I spent the afternoon watching the five QB’s drafted in the first 35 picks last year, all of whom are now starters. Here are my thoughts:
Andy Dalton was the only rookie QB to lead his team to the playoffs last year, and he’s definitely right there with Cam Newton as the best of the 2011 draft class right now. He’s got great footwork in the pocket; nimble on his feet while sidestepping pressure. And when we consider how much pressure he was under – the Bengals injury riddled line was really struggling unable to consistently run or pass block – Dalton’s performance was even that much more impressive.
This team is loaded with WR talent; not just AJ Green, although Green is really developing into a Top 10 NFL receiver. Armon Binns made plays all over the field today; so did Brandon Tate, and I certainly don’t want to forget mentioning Jermaine Gresham or Andrew Hawkins, both downfield playmakers. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the perfect complementary piece for this offense.
What’s happened to this defense? An explosive passing game and a struggling defense make for a team that cashes OVER tickets!
Blaine Gabbert is not really taking shots downfield; nothing but dink and dunk. He completed only one pass to a wide receiver before halftime – a half of football where the Jags had a net of -4 passing yards thanks to a couple of sacks.
Gabbert’s fundamentals are not good either, still looking very much like the rookie he was last year. He gets flustered in the pocket, unwilling or unable to make tough throws in the face of pressure. When Chad Henne is getting cheers from the crowd after Gabbert got benched (officially a ‘leg strain’), it’s never a good sign.
This injury riddled offensive line is getting annihilated. The Jags have four linemen already on IR and were missing two projected starters today. To make matters even worse, these WR’s aren’t beating man-to-man coverage. Top draft choice Justin Blackmun is a complete non-factor right now. So is the big free agent signing, WR Laurent Robinson.
This defense spent the entire afternoon getting gashed, unable to stop the run at all. There’s no sugarcoating the truth – the Jags are the single worst team in the NFL.
This defense was a sieve last year. They got gashed on the ground last week. And Drew Brees had open receivers to throw to all afternoon here and the Saints offense suffered through a pretty bad case of the dropsies here, allowing Carolina to pull away.
I like offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s play calling – this team is taking shots downfield, opening up their running game. They had good protection up front. Cam Newton had time to throw all afternoon, but he’s holding the ball too long before he releases, resulting in sacks like Ben Roethlisberger gets in Pittsburgh. Newton’s just not settling for his checkdown routes (only three completions to running backs all day), a real weakness– he’s always looking for the home run ball.
Jake Locker is making poor decisions, throwing off his back foot, trying to float passes, showing awful footwork, overthrowing receivers, underthrowing receivers – lots of mistakes. He didn’t come out ready to play here. Locker’s first two passes were a bad interception and a desperation heave throwing the ball away under pressure. Positive signs? Well, he did get the ball out of his hands quickly.
The fact that Locker was the leading rusher (two carries for 21 yards) speaks volumes about their offensive line woes right now. Tennessee couldn’t get any push up front, with Chris Johnson stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage repeatedly. Locker didn’t take a sack, but he was under constant pressure. Any thought that the return of playmaking WR Kenny Britt to the lineup would have an impact was dead wrong, with only one catch for five yards. To make matters even worse, this secondary got lit up badly. And the Titans special teams were awful.
Rookie kicker Blair Walsh nailed another 50-plus yarder to open the game here after hitting four field goals in the fourth quarter or OT last week, including a pressure filled 55 yarder with no time on the clock. That’s a real confidence boost! And with Percy Harvin returning kicks 50-plus yards here, these special teams are decent; in sharp contrast to last year.
The coaching staff doesn’t seem to trust Christian Ponder very much at all. Ponder didn’t complete a pass longer than 15 yards on his first six drives – all dink and dunk – and the Vikings didn’t have an offensive play from scrimmage where they gained more than 20 yards all day.
Once Minnesota got into the red zone, they didn’t let Ponder create at all; nothing but conservative, safe throws. Ponder has led scoring drives late in the fourth quarter to tie the game in each of the last two weeks, another chemistry builder.
Despite facing an O-line missing three starters by the second half, the Vikings didn’t record a sack.
Ted Sevransky is one of the nation’s premier sports handicappers and analysts. Follow Teddy on Twitter @teddy_covers or visit his page at experts.covers.com. Contact Ted Sevransky at [email protected]