Quarterback Carousel Continues to Spin

What a whirl it has been already on the quarterback carousel in the NFL. We got a really early taste this year before the season even began when Geno Smith had his jaw broken by a teammate in the locker room. That thrust Ryan Fitzpatrick into the starting role and the Jets have opened their season 2-0.

Drew_BreesWeek 2 dealt some serious blows to the stability of the quarterback position across the league. Drew Brees played all of Sunday’s game against the Bucs but he may miss next week with a bruised rotator cuff. That would place journeyman Luke McCown into game action for the first time since November of 2011. That isn’t exactly reassuring for the Saints but Verizon has to be thrilled. Believe it or not this actually affects Mark Ingram more than anyone else. The former Heisman winner has never had the chance to be a feature back in an offense but if Brees cannot play or is limited, the focus quickly shift to him to deliver. And he will need to deliver fast because the Saints are 0-2. Panic Level: Moderate

Jay_CutlerIn the Windy City, the Bears are already in free fall and Jimmy Clausen is set to retake the starting role, if only temporarily. Jay Cutler has a hamstring injury that Chicago has said will keep him out at least two weeks. Clausen filled in for Cutler last year after the latter got benched. He was passable, tossing two touchdowns but also throwing a pick. The more concerning thing is that he actually sustained an injury in that game last year, forcing Cutler back into the lineup. If Clausen were to go down, Chicago would really be in trouble then. The last quarterback on the roster is youngster David Fales from San Jose State. If he has to start for the Bears, this team will be in full scale crisis mode. Panic Level: Low (they can’t be much worse).

Tony_RomoDallas ended up taking the brunt of the pain from the losses this week. Tony Romo fractured his left collarbone, which will keep him out for the next eight weeks. The Cowboys have already begun handling his loss. They placed Romo on the short-term IR and traded for veteran Matt Cassell as a reserve option if now-starter Branden Weeden struggles or suffers an injury himself. Neither quarterback is much good but they are both serviceable, which is the best Dallas could hope for as they try to ride out the storm. Despite losing Romo, the Cowboys could still hold the division lead when he comes back based on how poorly the rest of the division has played. However, with Dez Bryant also out for probably a similar time frame, things in Big D are shaky. Everything is bigger in Texas, including the panic that should be surrounding this team. Panic Level: High

Johnny Manziel

I am starting to wonder if the Browns are afraid of success. After nearly reaching .500 last season, Cleveland made a number of questionable veteran acquisitions, including Josh McCown. They needed a quarterback for sure but not many pegged McCown as their savior. McCown entered the season as the starter but a nasty hit in the season opener left him with a concussion. In stepped the polarizing Johnny Manziel. He was far from perfect or even polished but he was productive. Posting to three touchdowns to just one interception in roughly seven quarters of relief work isn’t bad. The four fumbles are definitely concerning but Manziel has regularly kept plays alive and made something out of nothing. He isn’t throwing for a ton of yards but his is picking up a lot of yards when he does throw. He has been electric and exciting, something Cleveland has not had in a while, but the Browns maintain that once McCown is healthy, he will get his job back. I know I initially advocated against it, but after two weeks, I would like to see some more Johnny Football. They won too in Week 2, which is definitely a positive. A game against the Raiders could be winnable as well and would be a really good test for the young Manziel. Cleveland fans should actually start to panic if their original starter is in fact healthy, oddly enough. Panic Level: Moderate

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Players in make or break years

Every NFL player is under intense scrutiny but these ten players have the heat turned up just a bit higher.

Mike_WallaceMike Wallace, Minnesota Vikings
The speedster who looked like an inevitable star in Pittsburgh took his talents to South Beach and then disappeared. Well not completely disappeared but he never became the star that the Dolphins paid him to become. He was still productive though, tallying 1792 yards and 15 touchdowns during his two years in Miami. However, Wallace found himself looking for a job at season’s end and now joins a young Minnesota team. With Charles Johnson bursting onto the scene and Corradelle Patterson still trying to find his way, there is room for Wallace in this team. However, if Patterson rediscovers his rookie year form and either Stephan Diggs or Jerrell Wright starts showing promise, don’t be surprised if Wallace’s time with the Vikings is short.

Trent_RichardsonTrent Richardson, Oakland Raiders
The 2012 draft is full of running backs that failed to live up to their billing. The most successful pick turned out to be Alfred Morris and that was in a draft where the potential of guys like Doug Martin and David Wilson had GMs drooling. Richardson is likely the most disappointing of them all though and now entering his fourth season, Richardson is joining his third team in as many years. Averaging a pedestrian 3.3 yards per carry heading to Oakland is not a good sign. This is likely the former Alabama products last chance to stick in the league. If he fails in Oakland, no one else is going to gamble on him again.

