Rookie quarterbacks have been the talk the of league through the first two weeks of the season, but that wasn't the case in week three. Outside of controversy surrounding the terrible job the replacement refs have been doing, the focus of week three was on last year's rookie quarterback class. 2012's sophomore passers all put up performances that generated a lot of talk - but was it good or bad?
We'll look at those quarterbacks, review week three's match-ups to watch, and check out some impressive defensive performances from across the NFL.
Sophomore Slump? Catching Up on the 2011 QB Class
Amidst all the talk of RGIII’s fast start and Russell Wilson’s Hail Mary “completion” to beat the Packers on Monday night, last year’s rookie class of quarterbacks have already been nearly forgotten. After week three, it’ll be hard to ignore the sophomore quarterbacks for much longer, as last year’s top quarterback prospects all seem to be developing quickly.
The most surprising performance this week: Christian Ponder’s excellent performance in leading the Vikings to an upset win over the 49ers. Most predicted that San Francisco’s defense would make life difficult for the young passer, forcing him to make mental mistakes that would lead to a blow out 49ers’ win. Instead Ponder looked calm and collected, and it was the San Francisco defense that would have it’s fair share of trouble on Sunday.
Ponder threw two touchdown passes to Kyle Rudolph, and ran for another thirty yard score. He avoided taking even one sack the entire game, and didn’t turn the ball over either. That’s a notable accomplishment for anyone playing against the San Francisco defense, and it’s a major one for a guy who many considered to be a disappointment in his rookie year.
No one thought Cam Newton’s rookie season to be a disappointment, but that can’t be said about the first three weeks of the 2012 season. Most recently Newton struggled to get anything going against the New York Giants on Thursday night. The Panthers only scored one touchdown in game that was expected to be one of the highest scoring of the week, and it was revealed on Friday that Newton’s primary target Steve Smith was unhappy with Newton’s sideline demeanor.
Smith can’t be thrilled with Newton’s on the field performances, either. Through three games Newton has thrown for five picks and only two touchdowns, causing many to wonder if he’s suffering from a sophomore slump. It hasn’t been all his fault – the running game has been terrible for the most part with Jonathon Stewart battling injury – but Newton’s got to improve quickly if the Panthers are going to match Ryan Kalil’s preseason promise to their fanbase.
Blaine Gabbert’s career was assumed to be over by fans, but early showings in 2012 show that those assumptions were premature. His numbers haven’t been specactular, but when he’s getting chances to make plays he’s not been disappointing. The 80 yard, game winning touchdown pass to Cecil Shorts with one minute left against the Colts in week three is an example of that.
In fact, there’s more grumbling about the Jaguars play calling holding Gabbert back swirling around Jacksonville, and for good reason. Jacksonville’s conservative calls have resulted in Gabbert averaging under six yards per attempt, one of the lowest in the league. Getting rookie Justin Blackmon on track might be what helps Gabbert take the next step in his development.
Following a rough week two performance, several pundits had already decided that Jake Locker’s career had the ceiling of his only being a game manager. He was too inaccurate and unable to read defenses, and should stick to handing the ball off. The story is much different after week three.
Locker threw for nearly 400 yards, completed 69% of his passes, threw two touchdowns and didn’t have any interceptions. His only miscue was a bobbled shotgun snap that was recovered by Detroit early in the game. Most impressive was the drive he led during over time. He didn’t look flustered at all, and calmly moved the Titans into field goal range, a drive that eventually won Tennessee the game.
Locker was incredibly confident in his arm and looked to stretch the field the whole time the Titans were on offense. This resulted in two touchdown passes of over sixty yards. The best part for Titans fans: Kenny Britt still isn’t back to being his old self. When he gets there, the Locker-led offense could be scary.
Recapping the Match-Ups to Watch
Tampa Bay WR Vincent Jackson vs. Dallas CB Brandon Carr
It was a battle between premier off season acquisitions when the Cowboys’ Brandon Carr lined up across from the Buccaneers’ Vincent Jackson. But unfortunately for Tampa Bay, it would turn out to be one of the most lopsided match-ups of week three.
