Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Mike Sando's MVP Watch
By Mike Sando
San Francisco's Alex Smith, left, and Atlanta's Matt Ryan have led their teams to 2-0 starts.
The Manning brothers, Peyton and Eli, accounted for six of the 28 interceptions NFL quarterbacks threw in Week 2.
They also accounted for 9.5 percent of all passing yardage.
Eli's fourth-quarter recovery and 510-yard passing performance against Tampa Bay returned him to the MVP Watch list after a week away.
Peyton gets the week off after his three first-quarter interceptions doomed Denver to defeat at Atlanta, site of the Broncos' lone indoor game this season. Those questioning Peyton Manning's throwing velocity on deeper passes should watch to see how cold-weather games affect his 36-year-old arm later in the season.
Our top two players on the MVP Watch list have yet to suffer a turnover this season. Atlanta's Matt Ryan and San Francisco's Alex Smith have combined for nine touchdown passes while completing 70 percent of their throws.
Smith has not thrown many longer passes, ranking 31st out of 34 qualifying quarterbacks with only five attempts traveling 15-plus yards past the line of scrimmage. That feeds perceptions of Smith as Most Valuable Game Manager (MVGM). But when the 49ers have needed Smith to make critical plays, he has delivered.
The 49ers' clinching 12-play, 79-yard touchdown drive against Detroit on Sunday night provided the latest example. Smith completed 6 of 7 passes for 76 yards on the drive. That included a 7-yard pass on third-and-7, a 16-yarder on third-and-14, an 11-yarder on third-and-9 and a 23-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis.
Longstanding perceptions of Smith are appearing increasingly outdated.
Quarterback | Atlanta Falcons ... Next Game: 9/23 at SD ... Last Poll: 3
Ryan has set a quick early pace while leading the Falcons to a 2-0 record. He leads the NFL in Total QBR by a wide margin thanks to five passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown, two sacks and zero turnovers. He has never finished a season with 30-plus scoring passes or a completion percentage higher than 62.5. His quick start and the Falcons' overall strength put Ryan in position to enjoy a career year both in production and team success.
Quarterback | San Francisco 49ers ... Next Game: 9/23 at MIN ... Last Poll: 7
Smith ranks second only to Ryan in success rate, defined by ESPN's analytics department as those producing gains in expected points. Like Ryan, Smith has zero turnovers through two games. Despite taking seven sacks, Smith ranks second only to Ryan in QBR among quarterbacks with enough attempts to qualify. He's at 81.9 out of 100 after finishing last season ranked 22nd at 45.8 (50 is average, suggesting the 49ers won largely for factors beyond QB production).
Quarterback | Green Bay Packers ... Next Game: 9/24 at SEA ... Last Poll: 2
All MVP Watch candidates are not created the same. Those with lesser career credentials must be producing at a high level to earn spots on the list. The few players with Rodgers' credentials get the benefit of the doubt in the absence of their usual production, especially early in the season. Rodgers has yet to get going, but he has also faced two rugged defenses. The trend continues when the Packers visit Seattle in Week 3. Rodgers' production should pick up against New Orleans (Week 4) and Indianapolis (Week 5) before a tough matchup at Houston (Week 6).
Quarterback | San Diego Chargers ... Next Game: 9/23 vs. ATL ... Last Poll: NR
Rivers makes his 2012 debut on the list. He ranks second to Christian Ponder in completion percentage (73.8) and has led the Chargers to their first 2-0 start since the 2006 team won its final 10 games to finish 14-2. A home game against Ryan's Falcons provides Rivers with a stage to prove he belongs on this list, and possibly higher than fourth. Trips to Kansas City and New Orleans await from there, part of a road schedule that appears manageable for Rivers and San Diego.
Quarterback | New York Giants ... Next Game: 9/20 at CAR ... Last Poll: NR
A stunning 510-yard passing performance returns Manning to the list after a week away. Check out this note from ESPN Stats & Information: "Since the start of 2011, Manning is 18-of-28 (64.3 percent) with eight touchdowns and no interceptions in the fourth quarter on throws more than 20 yards downfield. In the first three quarters, Manning is 25-of-70 (35.7 percent) with four touchdowns and four interceptions on such throws." What we're saying, pretty much, is that Manning is clutch.
Quarterback | New England Patriots ... Next Game: 9/23 at BAL ... Last Poll: 1
Brady had a tough time solving Arizona's defense and now he must adjust to life without injured tight end Aaron Hernandez. He ranks only 23rd in Total QBR to this point. A trip to Baltimore in Week 3 wouldn't seem to help. Brady has seven picks in his past three games against the Ravens, counting the playoffs. He took four sacks against the Cardinals. That was his total through Week 4 last season. New England has three of its next four on the road.
Quarterback | Carolina Panthers ... Next Game: 9/20 vs. NYG ... Last Poll: NR
This spot feels a little high for Newton based on his production to this point and the Panthers' 1-1 record. Let's check back in a week to see how well he fared in his first career matchup against the Giants. The game is at Carolina, which should help. Newton was a 60 percent passer last season. He's closer to 70 percent through two games.
Linebacker | Green Bay Packers ... Next Game: 9/24 at SEA ... Last Poll: NR
Matthews becomes the first defensive player to appear on the MVP Watch list this season. No defensive player has won The Associated Press version of the award since Lawrence Taylor a quarter century ago. The trend isn't going to change, most likely, in this era of increased pass production. But with 3.5 sacks against the Bears and six through two games, he has stood out. From the Elias Sports Bureau: "Since sacks became an official stat in 1982, Matthews is just the sixth player to have at least six sacks in his team's first two games and the only player to do it twice."
Quarterback | Washington Redskins ... Next Game: 9/23 vs. CIN ... Last Poll: 5
It's looking like Griffin will have to carry more of the Redskins' weight after the team suffered devastating injuries on defense during its 31-28 defeat at St. Louis. He appears capable of handling the added pressure. The Redskins have put up 68 points through two games, both on the road. They play three of their next four at home. From Elias: Griffin joins Newton and Jake Delhomme as the only quarterbacks since 1970 with three passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns over his first two career games.
Quarterback | Pittsburgh Steelers ... Next Game: 9/23 at OAK ... Last Poll: NR
The running game hasn't gotten much going for Pittsburgh to this point. Only two teams are averaging fewer yards per carry than the Steelers are averaging. From ESPN Stats & Information: Roethlisberger's third-down production this season leaves him ranked first or second in passing yards, passing first downs, passing touchdowns, completion percentage and QBR. Roethlisberger has completed 19 of 25 third-down passes for 251 yards and three scores with no picks.