sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): Week 3 of the NFL season is just about in the books, and we felt fully the ramifications of the injuries so far this season to star quarterbacks. Plus we saw a couple of young, highly touted quarterbacks take over the starting jobs on their teams just because of, well, ineptitude.
So what did we learn this week from this new crop of QBs?
Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): I’m extremely surprised by how well Daniel Jones, Gardner Minshew and Kyle Allen played. We can say, “It’s easier than ever to be a quarterback because of the college passing.”
joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): It’s interesting that most of the QBs who have stepped in because of injury or ineffectiveness have played pretty well. I think the only real stinkers were Mason Rudolph and Josh Rosen. Rudolph’s completion rate is 11.7 percentage points less than we would expect (despite throwing short a lot — his average depth of pass was just 6.7 yards). Rosen was even worse. On the season, he has completed just 43.3 percent of his passes, and his completion percentage is over 18 points worse than expected.
But by and large, the new QBs were very good.
neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): It might go back to something our friend Chase Stuart has been saying for a while: There are more solid QBs in the league than we probably acknowledge.
Gardner Minshew going 22/25 for 275 yards with 2 TDs is just fueling my fire that thinks there are a lot more decent QBs out there than we realize, the NFL isn't the meritocracy we think it is, and there are likely some decent unheralded QBs out there https://t.co/srdFw9Z7ON
— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) September 9, 2019
sara.ziegler: I just really have a hard time with Minshew Mania.
Is it a real thing? Seriously?
Salfino: Minshew was pretty meh in college.
I mean, 7.2 yards per attempt at Washington State? Big deal. If he’s so good, why wasn’t he better there?
joshua.hermsmeyer: I think it’s probably the case that accuracy is still undervalued in an NFL QB, and Minshew is certainly accurate.
neil: He has a 110.6 passer rating but ranks 30th of 35 qualified QBs in air yards per attempt. So he’s definitely not making plays happen downfield.
Salfino: Minshew seems to be getting all the swag that Baker Mayfield has lost. It’s a zero sum game with them.
neil: Douchey mustachioed QBs: There Can Be Only One.
Salfino: Love it.
joshua.hermsmeyer: JAX was very efficient with Minshew, though. They averaged 0.25 EPA per play on 18 early-down passes with Gardner. And even when we account for his low depth of target, he completed more passes than we’d expect.
neil: Jacoby Brissett was kind of the same way. He has the second-lowest air yards per attempt in the league but got the job done against Atlanta.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Bigger picture, though, one explanation for all these new QBs doing well is the importance of a game plan. And it’s hard to scheme a defense for a QB if you’ve never seen them — or only seen a little of them.
Salfino: Yes, exactly. I mean, Browning Nagle had a great first game. I was measuring him for a gold jacket, IIRC.
neil: Browning Nagle!
Not a name I was expecting to hear this morning. Or, like, ever.
sara.ziegler: What a blast from the past.
Salfino: It’s a cautionary tale.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Speaking of great first games…
Giants rookie Daniel Jones is just the second player in NFL history to throw for 300+ yards with 2+ pass TDs and 2+ rushing TDs in his first NFL start as he did in beating the Bucs today. The first? Well, it's Eric Hipple, who did that with the Lions in a 1981 win vs. the Bears.
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) September 23, 2019
Eric Hipple-level awesomeness.
sara.ziegler: So you’re saying Giants fans should temper their expectations?
Seems … unlikely.
Salfino: If I were a Giants fan, I’d be thrilled with how Jones played. He was trailing badly, he lost Saquon Barkley, and he rallied the team back late. The only thing wrong with that game from a Giants perspective was the blown field goal at the end.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Organizationally, they have to be thrilled with the win!
sara.ziegler: Jones’s performance in that game boosted his Elo points in our model by 21 points. Which seems good!
And yet Elo still rates Eli better, LOL.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Of the young QBs who played, Jones pushed the ball downfield more than anyone else. His depth of pass averaged almost 10 yards downfield. And he ran well. Reminded me of Josh Allen quite a bit.