Carr may have been one of the most highly coveted players during free agency, but his game isn’t overly complicated. He excels at playing in press coverage, and that’s exactly what he did Sunday against Jackson. In all but two or three plays against Jackson, Carr pressed Jackson off the snap. There’s a considerable size difference in Jackson’s favor: Jackson is 6’5, 230 lbs and Carr is only 6’0, 210 lbs. In spite of the size difference, Carr was able to push Jackson around all day long.
The result of Carr’s physical play? Josh Freeman’s main target was held to just was catch, one that didn’t come until the forth quarter when the game was already mostly out of reach. Furthermore, it wasn’t Carr covering Jackson on that play, but instead Orlando Scandrick who was responsible for Jackson. From the first snap to the last, Carr dominated this match-up, and it’s a big reason the Cowboys came away with the win.
Chicago RT Gabe Carimi vs St. Louis DE Chris Long
For yet another week, the Bears went into their game hoping to minimize the pressure that Jay Cutler would have to deal with. Instead of the Packers’ making Cutler’s life a nightmare, week three was Chris Long and the Rams’ chance to wreak havoc in the back field. Gabe Carimi struggled to slow Long down throughout the game.
Long recorded his first two sacks of the year, as well as hitting Cutler three more times and having two additional tackles behind the line of scrimmage. As expected, the pressure dramatically threw Cuter off his game. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass and for most of the game struggled to lead the offense to the end zone.
It wasn’t enough to get the Rams a win (although they only trailed 13-6 in the third quarter), but it only adds to the concerns Chicago fans will likely have for the rest of the season. This was a team that was a sexy pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl during the offseason, but now they’re facing some serious questions about the offensive line. If Carimi and the rest of the Bears can’t protect Cutler any better than they have so far, it’ll be a long season in the Windy City.
Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson vs. San Francisco’s Run Defense
Prior to the game, Adrian Peterson suggested that San Francisco hadn’t faced a rushing offense like the Vikings had, and that the 49ers weren’t ready. As it turned out, the 49ers would have a bigger problem with Minnesota’s aerial attack. That’s not to say Peterson had a bad game – he carried the ball 25 times for 86 yards – but his performance wasn’t the key to the Vikings upset win. That distinction belonged to quarterbackChristian Ponder and the passing game.
Ponder avoided making costly mistakes in a game where just one or two could have turned the game in San Francisco’s favor. He wasn’t just a game manager though, and made the big plays when his team needed them. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, accounting for all three Vikings touchdowns.
Those of you hoping to see some big performances from Peterson shouldn’t lose hope, however. Toby Gerhart fumbled three times during the game, likely ending whatever chances there was that Minnesotta would continue to take carries away from Peterson.
Scouting Notes from Across the League
- Jared Allen was off to a slow start to his 2012 campaign, but he finally got things rolling in week three. He registered his first sack of the year, forcing a fumble. The sack game late in the game, but he did a solid job of disrupting Alex Smith all game long.
- Titans’ outside linebacker Akeem Ayers is quietly becoming one of the best young linebackers in the game. With the absence of fellow 2011 draft pick Colin McCarthy in the middle, Ayers is being asked to do a lot and so far he hasn’t disappointed. He had 15 tackles on Sunday, giving him 35 on the season.
- Steelers fans were worried about how linebacker Chris Carter would do replacing the injured James Harrison. Although the Steelers didn’t get the win, the loss can’t be pinned on Carter. He didn’t have a standout game that Harrison is capable of, but he did his job and didn’t make any key mistakes. Ziggy Hood, however, got pushed around all day and struggled mightily for Pittsburgh.
- Cameron Wake had a tremendous game rushing the passer for Miami, and it was a large reason for why Mark Sanchez struggled so much during the game. Wake got in Sanchez’s face eight times during the game, and Jets right tackle Austin Howard really had no chance at stopping him.
- There may not have been a better defensive performance than the show that Kansas City outside linebacker Justin Houston put on against the Saints. He recorded three sacks and came close to getting four (!) more. It was pretty much a perfect example of what you want to see out of a 3-4 pass rushing linebacker.
- I said it last week, but Saints’ defensive tackle Akiem Hicks has been one of the few bright spots in the Saints’ season. His playing time and gone up dramatically in the last two weeks, and against the Chiefs he played around 40 snaps. He may be pushing for a starting job by the end of the season.