NFL quarterback questions: Reporters on concerns, hot starts

ByNFL Nation reporters ESPN logo
Wednesday, October 4, 2023

We've seen a little bit of everything under center through four weeks of the 2023 NFL season.

Brock Purdy leads the NFL in Total QBR over Tua Tagovailoa, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert. Aaron Rodgers is out for the year because of a torn left Achilles. Joe Burrow has struggled as he battles a calf injury. And Joshua Dobbs -- a late-August acquisition for Arizona -- is among the most efficient passers in the league, while Baker Mayfield -- on his fourth team in three years -- has the Bucs on the playoff trail.

With the first month down, we decided to check in on signal-callers around the NFL. We called on our NFL Nation reporters to answer 10 big questions around the game's most important position.

Let's start with the interesting situation in Arizona. The 10 questions are listed alphabetically by team.

Jump to a team:



Could Joshua Dobbs start for the Cardinals all season?

It's highly unlikely Dobbs will start the whole season ifKyler Murrayrecovers fully from atorn ACLin his right knee. In other words,the Cardinals won't keep Murray from playing even if they're playing well or winning with Dobbs. (Dobbs ranks eighth in QBR at 67.6, throwing four touchdown passes and zero interceptions.) Both sides -- the team and Murray -- want the quarterback to play in 2023.

Murray continues to rehab his right knee after surgery in January, and his timeline is still uncertain. He's eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list this week, but it's not looking like Murray will be activated just yet. He has been in meetings, watching practice and rehabbing on the sideline all season, but when he returns to the field is up in the air.-- Josh Weinfuss, Cardinals reporter

Could the Falcons turn to Taylor Heinicke, or are they committed to giving Desmond Ridder a long look?

At this point, Atlanta will continue to roll with Ridder as the team's starter, even though the 2022 third-rounder is 30th in QBR (29.2). On Monday, coach Arthur Smith pointed to Ridder's resiliency and lack of hesitancy after a rough first half against Jacksonville, including interceptions on back-to-back plays, as a source of confidence in his second-year quarterback.

If Atlanta keeps losing games, Smith said everything would be examined, but at this point the Falcons are continuing with Ridder, who has performed better late in games. In the fourth quarter this season, he has completed 66.7% of his passes for 341 yards. -- Michael Rothstein, Falcons reporter

What's different for Lamar Jackson this season in Todd Monken's offense?

Since the offseason workouts in the spring, new coordinator Monken and Jackson have been talking about getting a rid of the ball quicker. Jackson's average time before throwing was 3.0 seconds last season, which ranked 31st in the NFL. This year, he's averaging 2.66 seconds before each pass, the ninth-fastest pace in the league.

As a result, Jackson has been much more efficient, completing 74.3% of his passes -- which is second only to Bills quarterbackJosh Allen and up from his 65.0% rate through four games last season. -- Jamison Hensley, Ravens reporter

Could the Bears lean more on Justin Fields' rushing ability to improve their offense?

There were two designed runs for Fields against Denver in Week 4, both of which came in the first quarter. That element of the quarterback's game -- where he excelled often last season en route to 1,143 yards on the ground -- is not showing up through the team's 0-4 start. Fields had 6.5 yards per designed rush in 2022 vs. 2.2 this season.

But the Bears ran the ball well without him against the Broncos, thanks to Khalil Herbert's 18 carries for 103 yards. Fields had the best passing game of his career (335 passing yards, four touchdown passes and an interception) with a plan that featured a heavy dose of targets for DJ Moore and Cole Kmet, a lot of play-action throws and good protection that allowed him to move the ball down field. Chicago can take some positives in the passing game from the loss to use with Fields going forward. -- Courtney Cronin, Bears reporter

How concerned are the Bengals aboutJoe Burrow's calf injury lingering all season?

Bengals coach Zac Taylor shrugged off any notion that Burrow would sit to rest his calf, and Burrow believes it is just something he must deal with over the course of the season. Regardless, it's clear Burrow isn't right. Over the past two years, Burrow had the third-lowest percentage of off-target throws at 12.2%, according to ESPN Stats & Information. This year, he ranks 23rd in that category at 17.4%.

