Sunday’s Week 3 games in the NFL represented the continuation of the dazzling displays of greatness from quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson. But the slate also proved unkind to a number of other passers.
After two impressive performances, the Cardinals’ Kyler Murray tossed three interceptions and lost to the Lions. Draft classmates Dwayne Haskins (Washington) and Daniel Jones (Giants) also committed multiple turnovers in defeats. Sam Darnold’s struggles continued as the Jets quarterback threw three interceptions of his own. Chicago benched Mitchell Trubisky and named Nick Foles the starter after a comeback win over Atlanta.
Meanwhile, Sunday also featured continued struggles from some veterans as well. Carson Wentz recorded his third multiple-interception game of the season and his Eagles tied the Bengals. Drew Brees managed to take care of the football, but even he was guilty of ugly throws and drive-killing displays of hesitation that played a role in the Saints’ 37-30 loss to the Packers.
In some cases, Sunday’s uneven — and for some downright ugly — quarterback performances raised legitimate red flags or even red alerts. Some situations warrant patience. Some coaches, however, should consider alternative approaches to help guide their quarterbacks through these challenging starts.
Chalk it up to a bad day
After two electrifying performances, Murray appeared destined to become a game-changer. Then on Sunday, the Arizona quarterback looked very much like a second-year pro guilty of poor decision-making and inconsistent mechanics.
And that’s OK. Growing pains understandably still lie ahead, and not just for Murray. Second-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury also displayed some questionable decision-making and must do a better job of positioning his quarterback for success.
Balance is key on a number of fronts. As tempting as it is, the Cardinals can't continue to live off a massive dose of DeAndre Hopkins, who had another 10 catches for 137 yards. Andy Isabella had two touchdown catches, but Larry Fitzgerald, who remains effective, seems like a forgotten man. A commitment to balance in play selection also will help the Cardinals and Murray. At one point, although Kenyan Drake was running well, Kingsbury continued to roll with a struggling passing attack. Kingsbury loves to throw the ball around, but he must find ways to ease pressure on his quarterback.
Patience and creativity required
It’s still early in the year, and none of these teams had preseason games to work out the kinks in their offense and play-calling. But Brees still doesn’t look like himself. Michael Thomas’ absence due to a high-ankle sprain is a factor. But even before this week, Brees has shown some signs of decline.
The difference between Aaron Rodgers and Brees was noticeable on Sunday: The former still can carry his team without his top wideout, while the latter can't. Fortunately for the Saints, Alvin Kamara is capable of delivering huge outings as a runner and pass-catcher to help bail the offense out.Sean Payton probably needs to shift to a more run-heavy approach so his team isn’t so dependent on the 41-year-old Brees’ arm. Payton also needs better and more disciplined play from the rest of his team. Eight penalties for 83 yards really hurt the Saints on Sunday.
As Payton said, “(We’re) 1-2, and it’s been a while since we felt that and yet three years ago, we were 0-2. It’s a gut check and we’re not playing well enough.”
Brees and the Saints can still win games, even if Father Time has reduced his capabilities. But a smarter and more balanced approach is necessary.
Also falling in this category are the Eagles.
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Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) watches the replay after throwing an interception against the Cincinnati Bengals during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. (Photo: Eric Hartline, USA TODAY Sports)
Yes, Wentz’s six interceptions and career-low completion percentage (59.8%) are troubling. But coach Doug Pederson explained Monday morning it’s not time to turn to rookie Jalen Hurts.
“No, you don't go there," Pederson said in a radio interview. "That's a knee-jerk reaction. That's a reaction to the aura that's out there. That's not what we believe internally. We're going to continue to get better. Carson's our quarterback."
Pederson, like Payton, probably would do well to review his approach and simplify Wentz’s responsibilities as the quarterback works his way out of this early funk. But it’s important to remember Wentz and his wide receivers still are making up for lost time. Wentz still gives the Eagles the best chance to win in a very weak NFC East.
NFC East rivals Washington and New York find themselves in similar situations: They’re starting over with new coaches and trying to rebuild around second-year quarterbacks whom they’re still evaluating.
Jones and the Giants got pummeled at home by an injury-riddled 49ers team. Haskins and Washington blew a third-quarter lead in a winnable game at Cleveland.
Jones is playing without one of the best running backs in football after Saquon Barkley was lost for the year to a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but this is where his team needs him to help compensate for that loss. Jones has just two touchdown passes this season and has completed less than 65% of his passes each week. Sunday was his worst outing yet. It’s far too early to pull the plug on Jones, but he has to do a better job of making decisions and remaining poised. First-year head coach Joe Judge and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett must find a way to help him find a better rhythm. But the signs of such regression against such an injury-hampered opponent certainly are troubling.
Meanwhile, after Haskins’ four-turnover day, Ron Rivera started having to answer questions about whether he should bench the No. 15 pick of the 2019 draft. Haskins threw two touchdown passes against Cleveland but struggled with accuracy and fundamentals. He continues to rush his delivery, overthrow receivers and make predetermined throws, three of which led to interceptions Sunday.
However, like the Giants, Washington can’t pull the plug on Haskins yet. As Rivera noted Sunday evening, this was only the 10th start of the quarterback’s pro career. His NFL education was hampered by organizational dysfunction last season, and his supporting cast this year is sorely limited. However, as Rivera noted Monday morning, Washington still needs better out of its quarterback. Meanwhile, Washington’s first-year offensive coordinator Scott Turner also must find ways to ensure greater balance and lighten the load on the quarterback, even if it does mean handing the ball off to unheralded running backs more frequently.
Go ahead and sound it, not only for Darnold, but for Jets head coach Adam Gase as well. Now entering his third season, Darnold hasn’t made visible progress. Meanwhile, draft classmate Josh Allen has the Bills off to a 3-0 start after throwing 10 touchdown passes and just one interception. Gase was hired to develop Darnold into a franchise quarterback, but the same struggles that have plagued the USC product for the first two years of his career remain. Meanwhile, the Jets as a whole look nearly as bad, and you have to wonder if Gase is cut out for this head coaching thing after his first stint in Miami.
If 2020 continues to feature atrocious play from Darnold and the Jets, the franchise could hit the reset button this offseason.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.
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