observations packed with world-class stats, video and analysis on the QB position entering Week 13.
1. The secret to Dak's MVP campaign
Dak Prescott has been playing like a man possessed since an embarrassing 42-10 loss to the 49ers in Week 5. Since then he's completed 70 percent of his passes while averaging over 300 passing yards and three touchdown passes per game -- a stretch that only five QBs have matched in a seven-game span all-time (Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady).
What's been the key? He gave us the secret on the set of Amazon Prime's postgame show on Thursday, sharing a realization he had after the 49ers game:
"I've gotta extend plays more, I've gotta use my legs more, and honestly, that's the way I grew up playing this game, that's when I feel most free, and so, yea, it's been a little bit of a conscious effort to use my legs," he said.
To Prescott's point, his average time to throw is 2.90 seconds since the loss to San Francisco, up from 2.53 seconds prior. That's nearly a half-second, which is an eternity for a QB. He has a perfect passer rating (158.3) when taking at least 3.33 seconds to throw in this hot stretch (37-of-47 passing for 7 touchdowns)
Nothing shows the difference quite like this play.
He's turning back the clock with his legs, getting great protection and separation from his wide receivers. Now we'll see if he can continue this play in probably the toughest stretch of his career with games against the Eagles, Bills, Dolphins and Lions coming up.
2. Jordan Love's sidearm throws
What a difference a month makes. The Packers GM didn't give glowing reviews on Jordan Love a month ago when he was the most inaccurate QB in the NFL. Fast forward a few weeks and he's been among the best QBs in November. He leads the NFL in yards per attempt when pressured this month after ranking 25th in September and October. You can see why with a few of these throws.
He sidestepped pressure and went side arm for this completion, showing a little Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes in his game.
Later, he found Malik Heath again with this sidearm throw across the field.
And a quick sidearm flick for a touchdown vs. the Steelers a few weeks ago.
Those are the throws of a confident QB with a lot of talent. Pretty impressive poise with T.J. Watt barreling down on him after a nice spin move, too.
The biggest game of his career to date comes on Sunday Night Football against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs defense. I'm interested to see how he holds up against Steve Spagnuolo's blitz-happy unit in prime time.
3. Derek Carr's red zone woes spoiling Saints' investment
The Saints made one of the biggest moves of the offseason signing Derek Carr to a four-year deal worth $150M. The upside? Carr finally had a path to his first postseason win playing in the NFC South with the best defense of his career. The downside? Carr has been an average QB most of his career and his 2022 struggles could continue. The latter has happened. The Saints offense is worse this year compared with last year across the board in terms of EPA per play, points per drive, yards per play and pretty much any element of situational football. Andy Dalton also put up better numbers last year.
Carr hasn't even dominated the NFC South, a division where every team has a losing record. He hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in three games vs. the division. In fact, he's thrown more touchdown passes to the other team (a Jessie Bates pick-six) than the Saints in NFC South games. Sunday's loss to the Falcons was New Orleans' second divisional game without a touchdown this year, matching their total in 15 years with Drew Brees. The loss also underscored a major struggle area as the Saints failed to score a touchdown on five red zone drives. They are 29th in red zone touchdown rate, while Carr is 31st in completion rate in the red area.
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He hasn't been on the same page with his receivers often enough, and it reared its ugly head on a third down fade to A.T. Perry (three career catches, by the way) in Week 12, where Perry didn't even run the route. There were also some head scratchers in a seven-point loss to the Jaguars in Week 7. Carr missed open receivers on back-to-back goal-to-go plays earlier in the game. He also threw two incompletions on low-probability end-zone fades at the end of that game. Foster Moreau did drop what would have been the game-tying touchdown pass, but there were points left out on the field on other plays, too.
We're 12 weeks into the season so this isn't a small sample size issue. If the Saints don't get the results they are looking for in a home game against the Lions in Week 13, they should either start Jameis Winston or use Taysom Hill at QB in the red zone more. New Orleans is still the favorite in the division but the clock is ticking. It's a bad start to Carr's Saints career, and they are likely stuck with him through 2024 based on his contract.
