NFL quarterback questions: Concern for Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady?

ByESPN staff ESPN logo
Wednesday, November 2, 2022

We're nearing the halfway mark of the 2022 NFL season, and the quarterback landscape has brought plenty of surprises through eight weeks. Starters who were on shaky ground in the preseason are now in the MVP hunt. Former backups are making a case to earn big money in the offseason with solid play. Star signal-callers are struggling to get going -- and some veterans have already been benched. Then there's the growing concern around the once-heralded group of 2021 draft class quarterbacks.

We called on Matt Bowen, Jason Reid and our NFL Nation reporters to answer 15 big questions around the game's most important position. Which slumping passers can still turn things around, and which ones should we worry about in the second half? Can Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers get back on track? Is Geno Smith's breakout for real? And what should the Colts do next?

Let's dive in, starting with our ranking of the top five performers under center in the game right now.

Who are the NFL's top five QBs right now?

Matt Bowen, NFL analyst:

1. Josh Allen, Bills

2. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs

3. Jalen Hurts, Eagles

4. Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins

5. Lamar Jackson, Ravens

Tagovailoa jumps into my top five at the midway point of the season. He is now the NFL leader in total QBR (78.7) and plays in a system built around his traits as a thrower. Tagovailoa can continue to produce numbers as a rhythm passer who delivers the ball with timing and accuracy. In six games, he has 1,678 passing yards, 12 TD throws and three interceptions while completing just under 70% of his passes.

Jason Reid, Andscape senior NFL writer:

1. Josh Allen, Bills

2. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs

3. Jalen Hurts, Eagles

4. Lamar Jackson, Ravens

5. Geno Smith, Seahawks

I agree with Matt that Allen still holds the top spot -- but not by much over Mahomes. Smith, meanwhile, enters my top five. He leads the league in completion percentage at 72.7% and has been outstanding.

Fill in the blank: Aaron Rodgers' biggest problem this season is _______.

Rob Demovsky, Packers reporter:He can't throw deep. Rodgers doesn't have the time or the resources to do it this year. An offensive line that has been in flux hasn't given him the necessary protection, and he lacks a legitimate deep threat. His yards per pass attempt of 6.6 is on pace for the lowest of his career and would be only the second time he has averaged fewer than 7 yards per attempt. And over the previous two seasons combined, Rodgers has averaged 8 yards per attempt.

Which struggling QB are you most concerned with at the moment, and how can he turn it around?

Bowen: Zach Wilson, Jets. He continues to struggle with decision-making late in the down, and his frenetic play style has led to too many negative situations. A quick fix? More defined throws and play-action concepts for Wilson to get the ball out to a talented group of perimeter targets in New York.

Reid: Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars. His two interceptions were crushing in a Week 7 loss to theBroncos, and he has struggled throughout the team's five-game losing streak. In three of the losses, Lawrence failed to post a Total QBR of at least 32.0. That won't cut it. He has to make better decisions with the football.

How worried are the Ravens about the lackluster passing offense around Lamar Jackson?

Jamison Hensley, Ravens reporter: Not much, despite injuries toMark Andrews and Rashod Bateman. The Ravens have proved they can consistently win in the regular season without Jackson throwing the ball. Baltimore is 24-2 (.923) when Jackson attempts 25 or fewer passes. The concern comes in the playoffs, when teams have shown they can shut down Baltimore's ground game. Jackson, who is 1-3 in the postseason, needs to become more consistent as a passer (three touchdowns, five interceptions) if the Ravens want to make a championship run.

Fill in the blank: Tom Brady's biggest problem this season is _______.

Jenna Laine, Buccaneers reporter: Interior protection. The Bucs' interior pass-blockers have produced a pass block win rate of 87.9% through eight games, second worst in the NFL. The interior line is also responsible for 34 Brady incompletions, the most in the NFL for any quarterback.

Last week, they had backup Nick Leverett in at left guard while struggling rookie Luke Goedeke nursed a foot injury, and the results were slightly better. Tampa Bay's 90.5% interior pass block win rate was 20th in the league last week, their third-best mark of the season, but this deficiency could be particularly problematic this week against Aaron Donald and theRams.

Which QB has taken the biggest step forward this season?

Bowen: Geno Smith, Seahawks. The veteran quarterback has completed 72.7% of his passes through Week 8 and ranks fourth in total QBR (66.6). Decisive with the ball, Smith is seeing it fast from the pocket and playing at a really high level.

Reid: Jalen Hurts, Eagles. Everything he's doing right now is fabulous. The confidence he exhibits is inspiring the entire Eagles organization, and it's easy for him to be confident when he's producing like this. Talk about a massive step forward.

Has anything changed over the past month for Jalen Hurts, for better or worse?

Tim McManus, Eagles reporter: If Sunday's game against the Steelers was any indication, he has grown even more as a passer. Almost all of his stats this year have been among the best in the league, but his numbers against the blitz were the exception through six games, as he ranked 25th in completion percentage (55.6%) while throwing just two touchdowns there. But against Pittsburgh, he completed 11 of 17 passes against blitz (65%) for 179 yards and three scores. It's just one more box he's checking off en route to becoming a complete quarterback.

How can the Steelers maximize Kenny Pickett within their scheme?