The injury has had a major impact on the depth of the passing attack. If Burrow can't get the calf in a good place, Cincinnati's offense will continue to be limited, as defenses look for ways to put Burrow under pressure. He is completing 28.6% of his throws when he sees pressure this season, fourth worst in the NFL.-- Ben Baby, Bengals reporter

Will the Cowboys open up the passing offense a bit and get Dak Prescott throwing downfield?

This is the trade-off with the offensive changes as coach Mike McCarthy takes over as the playcaller. Plus, the offense has kind of been in a shell because of poor weather (against the Giants) and blowouts (vs. the Jets and Patriots), and the offensive line has yet to take a snap at full strength.

As a result, Prescott's average air yards per attempt (5.5) ranks 33rd of 34 qualifying quarterbacks, and his average time to pass (2.49) is the fourth fastest. Those are shorter and quicker, respectively, than any other season of his career, per ESPN Stats & Information. The Cowboys will be selectively aggressive, but don't expect them to start throwing deep often even with playmakers CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup and Brandin Cooks. -- Todd Archer, Cowboys reporter

Should we be worried about Jordan Love's accuracy struggles?

The Packers don't seem overly concerned. Yes, they would like to see Love's completion percentage come up from his current 56.1% mark, and his 18.5% off-target rate (29th in the NFL) shows room for improvement. But as quarterbacks coach Tom Clements said this week: "A lot of things factor into that, but I think you can see that he's an accurate passer."

For one, Love is taking more shots down the field, averaging 9.7 air yards per pass attempt, second only to Titans quarterbackRyan Tannehill.-- Rob Demovsky, Packers reporter

What about C.J. Stroud's hot start has the coaching staff most excited?

The coaching staff praises Stroud for his ability to improve each week and avoid making the same mistakes. For example, in his first preseason game against the Patriots, Stroud threw an interception on his first drive. Since then? He hasn't thrown a single interception in a preseason or regular-season game. And since Week 1, he has the third-most attempts to start a career without an interception in NFL history (151).

Coach DeMeco Ryans said, "When you can take the corrections from the meeting rooms to the practice field, and then take that to the game -- some guys, it takes a little bit more time. But for C.J., he's doing it on a week-to-week basis and making those changes, and he's very dialed in with the preparation and what we're asking him to do."-- DJ Bien-Aime, Texans reporter

What are the Patriots doing to help Mac Jones' issues when under pressure?

Jones had been excelling while pressured this season before things went off the rails in the second quarter Sunday against the Cowboys, when a close game quickly got away from the Patriots. Consider that entering Sunday, Jones had improved his QBR by 60 points under pressure compared to last season and had completed 55% of his passes on those snaps, with one touchdown pass and no interceptions. That all changed against the Cowboys in a bad day at the office for Jones.

So before the Patriots can help Jones going forward, Jones needs to help himself and get back to what he was doing in Weeks 1-3. That means trying not to do too much in those under-pressure situations. Coach Bill Belichick pointed out one way to help him do that when he said: "Nothing would help pass protection more than running the ball, as we saw [in Week 3]." (New England ran for 157 yards against the Jets.)-- Mike Reiss, Patriots reporter

How aggressive do you expect the Jets to be in the QB market at the trade deadline?

As of now, not very aggressive. The organization believes Zach Wilson is salvageable, and he certainly showed promise Sunday night against the Chiefs, with a career-high 105.2 passer rating.

The Jets, already down a 2024 second-round pick from the Aaron Rodgers trade, also don't want to give up more draft capital. And because they're paying $41 millionthis season for Rodgers and Wilson, they don't want to take on another big QB salary. Lastly, Wilson has a strong ally in Rodgers, who is mentoring him and wants to see him succeed. Barring a change of heart, the current plan is to stand pat. -- Rich Cimini, Jets reporter

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