4. Shane Steichen shining no matter the QB
If you're like me, you probably wrote off the Colts with Anthony Richardson out for the season, especially in a division with blossoming star QBs in Trevor Lawrence and C.J. Stroud. Instead, Indianapolis currently holds the final AFC playoff spot with a 6-5 record and a favorable schedule with six games left, all vs. QBs in their first or second year.
Shane Steichen deserves credit for holding together a league average offense without his starting QB and RB for a decent chunk of the season. According to CBS Sports researcher Ryan Satsky, the Colts are running the most RPO plays (15.1 per game) since the 2018 Chiefs. They ran 26 RPOs for 233 yards in their Week 12 over the Buccaneers, and Gardner Minshew was 9-of-11 for 116 yards on those plays in the win. The scheme Steichen's brought over from the Eagles is paying dividends with Indy, no matter who is playing QB, and there's a big stylistic difference between Richardson and Minshew.
This was a really well-designed fourth-and-1 play on Sunday with WR Michael Pittman Jr. lined up at TE. All the action got him wide open in the flat for 24 yards on a drive where the Colts scored a touchdown. It was one of the key plays to extend the Colts' win streak to three games, putting themselves in the final AFC playoff spot.
5. Jalen Hurts is Mr. Clutch; what about Brock Purdy?
This is the most fascinating narrative of the NFC Championship game rematch between the 49ers and Eagles on Sunday. How much of a difference will Brock Purdy make? The 49ers have (understandably) used his injury in the first quarter of last year's playoff game as an excuse for losing. Purdy leads the NFL in pretty much every passing efficiency category this year, so will he come through with a statement win? There's not much Jalen Hurts can prove with a win in this game that he hasn't already. He leads the NFL in passer rating when his team is tied or trailing in the second half or overtime. Guess who ranks last in that category? Brock Purdy. Bingo. I wrote a few weeks ago how Purdy was off the hook for his late-game struggles during the 49ers' three-game losing streak for a variety of reasons. This is the type of game where he can silence any critics, against the best team in the league, in a rowdy environment. I like Purdy to show some stones this week. It took guts and ability to make this throw in Seattle on Thanksgiving. He's capable of making those throws in Philly.
6. Hold judgments on Bryce Young
The Panthers fired head coach Frank Reich on Monday, but that doesn't mean we should start calling Bryce Young a failure. He hasn't reached instant superstar status like C.J. Stroud, or even been close to average. His 5.4 yards per attempt are the lowest among 395 qualified QB seasons since 2012. However, in a world that wants instant results, you can look to the struggles of other QBs drafted first overall for a dose of reality (h/t Ryan Satsky)
Rookie No. 1 pick struggles
- 2021 Trevor Lawrence: 9 TD, 14 INT in 13 games with Urban Meyer
- 2016 Jared Goff: 0-7 record and 5.3 yards per attempt
- 2005 Alex Smith: 5.3 yards per attempt
- 2004 Eli Manning: 1-6 record and 5.3 yards per attempt
- 1998 Peyton Manning: 3-13 record and rookie-record 28 INT
- 1989 Troy Aikman: 0-11 record, 9 TD, 18 INT
- 1983 John Elway: 47.5 Comp pct, 7 TD, 14 INT
- 1970 Terry Bradshaw: 38.1 Comp pct, 6 TD, 24 INT
We'll see how Young does in 2024 with an upgraded supporting cast.
7. Browns can accomplish something that hasn't been done in 35 years
Joe Flacco could start for the Browns on Sunday, with starter Dorian Thompson-Robinson still in concussion protocol. Leave it up to the Browns to be at the center of the NFL's wild QB carousel. Flacco would be their fourth different starting QB in the last six games! Cleveland has the worst passing stats in the NFL across the board yet are 7-4. Starting this many QBs and still winning would be quite rare:
If Joe Flacco starts Sunday, the Browns would be the 1st team in 35 years with a winning record thru 12 games despite starting 4 different QBs— Doug Clawson (@doug_clawson) November 30, 2023
The last team to do it? The 1988 Browns with Bernie Kosar, Mike Pagel, Don Strock and Gary Danielson
8. QB carousel update
That brings us to the QB carousel board. Assuming the Patriots are finally benching Mac Jones, and Flacco starts for the Browns, we will be up to 52 different starting QBs this year. Congratulations to the Browns for being the first team to start four different quarterbacks. The Patriots would be the 14th different team to start multiple QBs this year. Here's every single starting QB change of the season so far, all 35 of them.