Brooke Pryor, Steelers reporter: There are two schools of thought here. One, the Steelers could lean more on their more experienced run game and take the ball out of Pickett's hands. Or two, they could lean into Pickett's big-play potential and let him open up the passing game on earlier downs.

Guys like former coach Bill Cowher advocate for the former, while former Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger voiced support for the latter in his weekly podcast. One thing seems clear, though, for the Steelers to get more out of Pickett. They need to try for more splash plays and mix up their 12-14-play drives full of quick-hitters.

"Anytime you're having those 10-, 12-, 14-play drives -- regardless of the offense, regardless of the team -- there's going to be margin for error," quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan said. "... We'd love to have some of those four- or five-play drives and six points, and so continue to try to work towards that."

Changing the tempo, making the offense less predictable and giving Pickett the opportunity to be the offensive spark can maximize his skillset as a mobile quarterback with a moderately strong arm.

What is the biggest difference in Geno Smith's game from what we've seen in the past?

Brady Henderson, Seahawks reporter: Smith is taking better care of the football than he did early in his career, when he committed the third-most turnovers in the NFL over 2013-2014 (41). He has just four turnovers this season, though.

Smith filled in for Russell Wilson for three-plus games last season, but he's clearly more comfortable in Year 2 in Shane Waldron's offense and has earned more trust from Seattle's coaching staff. Remember, he played well enough to give the Seahawks a chance to win in all of those 2021 appearances, averaging 26 attempts in his three starts while executing offensive game plans that weren't asking as much of him as the Seahawks are asking of him now. Smith is averaging more than 31 attempts per game this season.

We've seen 18 Zach Wilson starts. Is the organization comfortable with him as its franchise quarterback?

Rich Cimini, Jets reporter: It's hard to be comfortable with a quarterback who is a 55% career passer, with only 12 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions, but the Jets remain confident he will continue to develop into what they envisioned when they chose him No. 2 overall in 2021.

Frankly, it's hard to agree with that considering his full body of work. His physical traits and talent are unquestioned; the issue is above the shoulders. Wilson has a maddening tendency to try to create something out of nothing, and it results in games like last week against the Patriots (three interceptions). He needs to remember he's not at BYU anymore. Wilson's 35.8 QBR since entering the NFL is 32nd out of 33 qualified quarterbacks over that time, ahead of onlyBaker Mayfield.

Are the Colts more likely to start over and draft a quarterback in 2023 or again look for a quick fix via free agency or trade?

Stephen Holder, Colts reporter: The Colts appear ready to finally get off their four-year ride on the QB carousel. They have started each of the four seasons since Andrew Luck's retirement with a different starter, and it has completely undermined any effort at continuity for the franchise. The benching of Matt Ryan was the biggest indicator the Colts are ready to turn the page. The only question seems to be whether Sam Ehlinger gives them a reason to think he can be their guy.

The 2023 draft class includes multiple highly regarded QB prospects, including Ohio State'sC.J. Stroud, Alabama's Bryce Young and Kentucky's Will Levis.

How much concern is there about Matthew Stafford's interception rate?

Sarah Barshop, Rams reporter: There doesn't seem to be any concern among the coaching staff or Stafford himself, especially after he did not throw an interception in Sunday's loss to the 49ers. McVay and Stafford have both said this season that every interception has a different story, and they're often not related to each other. Five of Stafford's eight interceptions this season came in the Rams' first two games, so he has shown an improvement there as the season has gone on.

There have been plenty of issues with consistency in this Rams offense, but Stafford's interception rate (2.9% of his pass attempts) isn't at the top of that list.

Are the Patriots wavering on Mac Jones, and could they explore other options in the offseason?

Mike Reiss, Patriots reporter: No, they aren't wavering. If anything, coach Bill Belichick is going out of his way to show public support for Jones, which included a big on-field embrace after Sunday's win against the Jets, and then another jovial meeting in the tunnel before they boarded the buses to depart East Rutherford, N.J.

Belichick often says that he leaves the big-picture evaluations like this for the offseason, when there is more time to assess without the daily grind of game-planning, so there's always the possibility the team could explore other options for the future. But there has been zero indication -- publicly or behind the scenes -- that the team is thinking along those lines at the moment.

"Pass-blocking needs to be better. That would help," Belichick said this week, in one example of how he's going to bat for Jones.

What will Marcus Mariota have to do better if the Falcons want to reach the playoffs?

Michael Rothstein, Falcons reporter: It starts with his accuracy, which can be questionable at times. He's completing 62.9% of his passes, which is actually the second-highest rate of his career and tied this season with former teammateDerek Carr. If Mariota can increase his accuracy and find ways to create chances for tight end Kyle Pitts, wide receiver Drake London and running backCordarrelle Patterson when he returns, it should offer a diversification of Atlanta's run-heavy offense andcreate success for the Falcons in a manageable way.

Pick one 2020 draft class QB to start an NFL franchise with right now.

Bowen:Joe Burrow, Bengals. It's still Burrow for me. Consider the throwing traits, pocket mobility and toughness in his game. Burrow has the makeup and intangibles of a franchise quarterback in this league.

Reid:Justin Herbert, Chargers. Nothing against Burrow or Tagovailoa, but Herbert remains underrated by many despite the fact that he's spectacularly talented. Herbert possesses all the physical tools and all the intangibles needed to lead a team to success. He would thrive as the cornerstone of any franchise.

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