NFL

First-time QBs have diverse results

Brian Billick recaps Week 7 in the NFL, including Tim Tebow's performance.
Brian Billick recaps Week 7 in the NFL, including Tim Tebow's performance.
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Brian Billick

Brian Billick served as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2007, winning Super Bowl XXXV. He has also authored books, including More Than A Game: The Glorious Present and Uncertain Future of the NFL. Follow him on Twitter.

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There were six quarterbacks who got their first starts of the year Sunday and, no surprise, only one of their teams walked away with a victory. I will take a look at each of their performances:

Charlie Whitehurst, Seattle: 12 of 30, 97 yards, 0 TDs, 1 interception

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Although Whitehurst’s stats were abysmal, the Seahawks' overall offensive performance was even worse. This looked like a team that was missing its starting quarterback and its starting running back, and that is exactly what happened. Marshawn Lynch tweaked his back in pregame warm-ups and was scratched from the game. It is a tough hill to climb when you unexpectedly lose your team’s top offensive weapon, especially one that you were relying heavily on in the game plan to take pressure off your new quarterback.

On the Seahawks’ final possession, Whitehurst had four incompletions and didn’t get any help from his receivers, who dropped at least one pass. That was indicative of the entire offensive performance on Sunday. Just when something started to go right, even if just a little bit, a penalty or a missed assignment would bring the drive to a screeching halt. That is when you need a veteran quarterback to step into the huddle and get everyone back on the same page, and that is what this team is missing most . . . an on-the-field leader who can rally the team when things are bad.

Tim Tebow, Denver: 13 of 27, 161 yards, 2 TDs, 0 interceptions

Throughout the first 55 minutes of this game, Tim Tebow couldn’t get anything going down the field. He overthrew a couple of wide-open receivers and often held on to the ball way too long in the pocket. When you hold on to the ball like Tebow did, you often can create big plays down the field because it is very hard for the defensive secondary to stay in coverage for that long. Ben Roethlisberger does this for the Steelers, and Steve McNair was that way for me in my final years in Baltimore. The problem for the Broncos is it didn’t really lead to any big plays because of Tebow’s inaccuracy down the field, but did lead to seven sacks.

In true Tebow fashion, he was able to shrug and spin off of tackles and create some plays with this legs throughout the game, and it wasn’t until the final four minutes that he actually moved the ball downfield through the air. And even that took at least two spectacular diving catches from his receivers. Those plays could have just as easily been incompletions. But this is exactly the type of on-field leadership that I don’t see in Seattle.

When things were going wrong all day, Tebow kept his head up, rallied his troops and delivered two scoring drives, sandwiching a recovered onside kick and a game-tying two-point conversion. I’m not sure too many players have the mental toughness to lead his team to two come-from-behind victories in just four career starts. To put that in perspective for Denver fans, it took John Elway 18 career starts before getting his second.

John Beck, Washington: 22 of 37, 279 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception

John Beck may have actually looked the most comfortable among the first-time starters on Sunday. He used his mobility to keep plays alive and actually scored on a short keeper early in the third quarter to bring his team within three points. After that, he was unable to get his team back into the end zone until the Redskins were down by 17 and playing in scrap time.

I did like the fact that he was able to spread the ball around in the offense and actually went through his progressions pretty well in the passing game. Eight different receivers had at least one catch, but the 7.5-yard average per attempt led to a slow death. Defenses often play with the mentality of “make the offense snap it one more time," which basically means don’t give up the big play, and live to line up for the next play. That is exactly what the Panthers were able to do on Sunday. They gave up passes of 22, 24, and 32 yards, and those were the longest of the day, none of which resulted in touchdowns. That eventually led to a bleeding out of the Redskins offense.

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Christian Ponder, Minnesota: 13 of 32, 219 yards, 2 TDs, 2 interceptions

Christian Ponder opened this game with a bang, hitting Michael Jenkins on a 72-yard bomb on the very first play from scrimmage. It was a play-action roll-out pass, and that would become a theme for the day. Jenkins fell short of the goal-line by six inches, and Ponder actually connected with Visanthe Shiancoe on another play-action roll-out pass in the corner of the end zone to complete the scoring drive.

Having played in the Florida State system, Ponder came into his rookie season with more experience in the pocket over any other rookie, but it was his ability to get out of the pocket and make plays early on Sunday that kept them in this game. This is also a credit to Adrian Peterson and how the threat of a dominant running back can really assist the quarterback in making plays down the field.

Ponder actually reminded me a little of the quarterback across the sidelines on Sunday, Aaron Rodgers. Not that he is nearly at the same level, but in his ability to climb the pocket, make plays with his legs and riffle the ball down the field. I will be the first to admit that I was in shock when the Vikings selected Ponder with the 12th overall selection in the 2011 NFL draft, but he showed me that his ceiling may be higher than I thought.

A.J. Feeley, St. Louis: 20 of 33, 196 yards, 0 TDs, 1 interception

This is a tough situation to analyze for a first-time starter, simply because the starter, Sam Bradford, who could be a future star of this league, also struggled so mightily in this offense. The receivers haven’t been consistently getting open. And when they do, have been dropping passes. It should tell you something that Brandon Lloyd, who has been with the team for less than a week, had 12 total targets, and the second most was Danario Alexander with six. As an entire offensive unit, the Rams were able to put together only two sustainable drives, and only one led to a touchdown.

The other ended when the Rams were stuffed on the goal-line on a fourth down in the final minutes. This is a team that has had no help from its brutal schedule, but it hasn’t even really put together a competitive game except for maybe once this season — the 17-10 loss against Washington in Week 4.

The Rams, obviously, will want to get Bradford back as quickly as possible, but they have a lot more issues than the quarterback position. If they are going to give up 294 yards rushing, it won’t matter that much who is behind center.

Kyle Boller, Oakland: 7 of 14, 61 yards, 0 TDs, 3 interceptions

The Kyle Boller era in Oakland lasted only one half and an additional series, but the game was actually over much sooner than that. On the very first offensive series, Boller threw a pass down the sideline that was picked off and returned for a touchdown. That alone would have been good enough to win the game for the Chiefs. But he followed it up by throwing them two more, the first time a Raiders QB has thrown three interceptions in the first half in 13 years.

Outside of the obvious mistakes on the interceptions, he often overthrew open receivers downfield and was way too finicky in the pocket. He felt pressure when none was really present and never really got his feet under him for a good delivery. Carson Palmer came in for the second half, but all he did was match the interception total of Boller for a total of six on the day for the Raiders. To put that into perspective, Rodgers had only six incompletions!

Tagged: Broncos, Packers, Raiders, Rams, Vikings, Seahawks, Redskins, Kyle Boller, Aaron Rodgers, Charlie Whitehurst, John Beck, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Christian Ponder

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