Salfino: The reports were that he could run. And unlike Allen, he did not seem to run recklessly, either.
neil: “Reminded me of Josh Allen quite a bit.” — I think that’s a compliment…
sara.ziegler: (Also, I just confused Josh Allen with Kyle Allen, and I always confuse Josh Allen with Josh Rosen. MORE DISTINCTIVE NAMES, PLEASE.)
neil: (3-0 BILLS, BABY!)
(CIRCLE THE WAGONS)
Salfino: The Bills are this year’s Dolphins.
neil: The Bills are this year’s Bills.
How about Teddy Bridgewater? How did you guys think he did?
joshua.hermsmeyer: Not great.
I have a soft spot for Teddy, always.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Dink and dunk and threw short a ton, and didn’t complete many of them.
neil: He was no Eric Hipple. Or Bobby Hebert. (See, I can throw random 1980s QB names out there too!)
Salfino: I thought Payton was a coward for not starting Taysom Hill after all the Steve Young talk. But he was smart to keep using Alvin Kamara consistently. There’s no Drew Brees cushion now. So there’s no room for Latavius Murray touches in Kamara’s place. I thought Bridgewater was grinding it out, but I saw nothing from him that makes me bullish about the Saints’ chances next week against the Cowboys.
sara.ziegler: So no one was impressed with a win on the road against Seattle? Dang — tough crowd.
neil: In all seriousness, our model thought Bridgewater played OK. He played like a game manager, which basically what you want out of a guy keeping Brees’s seat warm for the next month-plus, right?
Salfino: I get the game manager thing, but I do not think the rest of the Saints team is good enough to win this way. They got lucky with another Chris Carson fumble that became the dreaded Fumble Six.
The Saints gave up 26 first downs and 515 yards and were about doubled in yardage. This win goes into the “miracle” bucket.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Still, if they can luck their way into a .500 record while Brees is out, that’s pretty promising for their playoff hopes, I think.
sara.ziegler: For sure.
neil: And for what it’s worth, we give them a 62 percent chance of winning the NFC South after yesterday’s events.
The Falcons seem very meh.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Profoundly meh.
neil: Tampa keeps finding ways to lose. And idk what to make of Carolina, which finally won but against Arizona, and with a backup under center.
Salfino: Assuming Brees steps right back into being Brees, yes. But they are 27th in yardage allowed and have allowed 6.7 yards per play. The defense is bad.
neil: That is true.
Russell Wilson had the best game from Sunday nobody is talking about. He threw for 406 yards and had two passing TDs and two rushing TDs.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Wilson is playing the best ball of his career, I believe.
Salfino: Wilson has an ability to really turn it on late in games regardless of how he’s played previously in games. Rational coaching would note how effective he is playing with his hair on fire, just make that their offense and win games early. But…
sara.ziegler: The NFC West is so interesting. The Rams have not been super inspiring in their first three games, and yet they’ve won them all.
And the Niners!
Salfino: So true about the Rams. Their offense is so consistently uninspiring. The only thing that worked yesterday was Cooper Kupp. The only quasi-good game the Saints have played on defense was at LAR.
neil: Have defenses figured out Sean McVay’s offense?
They were held without a first-half TD yesterday against Cleveland, after the same being true against New Orleans. That’s twice in three games after only happening once all regular season last year.
Salfino: Maybe some of this is due to the RB Who Used To Be Todd Gurley.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I’ve heard a lot of chatter about how teams are stealing the front Bill Belichick used against the Rams in the Super Bowl. Basically it takes away the outside runs, and some believe that it chokes off the Rams’ ability to run passing plays off of it. To the extent that’s true, then yeah, I think the NFL has figured it out.
However, if your offense is truly predicated on outside/wide zone being effective to win, I dunno. Seems bad to me.
Salfino: On the one hand, Gurley is averaging 4.6 per carry, but man, it’s a quiet 4.6. A whispering 4.6. And he has four catches for eight yards after averaging over 11 yards per catch in McVay’s first two seasons.
neil: At least Jared Goff used to be great on play-action. Now he ranks 25th out of 33 qualified QBs in QBR off play fakes. If it weren’t for Kupp, idk how bad Goff would have looked yesterday.