RG3Robert Griffin III, Washington
RG3 has had expectations heaped on him since day one. He electrified the league as a rookie but a knee injury and some adjustment to the read option offense have largely quashed what looked to be a promising career. However, the Redskins have not had a whole lot of success rotating other quarterbacks into the lineup, spare a Monday Night Miracle by Colt McCoy. Griffin is going to get one last shot at turning it around in Washington and recapturing his Rookie of the Year performance. This is the final year of his contract and if he does not show signs of marked improvement, you can be sure that Washington will not be looking to renew his deal. That would definitely put Griffin in the conversation for biggest draft bust of all time.

Geno SmithGeno Smith, New York Jets
Geno Smith probably doesn’t need reminding that he is running out of time in New York. Smith has failed to make a great first impression in his first two season with the Jets and now with Ryan Fitzpatrick waiting in the wings, Smith has real competition. Pair that with the fact that the team has a new coach and a new GM and that spells the end of Smith’s tenure in the Big Apple at the first sign of trouble. The Jets have indicated that they will give Geno every chance to win the starting job and grow but if he struggles at any point, don’t be surprised to see Todd Bowles turn to Fitzpatrick.

Percy_HarvinPercy Harvin, Buffalo Bills
Joining his fourth team in as many years is not how most people thought you would be describing Percy Harvin back in 2012. But after a trade to Seattle that was marred with injuries and another trade to the Jets that was average at best, Harvin is now set to join the Bills. He could fit the roll of a C.J. Spiller type of do it all player. However, this team is searching for an identity with a new coach. Harvin has some background with the coach in question as he played for Rex Ryan in New York just last year. If Harvin fails to impress though or cannot stay on the field, he could find himself bouncing to yet another team.

Prince_AmukamaraPrince Amukamara, New York Giants
The former first round pick is set to enter his fifth big league season. However, Amukamara has only played all 16 games once so far in his career. Over the past four years, Prince has been unavailable for 20 of New York’s games. Amukamara started off last season promising with 3 picks and 11 pass deflections in the first half of the year before once again suffering a season ending injury. With Dominique Rogers-Cromartie on one side, the Giants will be relying on Amukamara on the other. If he fails to hold up or cannot survive the rigors of a full season, New York will more than likely begin searching for his replacement.

Jarvis_JonesJarvis Jones, Pittsburgh Steelers
58 total tackles and 3 sacks is not what Pittsburgh thought they were getting when they drafted Jarvis Jones in 2013. The former first rounder came in with a lot of promise as a pass rusher but has failed to make much of an impact. Jones hasn’t managed to stay healthy either, appearing in only 21 games over the past two seasons. The Steelers’ once great defense is now a shell of itself in need of some new stars. The chance for Jones to step up is certainly there but with Pittsburgh tabbing Bud Dupree in the first round of this year’s draft, he will certainly have some competition.

Jay_CutlerJay Cutler, Chicago Bears
Believe it or not, Jay Cutler wasn’t always unpopular in Chicago. After the last two years of mediocre play which included being benched in favor of Jimmy Clausen, Bears fans’ indifference towards Cutler has turned to anger and disgust. He hasn’t always had the best offensive line in front of him, but Cutler has certainly had his fair share of targets to throw too. With Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett in his arsenal Cutler had no excuses. Yet he still tossed 18 interceptions in 15 games. At 32, Cutler is running out of time to win over the fans, and the management in Chicago.

May 10, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts linebacker Bjoern Werner (92) walks off the field after practicing in the Colts Rookie Minicamp at the Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance Football Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Bjorn Werner, Indianapolis Colts
Two years into his professional career, Werner has failed to turn too many heads. He was selected in the first round by Indianapolis back in 2013 with the label of a project. However, he has failed to develop a whole lot with only 68 tackles and 6.5 sacks in 28 career games. Nagging injuries have certainly played into Werner’s slow development but that isn’t a reassuring excuse. Werner will likely have to duke it out with Trent Cole and Erik Walden just to get playing time. Once he gets it, he needs to capitalize or he will be out of a job.

Sam_BradfordSam Bradford, Philadelphia Eagles
Signing the richest rookie contract in history at the time was great for Sam Bradford. It turned out to not be so great for the Rams. Bradford only managed to play 49 games in 5 seasons for St. Louis. Coming off his second ACL tear in as many years, many doubt that Bradford is a reliable starting quarterback option. Bradford might be the player with the best chance to breakout this year on this list joining the playoff-hopeful Eagles. Chip Kelly has high hopes for him but if he hits the shelf again due to injury, don’t expect Bradford to be back again.

