The madness from Monday night has overshadowed the Arizona Cardinals' 3-0 start while pushing aside some of the regularly scheduled programming on the NFC West blog.
This item stands as a makeup call on both fronts.
Our weekly look at NFC West quarterback performance generally runs Monday. The Seattle Seahawks' appearance on "Monday Night Football" pushed back the schedule by a day. The way the Seahawks' game ended obliterated the schedule entirely.
Thursday is the new Monday, at least in this instance. The timing allows me to pass along the latest Insider piece from K.C. Joyner, which suggests the Cardinals have found a winning formula, as opposed to lucking into a fast start. Joyner goes into detail in breaking down Arizona's defensive strengths, but growth on offense is also part of the formula.
"The central element here is the development of quarterback Kevin Kolb," Joyner writes. "Kolb's issues in Philadelphia and Arizona revolved not around his physical talent but rather whether or not he could find a way to keep from making a high volume of mistakes."
By Joyner's count, Kolb has made only one bad decision in 65 pass attempts this season. He defines a bad decision as "a mental error by a passer that leads to a turnover opportunity for an opponent." That rate is considerably better than the rate Joyner has historically associated with "above-average performance" in that area.
Basically, Kolb isn't doing anything to lose the game.
And against Philadelphia in Week 3, Kolb played a key role in winning, not simply in avoiding defeat. His NFL passer rating was 127.4, the second-highest figure for Week 3 among players with more than 13 pass attempts. Total QBR placed Kolb solidly in a group of 12 starters ranking considerably above average for the week. His 79.3 score out of 100 was his highest since Arizona acquired him and, for his career, second only to the 96.9 he posted for Philadelphia against Atlanta in 2010.
Kolb was the NFC West's most productive quarterback for the week even though Arizona was facing what had been one of the more statistically dominant defenses through the first two weeks.
With that, let's take a look at how NFC West passers graded out in Week 3 in relation to Total QBR, with NFL passer ratings in parenthesis as a reference point (thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for the charting info):
Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals (79.3 QBR, 127.4 NFL rating): Kolb completed 17 of 24 passes for 222 yards with two TDs, no turnovers, three sacks and four rushes, none for a first down. Kolb completed all seven passes on third down and all nine attempts targeting Larry Fitzgerald. The Eagles did nearly pick off the TD pass Kolb threw in the red zone. Michael Floyd caught it on a rebound. A turnover in that situation would have downgraded Kolb's performance without the quarterback having done anything differently.
Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers (52.9 QBR, 81.1 NFL rating): Smith completed 24 of 35 passes for 204 yards with one TD, one INT, three sacks and four rushes, one of them for a first down. Smith had not thrown an interception since Thanksgiving last season. He twice missed Randy Moss with high passes. The 49ers trailed in this game, changing the dynamic for Smith and the offense. Smith played well while trailing against New Orleans and the New York Giants (twice) last season. Since Jim Harbaugh became coach, Smith has seven TD passes with two INTs and a 56.7 QBR while trailing. Those marks count postseason.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (28.5 QBR, 99.3 NFL rating): Wilson completed 10 of 21 passes for 130 yards with two TDs, no INTs and one sack with three rushes, two of them for first downs. Coach Pete Carroll said he was willing to sacrifice production if it meant increasing efficiency, which he defined mostly as turnover avoidance. Wilson succeeded on this front and emerged with strong efficiency marks, as represented by a 99.3 NFL passer rating. Wilson's low QBR score (50 is average) reveals the gap between what Carroll asked Wilson to do and how Wilson's contributions influenced the outcome. In other words, Wilson did what his coach asked him to do, but that wasn't very much. Note that Wilson did eliminate the high passes that had shown up in the first two games.
Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (3.9 QBR, 39.2 NFL rating): Bradford completed 18 of 35 passes for 152 yards with no TDs, two INTs, six sacks and two rushes, both for first downs. There is really no way for a pocket passer to overcome the combination of weak protection and covered receivers. Those were the issues I thought stood out during the Rams' defeat at Chicago. The pass Chicago intercepted and returned for a fourth-quarter TD came on a three-step drop and a quick throw. The intercepting player, safety Major Wright, was able to quickly abandon his responsibilities in the middle of the field because he knew where the pass was going. The route was a three-step slant and the pass might have been a little high and inside. The corner in coverage tipped it into the air, allowing Wright to pick it off.
The chart below shows how quarterbacks from games involving NFC West teams fared in Total QBR for Week 3, provided they played enough to qualify for inclusion.
The column showing point above average reveals the "number of points contributed by a quarterback over the season, accounting for QBR and how much he plays, above the level of an average quarterback."