The first quarter of the NFL season is over. A handful of teams have started to separate themselves from the pack, there’s more clarity on how teams will perform this season and a few teams have already been put in perilous spots for the rest of the campaign. Let’s start there with this edition of the Four Verts column, where a rookie quarterback is already looking like the real deal.
Anthony Richardson is here and he’s very special
The Colts appear to have struck gold at the quarterback position after years of strife following the abrupt retirement of Andrew Luck. Anthony Richardson, a rookie first-round draft pick, has already been one of the most exciting QBs in football and his overwhelming physical talents have already made him a startable, exciting player for the Colts to generate offense around in the immediate future.
His game against the Rams accentuated every skill that he currently has as a starter. When his accuracy is on, he can fire explosive darts all over the field. His speed, size and overall running ability make him a force in the red zone. His processing ability has kept some bad plays alive. There will be some tough moments to come for Richardson, but he absolutely looks the part.
Not only does Richardson look good, but he looks to have landed in the perfect spot for his unique skills. Head coach Shane Steichen has put Richardson in great spots to make use of his talents as one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the history of the NFL Draft. Richardson not being the most consistent quarterback is fine because he has the plays that make the team forget about that over the course of a game. He’s truly special.
Richardson made some throws in the second half of the Colts’ overtime loss to the Rams that plenty of quarterbacks would die to make. He has the arm strength and regular physical strength to stand tall in the pocket with bodies around him. His throw with about 14 minutes left in the game Sunday to help the Colts' comeback in the fourth quarter was spectacular.
completely normal throw. nothing to see here. pic.twitter.com/RetLyEeESs
— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) October 2, 2023
It’s early for the Colts and Richardson, and there are a few things he needs to clean up as far as down-to-down passing efficiency is concerned, but they should feel good about what Richardson is producing now versus what he can produce in the future — which feels limitless.
Derek Carr and Joe Burrow might need to sit
There’s a mini-affliction and crisis that’s affecting two teams who are tumbling down the NFL standings. The Bengals and Saints are in the precarious situation of having paid quarterbacks this offseason, but are unable to get them at the peak of their powers so far. The Saints have been able to navigate their way to a 2-2 record and sit in second place in the NFC South, but they absolutely dropped their last game against the Buccaneers due to Derek Carr playing with a sprained AC joint. The Bengals, on the other hand, have been stuck in slow motion for the entire season due to a nagging calf injury for Joe Burrow. It's an injury that has completely changed the way they play offense.
The Bengals in particular have felt Burrow’s injury, losing all of the explosive ability that made the team brutal to defend over the past few years. The Bengals are tied for last place in the NFL with 4 yards per play — on par with the New York Giants, who just allowed Daniel Jones to get sacked 10 times in their Monday night loss against the Seahawks. Burrow is averaging just 4.8 yards per attempt this season, a far cry from the 7.7 figure he averaged over the first three years of his career. Burrow is an excellent quarterback — objectively one of the best in the game when he’s healthy. It’s clear just watching him play that he’s not healthy, and the Bengals’ play-calling suggests he’s struggling to move.
Cincinnati’s adjustment to Burrow’s injury? A completely static offense that’s neutered just about all of the team’s big-play ability. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, the Bengals have spent 95.6% of their plays in shotgun formations, limiting Burrow’s need to drop back from the center at the start of a play. The Bengals can’t even use play-action for easy completions and easier gains because it’s difficult for Burrow to fake a handoff and hit a bootleg to create space from a defense. Everything is congested — and it speaks volumes to what the Bengals think of their backup quarterback situation if this is how they’re choosing to play offense.
Carr is facing a more recent injury, but the effect of him playing with a hurt shoulder was felt on the Saints' offense in a big way during their 26-9 loss to Tampa Bay. He wasn’t able or really willing to push the ball down the field, resulting in a game where he averaged 3.4 yards per attempt, the second-lowest mark of his career! Alvin Kamara felt the brunt of Carr’s checkdowns, catching 13 passes for 33 yards. Just 2.5 yards per reception, almost impossible to overcome especially against a defense that was as good as the Buccaneers.
The Saints have no reason to be operating in this manner. The reason you sign Jameis Winston is so the team can survive when Carr isn’t healthy. Yet they started Carr and significantly hindered their offense. It’s understandable for the Bengals to not want to roll with Jake Browning as their quarterback, but the Saints have already taken the steps to protect themselves from this situation. At some point, these teams need to make a point to protect their entire team instead of their quarterback.
For the Bengals, it’s probably too late. A 1-3 record is a tough spot to roar back from, but if Burrow can get healthy then maybe they can salvage their season like they did a season ago. Still, it’s tough to believe that given that they currently have one of the worst offenses in the league.
Invest in the backup. Let them play when the need arises.
Patriots just have no juice on offense
Personally, I find Tom Brady vs. Bill Belichick to be an insufferable, low rung of sports debate — but Belichick’s struggles with putting together a competent offense in the post-Brady years have been impossible to ignore. The latest accentuation of that problem was the Patriots’ 38-3 loss at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys. Yes, the Cowboys have one of the best defenses in the league, but the Patriots’ offense looked totally hapless against a superior defense.
It’s not like the Patriots haven’t tried to get dudes in on offense who can start to move this thing in the right direction, they just have no explosive ability with the core they’ve put together. Hunter Henry, JuJu Smith-Schuster and DeVante Parker led the Patriots in targets during their game against the Cowboys and, quite frankly, that’s just not going to be a group that scares anybody, much less one of the best defenses in the league. It’s fair to say: These are the choices that general manager Bill Belichick has made that has hampered the proficiency of Bill Belichick the head coach.
The Patriots’ offense is a bit more organized with Bill O’Brien calling plays instead of the combination of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, but this still isn’t a good offense. According to Ben Baldwin of rbsdm.com, the Patriots currently rank 28th in expected points added per play (-0.179) and 20th in success rate (41.2%). It’s a slow, stagnant offense despite all the recent investments in
Due to the injury of Jets QB Aaron Rodgers, the Patriots still have a chance to be somewhat of a force in the AFC East. Still, it’s hard to see this franchise having no realistic chance to compete for a Super Bowl considering their dominance over the past 20 years. Now, they’re stuck in a spot where they may have to hit the detonate button after the season, which brings the rest of Belichick’s career into focus.
This offense isn’t good enough. A 1-3 record isn’t good enough. Mac Jones and the rest of the crew aren’t good enough right now. And now it’s leading the Patriots toward some tough decisions in the future.
Khalil Mack, turn up one time!
Six sacks! Six sacks! Chargers edge rusher Khalil Mack had the best game of his career against the Raiders on Sunday, notching six sacks, five tackles for loss and four more quarterback hits. It was a level of dominance that hasn't been seen from many edge rushers in the history of the league and Mack pulled it off in his 10th season against his former team.
Mack was excellent in his destruction of the Raiders, but any time there’s production like this, it’s funny to see how it actually came to be. For Mack, it’s an incredible feat of ageless athleticism and the skills honed over a decade of being an impact player. For the Raiders, it’s embarrassing that Mack didn’t need to do all that much to get the sacks.
It’s a rare occasion that an NFL pass rusher gets to run past offensive linemen in the manner that he did, but that’s exactly what happened for Mack on the majority of his pass rushes. There isn’t really much to break down here. The Raiders’ offensive line was mostly really, really bad paired with a fourth-round rookie quarterback, Aidan O'Connell, making his first start. Not much more to it.
However, this is a column that will always appreciate quarterbacks and offensive linemen being made to look silly — which is exactly what Mack did Sunday. Block it up better, boys! We’re celebrating pass rushers over here. That’s all. See you next week.