Quarterback Play Remains Key to Success as 2016 NFL Season is Underway

By Chris Malumphy

Four quarterbacks made their first career starts during the first game of the 2016 NFL season: rookies Carson Wentz of the Eagles and Dak Prescott of the Cowboys along with second year pro Trevor Siemian of the Broncos and Jimmy Garoppolo, now in his third season with the Patriots. Wentz, Garoppolo and Siemian won their first starts while Prescott lost by one point in a matchup against Eli Manning and the New York Giants. Wentz and Garoppolo played well but Siemian came out victorious primarily due to the Broncos stalwart defense and a missed field goal by the Panthers in the waning moments of the game. Only Alex Smith and Oliver Luck attempted more passes than Prescott in the first week of the season, but Prescott gained a miserably low 5.0 yards per attempt and was one of just seven quarterbacks who failed to through a touchdown pass during the first game of the season joining: Buffalo's Tyrod Taylor, Minnesota's Shaun Hill, Miami's Ryan Tannehill, Washington's Kirk Cousins, Cleveland's Robert Griffin III and Los Angeles' Case Keenum.

Week one had some fine passing performances. Eleven quarterbacks had ratings topping 100.0 with another five over 90.0. Quarterbacks with ratings under 90.0 are therefore in the bottom half of the league. However, putting up a fantastic quarterback rating doesn't necessarily lead to victory. The Saints' Drew Brews had a great day throwing the ball completing 66.7 percent of his passes for 423 yards, 10.1 yards per attempt, with four touchdowns and no interceptions and a league leading 131.3 quarterback rating. Nevertheless, the Saints lost to the Raiders 35-34, partially due to a successful daring move by Coach Jack Del Rio to go for a two point conversation rather than play for overtime. Three of the top six quarterback ratings during week one were amassed in losing causes as the efforts of Brees, Andrew Luck and Matt Ryan and their teammates fell short of victory.

Although having a statistically great passing day doesn't always lead to victory, passing poorly almost surely leads to a loss. Nine quarterbacks had ratings of 77.0 or less. Eight of the nine lost their games: Jets' Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bears' Jay Cutler, Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill, Redskins' Kirk Cousins, Panthers' Cam Newton, Cowboys' Dak Prescott, Browns' Robert Griffin III and Rams' Case Keenum. The only quarterback with a poor passing rating to come out victorious was the Broncos' Trevor Siemian who won because his defense caused opponent Cam Newton to have an equally poor game, holding the Panthers to three second half points, and because the Panthers missed a field goal that should have won the game.

The Buccaneers' Jameis Winston showed that he is a real force and well worthy of his number one selection a year ago. Winston completed nearly 70% of his passes and threw four touchdowns without taking a sack. Detroit's Matthew Stafford also played well winning a shootout with Oliver Luck of the Colts. Andy Dalton continues to play well for the Bengals, at least during the regular season. Dalton completed 76.7 percent of his passes for 366 yards and a league leading 12.2 yards per attempt despite taking 7 sacks.

Those seven sacks must concern the Bengals, but the Bears and the Dolphins also have to worry about the state of their offensive lines and the health of their quarterbacks as Jay Cutler and Ryan Tannehill were both sacked five times. Of course, the defenses of the Texans and the Seahawks do provide more pressure than most other teams.

In addition to worrying about protecting their quarterbacks from being sacked too often, teams also grow concerned when their quarterbacks don't protect the ball. One game is certainly too soon to tell, but the Redskins, Broncos and Rams can't be too thrilled that Kirk Cousins, Trevor Siemian and Case Keenum each threw two interceptions. Cousins' job is safe for this season, but Paxton Lynch is awaiting his eventual first start in Denver while both Sean Mannion and Jared Goff hope to get to move under center in Los Angeles sooner rather than later.

Take note that nearly 10% of quarterbacks expected to be starters at the beginning of the season have already been injured and will miss extensive time: the Cowboys' Tony Romo, the Vikings' Teddy Bridgewater and the Browns' Robert Griffin III (who at least made it through opening day, injuring his shoulder near games end). Three down, 29 to go and what is an increasingly dangerous game to play.

