It's never a dull moment in the NFL, especially at the quarterback position where another star QB is seemingly hurt every week.
That's where my 10 QB observations starts today:
1. Potential Burrow injury impact in AFC
The Bengals are 5-5 and already on the outside looking in with their playoff chances at 38 percent, according to Sportsline. If Burrow's injury causes him to miss the next two games against the Steelers and Jaguars, their playoff chances drop to 25 percent.
Missed time would obviously crush the Bengals' playoff chances. But injuries on Thursday to Joe Burrow and Mark Andrews ( ) have a ripple effect on the entire AFC, where Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are winners.
Patrick Mahomes' chances to win back-to-back Super Bowls are improving by the minute. First the season starts with Aaron Rodgers' Achilles injury. Now Deshaun Watson is out for the year, seemingly taking out another contender. The Bills and Bengals are both 5-5, meaning there's a chance both Joe Burrow and Josh Allen aren't standing in his way. The next-best competition, the Ravens, just lost Lamar Jackson's top target. The Chiefs and Mahomes have their own problems (more on that later), but injury luck plays a big role in championships and it favors Kansas City so far.
2. QB carousel spins again as Watson done for season
Wednesday morning's news that Deshaun Watson was out for the season with a broken bone in his throwing shoulder sure threw everyone a curveball. It's the third straight week a team's starting QB suffered a season-ending injury (Kirk Cousins in Week 8 and Daniel Jones in Week 9). Rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson will start in his place (here's a reminder of who he is), marking Cleveland's sixth starting QB change this year, most in the NFL (see chart below). Their postseason hopes definitely take a hit, but if the 2015 Broncos proved anything, it's that you can win a Super Bowl with a historic defense even with subpar QB play (Peyton Manning had nine TD and 17 INT that year).
Believe it or not, some teams are actually getting healthier at the position as Matthew Stafford and Justin Fields are expected to return from injury. Regardless, this season has continued to prove it pays to have a good backup QB.
There have been 48 different starting QBs this season. Twelve different teams have used multiple starting QBs and have combined to make a staggering 30 starting QB changes.
|Starting QB Sequence This Season
Kirk Cousins > Jaren Hall > Josh Dobbs
Justin Fields > Tyson Bagent > Justin Fields
Aaron Rodgers > Zach Wilson
3. Taking stock of the Watson trade
We're only two years into the Deshaun Watson trade but it's worth taking stock given his season-ending injury. Also, when you make the biggest and most controversial trade in NFL history it should always be under the microscope.
Watson is one of three veteran players ever to be dealt for three first-round picks (Jim Plunkett and Herschel Walker) and he signed an NFL-record deal worth $230 million guaranteed after the trade, which, of course, came with the baggage of Watson's 11-game suspension after he was accused by dozens of women of sexual assault or misconduct.
Here's how Watson has performed since the trade:
- Watson has started only 12 games due to injury and suspension.
- The Browns average more offensive points and yards per play when Watson doesn't start.
- Only Zach Wilson ranks worse among QB in EPA per play.
It doesn't get much worse than that. And just as Watson had his first breakthrough performance with the Browns (14 of 14 passing in the second half of a 15-point comeback vs. Ravens) he is done for the year. There's time left to change the narrative, but the way it's trending it's a nominee for worst trade in NFL history, especially with C.J. Stroud flourishing in Houston. Jeff Kerr revisited the trade this week, looking at what the Texans have already gotten in return.
4. Dobbs can be first QB in NFL history to do this …
Sure, it's only been two weeks in Minnesota, but Dobbs Mania is already sweeping the nation. Joshua Dobbs replaced Taylor Swift as the NFL's banner on 'X'. He made a leap in our QB power rankings and is the first player in NFL history with 400+ passing yards, 100+ rushing yards and no interceptions in his first two games with a new team. Perhaps coolest of all, he gave a young fan a signed jersey.
And he can continue to climb. Dobbs could do something no journeyman QB has ever done. He can become the first QB in NFL history to start a playoff game in the same season they started a game for multiple teams. Not bad. Dobbs is already one of 21 QBs to start a game for multiple teams in a season, a list that includes the likes of Bobby Layne, Jack Kemp, Chris Chandler, Kerry Collins, Bernie Kosar and Kyle Orton.
How wild would that be? Out of all the journeymen QBs and crazy circumstances the league has seen, Dobbs could be the only one to pull this off. It only seems fitting that he would do it, too, after he's been on the roster of five teams in the last 365 days.
