Three teams have to face facts at quarterback

Eric Edholm
Pro Football Weekly
Three teams have to face facts at quarterback

Quarterback play is always the barometer in the NFL, and Week Four had some tellingly bad performances that could foretell future events.

As in which teams might be looking for one this offseason.

The Jets, Bills and Chiefs all lost in incredible fashion Sunday. We're a quarter of the way through the season now, and it has been enough time to tell that these three teams never will win big from this point with the status quo at QB.

What does it say about the Jets that Rex Ryan would not replace an ineffective QB Mark Sanchez with Tim Tebow in a 34-0 lambasting that could have been even worse?

If the Bills had a consistent quarterback, they would not have allowed 35 points in less than 17 minutes to let a 21-7 lead become a 42-21 deficit in what would end up being a 52-28 rout.

And the Chiefs, for all their warts, need a change under center to give their offense a chance to thrive. Or at least  be able to keep pace with their poor defense in these AFC West shootouts.

There are three teams — and, oh yes, there are more than that — that most need to find quarterback solutions. For the long term, though — none of the backups offer any real hope. This season appears to be all but naught for internal improvement.

Are the Jets going to go to Tebow?

“I’m not ready to make a QB change,” Ryan said after the game. Would it matter, anyway? Tebow’s minimal role to this point (and not replacing Sanchez and his 39.9 QB rating) signals what Ryan thinks: that any solution for the position is not on the roster.

Fitzpatrick is what he is. He’s a deadly gunslinger who is just as dangerous to his team as he is to the opponents. Four interceptions, two in each half, display that.

The Bills’ defense deserves as much blame as anything for its inability to stop the Patriots’ run game (with a two-TD lead, too — inexcusable), but Fitzpatrick’s shaky, devil-may-care style just doesn’t seem to fit with what the team is trying to build here. It certainly doesn’t mesh with trying to beat Tom Brady.

Cassel has had some drives where he looks like the answer but just too many drives make you think he isn’t. He takes bad sacks. He’s competitive but only so skilled. Cassel struggles to drive the ball down the field, and the fact that the Chiefs completed only two deep balls all day — one of which went to Dwayne Bowe in garbage time — was pretty telling.

The Chargers went into a deep defensive shell after building a 20-0 second quarter lead and let Cassel try to pick them apart. Predictably, he couldn’t.

Changes are needed. Fans of these three teams are clamoring for better quarterback play. But more importantly, the teams likely need to feel some hope.

It’s supposedly another banner QB draft with a lot of big names. I have not watched my typical allotment of college football so far this season, but I’d say without pressing that Matt Barkley and Tyler Wilson and a few other top prospects have not played up to potential so far.

So the focus is on here and now, and the forecast isn’t good.

The Jets have the undefeated Texans next week and the Patriots in New England two weeks after that. Is Tebow going to change their fortunes? My goodness, no. Not with Darrelle Revis out and WR Santonio Holmes looking dicey with a foot injury now.

The Bills go on the road for two against the 49ers and Cardinals, who own a combined record of 7-1. They have two banged-up running backs in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, who took a beating Sunday, and it puts more of the onus on the passing game. That’s a horrible notion if you’re a Bills fan. Fitz is, and always will be, on the fritz.

Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel said after the loss that Cassel is his quarterback “at the moment.” In coach parlance that means that a change could come at anytime, including after four hours of terrible sleep. But Brady Quinn? No solution there. We’ve seen that movie before, even if the Chiefs have yet to experience it.

Teams like the Buccaneers and Raiders have quarterbacks in place but could make changes. And smart teams will always draft with the future in mind; you could picture the Bears, Cowboys, Jaguars and Chargers all wanting developmental QBs to groom, just in case.

But none of those situations are as dire as what is happening with the Jets, Bills and Chiefs.

Panthers’ identity remains unknown

Prior to Sunday’s loss at Atlanta, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera held a philosophical discussion with the media. The identity of his football team was the question at hand.

"We have to find out who we are," Rivera said. "Are we a physical, aggressive downhill football team or are we an attacking big-play team?

“Defensively, we talked about trying to go out and ballhawk a little bit, and when we've done it, we've had success. And when we haven't, we've struggled."

How much more do we know about these Panthers now? They’re 1-3 after allowing Matt Ryan and the Falcons to march down the field 77 yards from their own one-yard line in just over a minute without any timeouts to kick the game-winning field goal.

It was a group failure, and it raised more questions than Rivera did the week before.

First, Rivera chose to punt on fourth and less than a yard with just over a minute left from the Atlanta 45-yard line, so it made you think they are not a power-running football team — although if Cam Newton had not fumbled (the Panthers recovered) on the play before, Rivera probably would have called for a QB sneak.