Quarterback play continues to be the key to winning NFL games. Although difficult to predict in advance, the quarterbacks with ratings higher than their opponents during week one of the 2016 NFL season were 13-3. Moreover, two of the three losses were by just one point each. Denver beat Carolina 21-20 in the season opener even though Cam Newton (69.5) passed slightly better statistically than Trevor Siemian (69.1). The daring play call by Coach Jack Del Rio helped the Raiders top the Saints 35-34 despite Drew Brees (131.3) out-passing Derek Carr (98.5). And the woes in Tennessee continue as the Titans fell to Vikings while Marcus Mariota (86.5) threw better than career backup Shaun Hill (77.3). Of course, the Vikings remain one of the better teams in the league even with the loss of Teddy Bridgewater to injury. They would have gone deeper into the playoffs last season had they not missed an easy game-winning field goal at the gun.

As an aside, home teams were just 7-9 during week one.

QB Statistics from 2016 Week One
Drew BreesSaintsRaiders422866.742310.149.500.014131.3L 34 - 35
Matthew StaffordLionsColts393179.53408.737.700.018128.6W 39 - 35
Jameis WinstonBuccaneersFalcons332369.72818.5412.113.000122.6W 31 - 24
Andrew LuckColtsLions473166.03858.248.500.0217119.5L 35 - 39
Andy DaltonBengalsJets302376.736612.213.313.3742114.0W 23 - 22
Matt RyanFalconsBuccaneers392769.23348.625.100.0312112.6L 24 - 31
Ben RoethlisbergerSteelersRedskins372773.03008.138.112.7112112.4W 38 - 16
Eli ManningGiantsCowboys281967.92077.4310.713.624110.3W 20 - 19
Jimmy GaroppoloPatriotsCardinals332472.72648.013.000.027106.1W 23 - 21
Carson PalmerCardinalsPatriots372464.92717.325.400.0319104.7L 21 - 23
Carson WentzEaglesBrowns372259.52787.525.400.028101.0W 29 - 10
Joe FlaccoRavensBills342367.62587.612.900.043399.9W 13 - 7
Derek CarrRaidersSaints382463.23198.412.600.00098.5W 35 - 34
Alex SmithChiefsChargers483470.83637.624.212.133397.8W 33 - 27
Philip RiversChargersChiefs362569.42436.812.800.011097.3L 27 - 33
Aaron RodgersPackersJaguars342058.81995.925.900.01095.1W 27 - 23
Brock OsweilerTexansBears352262.92316.625.712.921689.1W 23 - 14
Marcus MariotaTitansVikings412561.02716.624.912.421986.5L 16 - 25
Blake BortlesJaguarsPackers392461.53208.212.612.632085.4L 23 - 27
Blaine Gabbert49ersRams352262.91704.912.900.00084.2W 28 - 0
Tyrod TaylorBillsRavens221568.21115.000.000.021679.9L 7 - 13
Russell WilsonSeahawksDolphins432762.82586.012.312.331877.5W 12 - 10
Shaun HillVikingsTitans331854.52367.200.000.00077.3W 25 - 16
Ryan FitzpatrickJetsBengals351954.31895.425.712.91177.0L 22 - 23
Jay CutlerBearsTexans291655.22167.413.413.453176.2L 14 - 23
Ryan TannehillDolphinsSeahawks291655.21866.400.000.053674.8L 10 - 12
Kirk CousinsRedskinsSteelers433069.83297.700.024.70072.7L 16 - 38
Cam NewtonPanthersBroncos331854.51945.913.013.031869.5L 20 - 21
Dak PrescottCowboysGiants452555.62275.000.000.00069.4L 19 - 20
Trevor SiemianBroncosPanthers261869.21786.813.827.721969.1W 21 - 20
Robert GriffinBrownsEagles261246.21907.300.013.832255.0L 10 - 29
Case KeenumRams49ers351748.61303.700.025.721034.2L 0 - 28