|Starting QB Sequence This Season
Mac Jones > Bailey Zappe (potentially)
9. Josh Allen's historic production wasted by Bills
Josh Allen leads the NFL in touchdowns (33 total: 24 passing, 9 rushing) and besides the occasional turnover has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league again this year. But Sunday's overtime loss to the Eagles put the Bills' playoff hopes on thin ice. They are 6-6 with a 19 percent chance to make the playoffs, per SportsLine, thanks to a tough upcoming schedule that features road games at the Chiefs and Dolphins, and a home game vs. the Cowboys.
Allen would have a case for one of the best QB seasons without a playoff berth ever. He's on pace for 46 passing and rushing touchdowns, which would be the most in NFL history by a QB to miss the postseason. He is on pace for the first season in NFL history with 4,000 pass yards, 30 touchdown passes and 10 rushing touchdowns. Whether that will happen or not is debatable.
What's less debatable: He's looking at the most productive stretch by any QB with little to show for it, no Super Bowl trip, no MVP. He's on pace to become the first player in NFL history with at least 40 touchdowns (passing and rushing) in four straight seasons. He needs just six more scores this year to set the record for most passing and rushing touchdowns in a four-season span in NFL history.
He's also on pace to join Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees as the only players with 20,000 passing and rushing yards in a four-season span. Mahomes has three Super Bowl starts and two rings during his stretch. Allen's wild numbers without a Super Bowl trip or MVP are reminiscent of Brees' production in the early 2010s when he led the NFL in passing yards five times in a six-year span (including three 5,000-yard seasons) with no Super Bowl berth or MVP. He at least already had a ring under his belt at that point.
We've heard about the Chargers wasting Justin Herbert. But the Bills and Josh Allen might be worse just because of how close to the Super Bowl this team has been. Who is at fault for Buffalo's shortcomings? There's plenty of blame to go around:
- Bad fortune: Facing Patrick Mahomes in playoffs (that did not stop Joe Burrow though)
- Von Miller contract: Six-year deal worth $120 million
- Injuries: Tre'Davious White, Matt Milano, Micah Hyde and Von Miller have had season-ending injuries in last two years
- Turnovers: Allen leads the NFL since joining the league
- Close games: 9-15 in one-score games in last three seasons, including playoffs
That's just the tip of the iceberg. But you get the picture, Allen is an all-time one-man show. For the record, I hope they sneak into the playoffs; if they do, anything can happen.
10. Closing remarks
I'll leave you with a few rapid-fire observations:
- The Russell Wilson-Sean Payton combo is working. Wilson leads the NFL in completion percentage inside the pocket and touchdown passes outside the pocket this year. A nice compliment of Drew Brees-like precision and vintage-Wilson playmaking.
- Patrick Mahomes may finally have a go-to WR (a week too late but still) targeting Rashee Rice a season-high 10 times for eight completions and 107 yards in Week 12. Rice is eighth among 92 qualified WRs in yards per route run this year.
- Matt Eberflus should be fired. If there wasn't enough evidence already, there was Monday night. Justin Fields' average pass attempt was thrown 2.7 yards downfield, the shortest average pass length by any QB in a game since Tony Romo in 2010. I'm not sure what the Bears could learn about Fields' future prospects with that kind of a game plan.
- The Patriots QB situation is a circus. Mac Jones has been pulled four times this year. Yet, he hasn't been officially replaced as the starter at any point. Not sure I've ever witnessed such back-and-forth. He didn't even take practice reps Wednesday.
- There were two positives for Kenny Pickett in his first game without Matt Canada. He finally used the middle of the field, attempting a season-high 49 percent of his passes over the middle. He entered the game throwing over the middle at the lowest rate in the league (32%). He also took some shots down field with easily his longest average pass distance (8.5 yards) of the month.