Author Dan Latto
With week five of the NFL complete, let’s check back in on the rookie quarterbacks and see who stepped up in their respective games.
To start off, let’s head over to London to talk about New York Jets QB Zach Wilson. Wilson had an absolutely terrible game in his first appearance overseas against the Atlanta Falcons. He went 19/32, with 192 yards and one absolutely brutal interception. It was the same story for the Jets that it has been all season.
Wilson had a rough first half, only accumulating 14 total yards through the first 20 minutes of the game. This offense is the first since that of the 2015 San Francisco 49ers to score seven points or fewer in the first half in each of their first five games. Throughout the game, Wilson just looked uncomfortable in the pocket. The Jets finished with 230 total yards of offense, which is only the second-lowest from their offense all season. They would have only three drives with four plays or more all game.
Wilson had 65 passing yards with 9:30 left in the game, so his 192 total passing yards were due to a very relaxed Falcons defense in garbage time. He missed plenty of easy throws, including a huge mistake at the end of the first half. The Jets were in the red zone when offensive coordinator Matt Lafleur drew up a perfect screen pass to Jamison Crowder. All Crowder had to do was make one person miss a tackle and they had a touchdown, which would have gained a little momentum for New York at the end of the half. The only problem was, Zach Wilson threw the ball about five feet too short and it led to an incompletion and a deflating field goal after the Jets offense finally seemed to get some traction.
His interception was really bad, thrown with no velocity as he was trying to make an unnecessarily hard pass happen. Wilson seems to have a case of the “happy feet”, where he never settles his feet in the pocket and composes himself. His big issue is he has such great arm talent, but he is not relying on his mechanics to help with his accuracy. His mechanics are off right now, as he rarely pushes off his back foot to generate velocity and accuracy.
The Jets have a bye week coming up, so hopefully, he will use this time to watch some film and work on the little things. Either way, he needs to clean his game up because his performance this last Sunday was just unacceptable as an NFL quarterback.
Trevor Lawrence of the Jacksonville Jaguars showed a slight improvement in his game but is still looking for some solid ground five weeks into the NFL season. The Jaguars were beaten up again by a vengeful Tennessee Titans who were looking to bounce back after a tough loss against the Jets the week before.
Lawrence finished with 273 yards on 23 of 33 passes, adding one rushing and passing touchdown to his resume, along with yet another interception. It still seems like Lawrence is trying to find his groove in this Jaguars offense, looking so good at some times, and awkward at other moments. He is clearly getting more comfortable in the NFL, as his turnovers are starting to decrease, and his completion percentage is increasing. In my opinion, the Jaguars’ offense needs to let him unleash his potential.
He is throwing only for 7.8 intended air yards per pass attempt (IAY/PA). This tells me that either he does not have the time to make these passes, which is not the case because he ranks in the bottom half of the league in pressure percentage, or more likely, the Jaguars offense is just not clicking yet possibly due to play-calling issues. Either way, Lawrence’s talent is too impressive to waste on short passes.
It will be important for the Jaguars to try to kick-start things and start playing a more vertical offensive. To go back to the game, it was the running attack that kept the Jaguars in the game, despite very ordinary and unexciting play calling. It is very hard for this team to get on track with all their off-the-field issues which I will not get into here.
It is extremely important for this franchise to try to right the ship and get some numbers in the win column and let Lawrence reach his full potential. Lawrence is definitely learning each week, but he and the Jaguars have a long way to go before we start to see the Trevor Lawrence that we saw at Clemson.
Mac Jones is still on the consistency train for his New England Patriots. He went 23-30, adding 231 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He finished with a 76.6% completion percentage, which puts him at fifth in the NFL for the season in completion percentage. I was impressed with the fact he only took one sack in his win against the Houston Texans even though he had four out of his five starting linemen out with a mix of injuries and Covid cases.
