Why Have the Top Quarterbacks in the NFL Been Struggling?

9/17/12 in NFL   |   Jnewman482   |   129 respect

To start nearly every fantasy football draft this year, the top four quarterbacks drafted were Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford.

Fantasy owners who drafted these players must have been elated that they were able to nab stud quarterbacks since the preseason talk was all about how the NFL has become a passing league, but all of these users must be sorely disappointed right now with how their QBs have played in the first two weeks of the season.

There are a couple of common themes that seem to plague each of these quarterbacks’ respective situations. Either both apply or at least one is true.
  1. Lack of effective running game
  2. Loss of important member of the team due to injury or otherwise
Let’s take a look at all four quarterbacks individually and see if we can figure out what’s going on.

1. Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers)Sep 9, 2012; Green Bay, WI, USA;  Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) looks to the scoreboard during the third quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field.  The 49ers defeated the Packers 30-22.  Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

In standard ESPN scoring leagues, Aaron Rodgers had 22 points against the 49ers in Week 1 and 10 points against the Bears in Week 2. To this point, he has an impressive completion rate of 68.4 percent, but has thrown two interceptions and only three touchdown passes.

The main issue for Rodgers is that Mike McCarthy relies on him for just about everything on offense. Bringing in RB Cedric Benson this season after ineffectively using a trio of unproven running backs last year was supposed to give Rodgers a successful running game or at least a serviceable running game to accompany his offense.

But despite being the featured back in the first two games of the year, Cedric Benson has yet to break 100 yards rushing, and his longest run from the line of scrimmage is 11 yards.

Opposing defenses know that Rodgers is essentially the entire Packers offense, so they play the pass on every down. It’s clear Benson doesn’t have enough juice in his legs to burn them, so they sit back in coverage and make Rodgers’ life miserable.

Losing star wide receiver Greg Jennings in Week 1 didn’t help especially since his replacement, James Jones, had two catches for negative one yards against the Bears.

Moreover, while Rodgers is a supreme talent, he needs Jennings to return, and he absolutely needs either a miraculous resurgence from Cedric Benson or for Mike McCarthy to find another running back who can actually present a threat to opposing defenses. 

2. Tom Brady (New England Patriots)Sep 16, 2012; Foxboro, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) reacts during the second quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at Gillette Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE 

Tom Brady is just behind Aaron Rodgers in terms of fantasy scoring with 31 points in standard ESPN scoring leagues.

Now, Brady actually has a decent running threat in Stevan Ridley, who has started the season off averaging 98 rushing yards per game.

Certainly, it hurt the passing game when TE Aaron Hernandez, one of Brady’s favorite targets, injured his ankle in the first quarter against the Cardinals. However, that should not serve as an excuse for the Patriots to lose to a team that oddsmakers predicted them to beat by 14 points. 

It is clear that New England did not spend enough time preparing for Arizona, and obviously Brady is as guilty as anyone else on the team in that regard since he threw an interception and only one touchdown pass.

Furthermore, while Brady was able to throw for over 300 yards, he is an elite quarterback and should have found a way to help his team put up more than 18 points in Gillette Stadium against a mediocre team.

Meanwhile, Brandon Lloyd had eight receptions, but only for 60 yards. He is supposed to be the deep threat on this team, as Randy Moss was several years ago, but his longest catch was for just 12 yards.

The Patriots have fallen in love with the short passing game and need to find a way to complete big passing plays that will open up the field, not just for the short game, but also for Stevan Ridley.

When Brady can find Lloyd deep, perhaps he and New England will be able to get back on track offensively.

3. Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)Sep 16, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) loses the ball during the fourth quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers defeated the Saints 35-27.  Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

Ironically, it is the best quarterback in the world of fantasy football who is on the team that has begun the season with an 0-2 record. While he has posted four interceptions, Brees has 40 fantasy points so far according to ESPN.

But, of all the elite quarterbacks, it is the Saints QB who has been put in the most unfortunate situation. With coach Sean Payton unavailable and with a horrendous defense, New Orleans has struggled mightily.

On offense, the Saints have been able to score plenty of points. In two games, they have put up 59; however, the defense has given up 75.

Certainly, the running game hasn’t been stellar. Pierre Thomas has averaged 63.5 rushing yards a game and Mark Ingram has posted 34 yards to date, but that’s not the problem. If the Saints weren’t constantly trying to keep up with other teams’ offenses, then they might be able to run the ball more.

However, since Drew Brees has been forced to come from behind because the Saints defense has allowed so many touchdowns, it should not be surprising that his accuracy numbers have gone down. Opposing defenses know that Brees has to throw since New Orleans is trying to catch up—thus Brees’ completion percentage is at a putrid 54.5 percent so far.

The reason he has outperformed the other top quarterbacks in terms of fantasy point production is because he threw for 664 total yards in the first two games. However, unless the Saints defense improves rapidly, Brees' team might not have a record above .500 at the end of the season. 

4. Matthew Stafford (Detroit Lions)Sep 9, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) during the second quarter against the St. Louis Rams at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-US PRESSWIRE

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Matthew Stafford hasn’t put up as solid numbers as the aforementioned quarterbacks since they are more experienced, but it is shocking to see Stafford struggle this much to open the season.

To this point, he has put up a total of 24 fantasy points and has only two touchdown passes to go with his four interceptions. However, he has not been the worst part of the Lions offense to begin the year. That distinction goes to Detroit's running game.

So far, Kevin Smith has averaged just 57.5 yards per game and Joique Bell, who replaced Smith for a long stretch of the 49ers game, only mustered 14 rushing yards against San Francisco.

Knowing that Detroit can’t run the ball effectively, opposing defenses focus on stopping Stafford and constantly double cover Calvin Johnson, his favorite weapon. In that respect, Stafford faces the same problem that Rodgers and Brees face. The veterans have just found ways to be a little more successful than the Lions QB so far this season.

If the Lions can find a way to improve their running game, then that would help their quarterback tremendously, but the Lions aren’t going to make the playoffs when Stafford is throwing more interceptions than touchdown passes.

OVERALL

It will be interesting to see if the quarterbacks who were viewed as “elite” before the 2012 season started will be able to change their fortunes and begin playing the way everyone thought they would. Some will likely not be able to perform up to expectations, but others will find a way and it will be fun to watch them rise to the occasion.

Otherwise, there are a couple of QBs who have started the season off exceptionally. Matt Ryan continues to show tremendous promise and RG III has been incredible. Perhaps if they continue their stellar play, then they will be the elite QBs we'll be talking about next year.
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9/17/12   |   Dan_B   |   1067 respect

I thought having Brady and Brees in a 2-quarterback fantasy league was going to make me a juggernaut...