Instead, they punted — quite well, in fact — down to the Atlanta 1. What happened next undercut the other half of the Panthers’ identity. On the first play, Ryan froze the Panthers’ back seven with play action and airmailed it downfield to Roddy White, over the head of S Haruki Nakamura. Nakamura had a horrible game, even with an interception; allowing that catch to White was the opposite of ballhawking, as there was a play to be made.

Predictably, five plays later, the Falcons kicked a game-winning field goal and beat the Panthers. And we still don’t know what kind of team this is. They’re already two games back in the division, and the Panthers’ don’t have a sure win on the schedule through November.

Maybe by that point we’ll have an idea if the team has found its identity, for better or worse.

Patriots feature two big hitters

Patriots MLB Brandon Spikes might be the hardest hitter in the NFL. I am serious. His pops are vocal. But you also could argue it’s teammate NT Vince Wilfork.

Both Patriots got in massive hits Sunday, and Spikes had two violent hits that helped cause fumbles. The first was a huge momentum turner for the Patriots, with the Bills about to go in for a score. C.J. Spiller got the ball inside the 5-yard line right at the end of the first half, and a touchdown would have made it 21-7. Instead, Wilfork and Spikes slammed Spiller and knocked the ball loose, which Wilfork recovered.

In the second half, with New England having regained the momentum, leading 28-21, Spikes popped Fred Jackson and forced another Buffalo fumble and another Patriots recovery.

Not to be outdone, Wilfork got in a dream shot to cap off the victory. It’s rare that a 340-pound defensive tackle can get a hit like this on a 208-pound wide receiver, but Wilfork was able to croak Donald Jones on an inside screen and absolutely tattoo him.

Of course, Spikes also got in a hit that likely will draw him a fine. He clobbered TE Scott Chandler on a play that knocked him out of the game and had some Bills fans calling for big fines for what they deemed to be a cheap shot. It’s the kind of questionable play that has earned Spikes a reputation in league circles for this sort of thing.

The Patriots are still a work in progress defensively, and it was an adventure for safeties Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory most of the afternoon (just like it was in Week Three). But with two big hitters and a more solid surrounding cast, the Patriots have leveled off at 2-2 and appear to be kings of a weak AFC East field.

Vikings 3-1 and getting stronger

RB Adrian Peterson is just getting back into form. LB Erin Henderson, the team’s leading tackler through two games, has missed the past two. QB Christian Ponder is just scratching the surface. WR Jerome Simpson has finally rejoined the offense.

And the Vikings are 3-1. They could get better in theory.

A huge reason why is Percy Harvin. His opening kick-return TD set a tone in the Vikings’ 20-13 win over the Lions in Detroit.

Leslie Frazier entered the season with heat on him, having never beaten an NFC North opponent in eight tries and coming off what equalled the worst season in franchise history. And when Harvin briefly demanded a trade in the offseason, it appeared that Frazier’s situation could go off the rails quickly if his best offensive player (with Peterson coming off ACL surgery) didn’t report to training camp.

But Frazier has gotten his team off to a steady start, and it’s even a bit surprising that the Vikings are not 4-0 considering they lost to the Colts in a game in which they were listless offensively for the first three quarters before awakening too late.

Harvin has been tremendous. His 10 yards per catch and zero TD catches don’t leap off the stat sheet, but he also has contributed as a runner (11-54 rushing) and kick returner (38.3-yard average and a 105-yard TD Sunday) and has kept Ponder moving the chains, along with Peterson, who is running hard and averaging a healthy 4.2 yards per carry.

It also has been the play of the defense that deserves mention. Despite a few meltdowns in two-minute situations at the ends of halves, Frazier’s and coordinator Alan Williams’ unit has been stout. It has been able to generate consistent pressure, eliminate the communication problems from a year ago and tackle well and take good angles to the ball.

Giants dropping DBs like flies

The secondary has been a nightmare position for injuries for the Giants this season. First, it was CB Terrell Thomas re-injuring his knee after missing all of last season. Then it was CB Prince Amukamara starting the season out unhealthy. Now rookie CB Jayron Hosley, one of the pleasant surprises of camp, has missed time with a nagging hamstring.

Sunday in the Giants’ 19-17 loss to the Eagles, they played without Hosley and CB Michael Coe (hamstring) and with S Antrel Rolle (knee) and CB Corey Webster (hand) hurting, and then lost S Kenny Phillips, who sprained a knee in the first half and didn’t return.

The timing couldn’t be better for Tyler Sash to return. The second-year safety comes back next week from a four-game suspension and likely will be counted on heavily, depending on the seriousness of Phillips’ injury.

But this could end up just being one of those sore spots all season. The Giants’ pass rush has been pretty good but hardly dominant, and most teams have had time to pass against them this season. Three of the Giants’ four games have come down to the final moments of the game, and both of their losses included breakdowns in the secondary.