I stress this point every week, but Bill Belichick makes Jones’ life very easy, having Jones make short throws to his running backs or receivers over the middle. He moved really well in the pocket, which was a concern for teams when the draft was approaching. He had a collection of critical third-down conversions, the biggest being with four minutes left when he stepped up in the pocket to avoid pressure and found his new favorite target, tight end, Hunter Henry, over the middle for a huge first down. As I said, he didn’t have to make a lot of difficult throws. Just under half of his completions came off play actions, where he would consistently find receivers cutting across the middle of the field, which was wide open because the linebackers had to step up to prevent the possible run.
Belichick knows how to win, and he has just done a fantastic job with Jones so far this season. Another good week for Mac Jones, and I only expect more of the same from him as the season continues to move forward.
Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields had a quiet day, in a very boring, yet successful offensive display by the Bears. The Bears beat down on a slipping Las Vegas Raiders team, 20-9.
It was an unexciting showing from the Bears offense, where Fields had to do the bare minimum to secure the win for his team. He went just 12/20, with 111 yards and one touchdown. His longest completed pass traveled just 13 yards in what ended up being a crucial third-down conversion for his Bears team. With just over seven minutes left in the game, he avoided pressure and threw an absolute strike to Darnell Mooney, who caught it and fell over the first down marker. It would lead to the game-clinching field goal, allowing the Bears to move to 3-2 on the season. Fields was not asked to do much, with the Bears offense only running 23 pass plays out of a total of 60.
Fortunately, in the chaotic saga that has been the Bears quarterback carousel, there was not much chaos this past Sunday. Fields completed the passes he needed to, and it led to a victory which is all you can ask out of your quarterback.
His true test comes next week, when he faces the Bears division rival, Green Bay Packers, in what is a new chapter in this Bears-Packers rivalry. I expect a lot more action from the passing game from the Bears, which means Fields will have his first big test against a determined Aaron Rodgers.
Finally, we get to talk about Trey Lance, who had his first NFL start for the 49ers. It was a bit of a wild performance, with lots of flashes of good, as well as lots of flashes of bad. To start with his stat line, he finished the game with 192 yards and one interception, completing 15 of 29 passes. He also added another 16 rushes for 89 yards, which made him the leading rusher for his 49ers.
It was a tough matchup for his first career start, as he lined up against a streaking hot Arizona Cardinals team, who have an intimidating defense led by Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt. Lance was all over the place throughout the game. His interception came on their first drive of the game, where he threw the ball at what looked like 100 miles per hour, but was wildly inaccurate to Budda Baker of the Cardinals for an easy interception. His passing percentage obviously speaks for itself, completing just over 50% of his passes, which is not very impressive in the NFL.
He is for sure a competitor though, putting his body on the line when he runs the ball. He got absolutely stuffed midway through the second quarter on a fourth and goal attempt from the one-yard line. However, he had some impressive runs as well, running the read-option to perfection on a third and seven to open the second half. While his accuracy was definitely shaky, he had some crucial drops from his receivers, including a big drop from veteran receiver Mohamed Sanu at the end of the half. He was a little jerky in the pocket, sometimes missing open receivers due to relying on his legs maybe a bit too much. With seven minutes left in the game, he missed a wide-open Brandon Aiyuk on a big third and four that led to a punt and then a game-clinching touchdown for Kyler Murray and the Cardinals.
Overall though, Lance did have a better game than his stats indicated. The 49ers accumulated seven penalties for 60 yards, and some of those penalties resulted in big plays from Lance being called back. 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan is still clearly adjusting to this drastically different quarterback style from Lance, as he had some terrible calls on fourth down, with the team going just one for five on fourth down conversions. Lance hurt his knee towards the end of the game, raising concern for his status this coming Sunday, but overall, even in a loss, I would definitely say Lance played much better than people would have expected against the only undefeated team left in the league.
Trey Lance has some unbelievable raw talent, and it will be important for the 49ers to monitor his progress and make sure that he stays healthy and is able to reach his full potential. I would say he was the rookie quarterback of the week.