What it means to bench Jay Cutler

The Chicago Bears announced yesterday that Jimmy Clausen will be the new starting quarterback going forward. That means that the veteran Jay Cutler will be riding it out on the bench for the last two weeks of the season, barring an injury. This move was preempted by the comments released last week that the Bears’ front office and coaching staff was feeling some “buyer’s remorse” after signing Cutler to a big extension in the off season that has left the team both cash strapped and in an unenviable position. This is showing some signs as well that current coach Marc Trestman will not go down without a fight. Trestman’s job is rumored to be on the line and the Bears’ poor play of late is not helping his odds. Everyone has pegged this as being Cutler’s fault though. Clearly he bears the burden for the team’s failures right? Well maybe not. Let’s take a second look.

Cutler is actually in the midst of a career year in Chicago. I won’t go as far as to say that he deserved all of the money he makes right now but he is definitely a serviceable starter in the NFL. Cutler was on pace to put up over 4,000 yards, something he had never done as a Bear and he already threw for a career high in touchdowns. His completion percentage is well above his career average (66.1 compared to 61.7). His quarterback rating is also at a career high while his QBR (rating system that takes into account a quarterback’s full body of work in a game) is on par with past years. The league leading 18 interceptions jump out as an indicator of a bad year but in reality Cutler has been about as average as they come.

Does that mean that he gets a pass? Absolutely not. With an offense consisting of Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffrey and Martellus Bennett, you should not be a 5-9 team if you are a good quarterback. But all of the blame should not fall on Cutler. The Bears defense has been one of the worst in the league. This unit is giving up an average of 6.1 yards per play, tied for third worst in the league. Chicago has given up the second most passing yards and the most passing touchdowns. The run defense has been mostly average all year falling in the middle of the pack for yards and touchdowns allowed. On the whole though, the Bears have allowed the most points per game to opponents out of any team in the NFL. There Bears’ offense might not have lived up to all of its expectations but it is not hard to see why they get outscored week in and week out.

The rushing attack hasn’t been much help either. The Bears rank in the bottom quarter of the league when it comes to running the ball and Chicago’s running backs have fallen right in line with the league average per carry (4.1). By no means is the ground attack something Cutler can rely on if he is struggling or some of his top targets, most recently Brandon Marshall, are hurt. The Bears also do not have the luxury of being able to run because of how frequently they find themselves trailing in the second half of games.

So no, Jay Cutler should not be forgiven for every mistake he has made and immediately named to the Pro Bowl but the Bears woes this season do not fall all on his shoulders. Yet, time and time again, the quarterback seems to be the one who is praised when the team does well, and the one who is scapegoated when the team struggles. That is just part of the job. Cutler’s laid back attitude probably doesn’t help his image much either when it comes to fans who think he does not care enough to work harder. Unfortunately, this team needs a bit more than just an attitude change to compete again. It might begin with Cutler, but it certainly goes much deeper than that.

Thursday Night Football Preview: Week 14

Week 14 kicks off tonight with two NFC teams fighting to stay alive in the playoff race. Dallas visits Chicago and both teams are desperate for a win. The Cowboys at 8-4 are in a good spot but can’t afford to give up any ground given how strong the rest of the NFC is. They are still on the outside looking in. Meanwhile, a loss for Chicago and a win from either Seattle or Detroit would eliminate them from playoff contention. This game has a lot of playoff implications so it should be a fun one to watch.

Dallas is coming off a beating they took at home to division rival Philadelphia. The running game failed to get going and the Cowboys’ offensive line finally showed some cracks as Tony Romo was sacked four times by the end of the game. It was also the first time since Week 1 that Romo threw more than one interception in a game. Dallas offense will be out to prove last week was a fluke and that they weren’t just getting into typical Cowboy December form. The defense also gave up a season high 256 yards on the ground to LeSean McCoy and company. Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli will need to get his front seven into shape if they plan to contain Chicago’s Matt Forte.

On the other side, the Bears are also coming off a humiliating loss on Thanksgiving to a division rival in the Lions. The Bears jumped out to an early lead over Detroit but falter and were down again by halftime, never scoring again after the first quarter. Calvin Johnson battered the defense and Matt Stafford began to pick apart Chicago’s defense. Mark Trestman is coaching for his job right now in the Windy City. The Bears could have some success spreading the Cowboys out and attack them down the field and through screens designed for Alshon Jeffrey and Forte. Defensively, look for Chicago to bring the house and bottle up Demarco Murray. The Cowboys have struggled whenever their running back has been unable to get on track.

Prediction: Dallas plays it safe early, getting Murray and Romo into a groove and jumping out to an early lead. Jay Cutler brings the Bears back but tries to do too much later in the game once the Cowboys have opened up their offense. Cutler has two costly second half interceptions and Dallas pulls away to win 31-17.