Salfino: And remember the play-action fade started last year around Game 11 and extended into the postseason. So if you go back, we have almost a full season worth of games where the Rams’ play-action success has been well below average.
sara.ziegler: The Rams were the first team I was going to bring up in our game of Good Team/Bad Team.
So … Not Great Team?
Salfino: Rams: OK team.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Still my favorite for the West.
neil: Good team, still. Because Aaron Donald.
sara.ziegler: Yeah, he’s just a beast. So much fun to watch.
Salfino: Donald is amazing. He can’t win Defensive Player of the Year three straight times, can he? Defensive excellence is not supposed to be this sustainably elite.
neil: According to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group, the Rams pressured Baker Mayfield on 49 percent of his dropbacks.
joshua.hermsmeyer: That’s an amazing stat, Neil. Helps explain — a little — his happy feet. He bailed on quite a few good pockets last night.
Salfino: Well, Mayfield created his own pressure at times by leaking out of the pocket for no reason and into the pass rushers.
neil: Yeah, there’s a weird Next Gen Stat from Sunday night where Mayfield did way better the less time he had to throw.
He was 5-of-18 when taking longer than 2.5 seconds to throw, including that game-sealing interception in the end zone.
idk what to do with that, but…
Salfino: He seemed surprisingly indecisive last night. He’s just in a slump, something he’s not used to.
sara.ziegler: The Browns are 1-2 now, with just the win against the Jets.
So … are they bad?
Salfino: The Browns were down seven starters last night and could have beaten a good team. I don’t think they are bad. They just need the Mayfield we thought we were getting. Coaching is a big issue too. You have both an inexperienced QB and coach now.
The Rams gave them the QB draw to win the game the last two plays and it was not taken. That’s supposed to be an automatic. I mean, Jones took it for the Giants. And Baker laughed at Jones.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Their coaching is atrocious.
I think they have plenty of talent, though, if head coach Freddie Kitchens and the offensive coordinator can get it together.
Salfino: I think we’re veering from one overreaction to the other for the Browns. They’re an 8-9 win team.
sara.ziegler: A couple more Good/Bad Teams: How good are the Packers?
Rodgers has been … fine … not ELITE though.
Salfino: The Packers are not good and the offense is still disappointing.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Through three games and 93 pass attempts, Rodgers does not look transformed. That was the hope — that new head coach Matt LaFleur would unlock the old efficiency. Early returns are that A-aron is gonna throw the ball away at historical rates.
Salfino: Rodgers’s QBR is 46? Is he even good anymore? It’s been years since he’s been great. He hasn’t had even a good yards per pass attempt since … 2014.
sara.ziegler: Any other thoughts on the teams that might be good but might also be bad?
Salfino: Buffalo is not an actual contender, with a 36-year-old running back and one viable receiver. The Eagles are not bad and actually are still good — they would have won if not for seven dropped passes including the potential game-winner in the final minute. The Lions are unbeaten? Is that a misprint? They Niners are good — but 10-win good, not undefeated good. And we’re probably overreacting to the good play of the new QBs.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I can’t believe you people don’t like this guy, smh.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 22, 2019
sara.ziegler: That ’stache…..
joshua.hermsmeyer: HE CUTS HIS OWN JORTS!
neil: That’s the most Jacksonville thing I’ve ever heard.
joshua.hermsmeyer: On early-season reactions, this is also a great bit of research our friend Adi Wyner and his student Zach Drapkin at Wharton did.
Answer is surprising!
Weeks 1-2 are LEAST predictive. The most predictive is weeks 10-11.
— Wharton Moneyball (@WMoneyball) September 18, 2019
Helps to kind of temper the panic.
sara.ziegler: Oh, that’s very interesting.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE OVERREACTIONS???
neil: Just wait until Week 11. We will know SO much.
Salfino: Makes sense. The old saw in football was that nothing really matters until the leaves turn brown.
neil: I thought it was that “nothing really matters until the Browns fans turn and leave” (while hurling bottles on the field).
Check out our latest NFL predictions.