Now, how likely is it? Pretty good. Sportsline gives the Vikings a 74 percent chance to make the playoffs. They have a 1.5-game lead for the final NFC playoff spot entering Week 11.
5. Mahomes could use a go-to option outside of Kelce
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense could use a spark coming out of the bye when they host the Eagles in a Super Bowl rematch on "Monday Night Football." Kansas City is averaging 23.1 points per game this season, easily the worst in the Mahomes era. They are coming off back-to-back games with 14 or fewer offensive points, under 275 total yards and zero second-half points, all firsts since Mahomes became a full-time starter. They could have easily lost against the Dolphins in Germany if not for a spectacular defensive touchdown.
The musical chairs at WR was enough for Kansas City last year but not so much in 2023. They've had eight WRs catch a pass this season, tied with the Patriots for the most in the league. Not one of them has emerged as Mahomes' go-to target, but one is very qualified. Rookie second-round pick Rashee Rice is averaging 2.3 yards per route run this year, 13th among 61 wideouts with 40+ targets. It's the same number Tyreek Hill averaged in his Chiefs career with Mahomes. Yet Rice is 67th among all NFL WRs in target share and has played under half of Kansas City's snaps on offense. He has been underutilized downfield, too. He has the fourth-shortest average target depth among all WRs, nearly half of what it was at SMU when he led the entire FBS in catches on throws 20+ yards downfield (18) last year. He has no catches and only two targets on those deep balls this year. Instead 13 attempts have gone to Justin Watson.
Mahomes was notably missing a second option in Germany as Travis Kelce was double-teamed on over half of the Chiefs' third-down plays. With Mahomes already shortening up his target length to Kelce this year, he could definitely use a WR to stretch the field. The last time a Chiefs WR had a touchdown grab on a throw traveling 30+ yards downfield was last September. It's also been over a year since a Chiefs' WR had a 100-yard game (Oct. 23, 2022). We'll see what adjustments Andy Reid and Co. make out of the bye, but this seems like an easy one to me. Get Rice the ball.
6. Stroud could be in rare company as rookie in MVP discussion
C.J. Stroud continued his MVP campaign in Week 10 by outplaying Joe Burrow in the fourth quarter and leading a two-minute drill, game-winning drive for the second straight week.
Here's his case:
- Historic numbers: He's the fourth QB since 1970 to lead the NFL in pass yards per game and TD-INT ratio through Week 10, along with Peyton Manning (2013), Tom Brady (2015) and Patrick Mahomes (2019) (h/t @ESPNbet).
- Clutch gene: He's the only rookie in the last 40 years to lead a game-winning drive starting in the final two minutes in consecutive games.
- Big plays: He's not just dinking and dunking and letting his receivers get all the YAC. He leads the NFL with 29 completions of 25+ yards, surpassing Patrick Mahomes for the most by any player through nine games in the last 30 years.
- Turnaround: Stroud is doing this all as a rookie No. 2 overall pick, with a rookie head coach, for a team that was 3-13-1 last year. They are now 5-4 this year, have the best average strength of victory in the NFL, and have only lost twice since Week 3, both on walk-off field goals.
Stroud is legit and so are the Texans. One more thing going Stroud's way is the usual suspects have been off their game. Mahomes and the Chiefs offense are slumping. Jalen Hurts had turnover woes early in the year. Josh Allen still has turnover woes. Joe Burrow got off to a slow start and is now hurt (again). It's anyone's award, and Stroud has certainly put his name in the ring, which is really impressive in its own right. Jim Brown is the only rookie to ever win NFL MVP (1957). The last rookie QB to get an MVP vote was Dan Marino (1983) and the last rookie to finish top-three in MVP voting was Randy Moss (1998). Stroud's performance could land him in unthinkable company.
7. What happened to the Fields, Lawrence and Pickett leaps?
Three young QBs were popular picks to make leaps (or another leap) in 2023 but haven't up to this point. Justin Fields ran for 1,000 yards last year and Chicago drafted an OT in the first round, plus traded for WR D.J. Moore. Trevor Lawrence had a massive second half of 2022 and WR Calvin Ridley was reinstated from suspension this year. Kenny Pickett hasn't built off last year's solid finish, even with Pittsburgh returning the same core, coaching staff and drafting an OT in the first round. So, what gives?
Fields got off to a very slow start to the year which came to a head with his "coaching" comments. He was not seeing open receivers and wasn't being utilized to his strengths. He had back-to-back four-touchdown games, but then got hurt in Week 6 and hasn't played since. He is expected to return from a dislocated thumb in Week 11, giving him seven more games to audition for the Bears' QB of the future. Chicago has a 38 percent chance to get the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, thanks to owning their first-round pick and Carolina's via the Bryce Young deal. They'd have their choice of either QB Caleb Williams or Drake Maye if they land the top pick so it'll be interesting to see if Fields can finish with a bang to keep his job.
Pickett has been inconsistent. He has the second-worst off-target rate in the NFL this season (only Deshaun Watson is worse), so don't expect him to really get the keys to the offense until that changes. For now, Pittsburgh runs the ball at one of the higher rates and is clearly comfortable with Pickett playing the game manager role, as he's gone five straight starts without a turnover.
Lawrence has nine passing touchdowns and six picks in nine games this season after he had 15/2 in the final nine games of 2022. He is coming off his worst game of the Doug Pederson era in a 31-point loss to the 49ers (0 TD and 2 INT).
8. Russell Wilson bounce-back year
Russell Wilson turned back the clock for a moment on "Monday Night Football" with a near-impossible touchdown pass to Courtland Sutton. Although Denver owes much of its three-game win streak to the NFL's top-scoring defense in that span, Wilson's play deserves some spotlight, too.
Going into the season, the best-case scenario for his partnership with Sean Payton was a blend of Drew Brees-like precision and quick passing, while still mixing in vintage Russ, aka the occasional deep ball or backyard throw. That's pretty much how it's played out so far.
Wilson's numbers through nine games (18 TD, 4 INT) are almost identical to Brees' through nine games in his final season (18 TD, 3 INT). Both had the same exact completion rate when throwing under 2.5 seconds, too (79.8 percent).
Wilson has the sixth-shortest average pass distance this year (6.8 yards downfield) vs. seventh longest last year (8.8 yards). He ranks fifth in completion rate when throwing in under 2.5 seconds this year, compared with 23rd last year. The deep ball hasn't been much of a factor but he's tied for the NFL lead in touchdown passes outside the pocket (six).
Wilson, of course, holds the ball too long and takes a lot of sacks (unlike Brees) and is by no means lighting it up (he ranks 17th in EPA per play and 19th in ESPN's Total QBR) this year. But, it's still a nice bounce-back season that at least has Denver playing respectable football after a 1-5 start.
9. Don't panic because of Allen's turnovers
Too late, the Bills already fired OC Ken Dorsey, but hopefully it wasn't because of Josh Allen's turnovers. Allen leads the NFL in turnovers this year, and pretty much each of the last two, three, four etc … years no matter how you split it.
His turnovers this year aren't that alarming, though. Here's a breakdown of the 14, and essentially half of them can be categorized as unlucky or not that costly.
- One on a Gabe Davis drop
- Three on deep balls on third-and-long that were effectively punts
- One batted pass and one tipped ball
- Three fumbles (one of which was end-of-game madness)
- Five bad throws/decisions
Josh Allen now leads the NFL in INTs with the lowest turnover-worthy play rate of his career.— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) November 14, 2023
Feels a little like the Bills are panicking due to some really bad outcomes due to wildly high-variance turnovers.
Allen is still fifth in the NFL in EPA per play, first in touchdowns and third in pass and rush yards. The alarming trend is the Bills' recent offensive output that led to the firing of Dorsey. Chris Trapasso wrote about what we can expect with new play-caller Joe Brady, which includes more spread offense and motion.
10. Brock Purdy circus plays
Brock Purdy put up huge numbers in the 49ers' 34-3 win over the Jaguars in Week 10, but it wasn't all good. Kyle Shanahan did call this pass "one of his worst decisions I think he's made since he's been here."
Shanahan said later in the week, "I want a guy who gives us a chance to win the game, not a guy who is just hoping everyone else wins it for them." Purdy certainly made an incredible play on this 66-yard touchdown pass to George Kittle as he was being swallowed by the pass rush.
Later in the game he tried to throw the ball after he was tripped and falling to the ground. It could have been a disaster; instead it was just an intentional grounding penalty. And in his previous game against the Bengals he tried to make something out of this broken play, resulting in a crushing red-zone interception, albeit on a stellar play from Germaine Pratt.
I don't think the 49ers want to live and die by these plays. It's one of those things where you make the play and you're celebrated, but if you miss them, you're doing way too much. For now, if nothing else, they are entertaining.