NFL Nation: 2013 Week 8 QB Watch AFC

QB Watch: Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
12:45
PM ET
A weekly examination of the Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback play.

Roethlisberger
Rewind: Ben Roethlisberger threw for 275 yards and a touchdown this past Sunday in a 21-18 loss to the Raiders, and he was lucky to leave Oakland with all of his body parts intact. Roethlisberger spent much of the afternoon running for his life, and the Raiders sacked him five times after injuries forced the Steelers to re-shuffle their offensive line. The Raiders picked off Roethlisberger twice but his second interception was on wide receiver Antonio Brown.

Fast-forward: The New England Patriots are No. 5 in the NFL in passing defense (215.5 yards per game) and their secondary has held up despite the absence of top cornerback Aqib Talib the past two games. Talib is nursing a hip injury and his status for Sunday is uncertain. The Patriots are among the top 10 in the NFL with 24 sacks, and they will no doubt try to take advantage of an offensive line that has had trouble protecting Roethlisberger and could be without right guard David DeCastro (ankle).

A little help: Roethlisberger needs to get more help from his supporting cast if the Steelers are to beat Tom Brady for the first time in New England. A beat-up line and an early deficit didn’t allow the Steelers to establish the run at Oakland, and Roethlisberger’s receivers didn’t do him many favors. Brown and tight end Heath Miller were each guilty of drops, and Brown bobbled a pass in the fourth quarter that resulted in an interception.

Prediction: Roethlisberger has traditionally given the Patriots all they can handle as he has thrown 14 touchdown passes and just three interceptions in six regular-season games against New England. The Steelers don’t want Roethlisberger throwing as much as he did in their two most recent meetings with the Patriots -- he attempted a combined 99 passes in 2010 and 2011 -- and he should have a good game if the Steelers can establish some semblance of a running attack. That is a big if, though, at this point.

QB Watch: Jets' Geno Smith

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
9:00
AM ET
A weekly examination of the New York Jets' quarterback position:

Smith
Rewind: Geno Smith can be mentioned in the same sentence as Peyton Manning, but this isn't the kind of sentence the rookie wants to be in. Smith became the first quarterback since Manning, in 2010, to throw three pick-sixes in a two-game span. He was intercepted twice by the Cincinnati Bengals, both of which were returned for touchdowns. The same thing happened to him once the previous week against the New England Patriots. Continuing his up-and-down pattern, Smith struggled in Cincinnati, completing 20 of 30 passes for only 159 yards in the 49-9 loss.

Fast-forward: Smith faces the New Orleans Saints (6-1), who have improved considerably under new coordinator Rob Ryan, Rex's twin brother. The Saints are tough on quarterbacks, having limited opponents to a 76.3 passer rating, the fifth-lowest in the league. Teams like to throw deep on the Saints (9.17 air yards per attempt, the fifth-highest in the NFL), and that happens to be Smith's specialty. Maybe there's hope.

A reflection of their quarterback: Everybody knows quarterback play is vital in the NFL, and it's especially true with the Jets. Smith has a plus-3 touchdown/interception differential in the team's four wins, and a minus-8 differential in its four losses. So there you go.

Prediction: Smith has demonstrated the ability to bounce back from bad games, but this will be a challenge. The Saints are playing great defense, having allowed only 13 touchdowns in seven games. They sack the quarterback and they force turnovers. It could be another long day for Smith.

QB Watch: Ravens' Joe Flacco

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
9:00
AM ET
A weekly examination of the Ravens' quarterback play.

Flacco
Rewind: The Ravens were on their bye week. Joe Flacco's last game was a 19-16 loss at Pittsburgh on Oct. 20, when he threw for 215 yards and one touchdown.

Fast-foward: Flacco looks to extend his record to 12-0 against the Cleveland Browns. He's averaged 204.4 yards passing against the Browns, throwing 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. His 92.7 passer rating vs. Cleveland is his highest against any opponent he's faced more than three times. In Week 2, Flacco finished strong in a 14-6 win over Cleveland, completing 10 of 12 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown in the second half. It was an emotional day for Flacco, whose wife delivered their second son within two hours of kickoff.

Strong after the bye: Flacco has been just as perfect following the bye week. He is 5-0 following a week off in the regular season and has been very accurate. Over the past four seasons, his completion rate in the game immediately after the bye is 68 percent (75 of 109) with four touchdowns and one interception. Last year's first game after the Ravens' bye was also at Cleveland, where Flacco completed 15 of 24 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown.

Prediction: Despite Flacco's flawless record against the Browns, don't expect an impressive effort from him. The Browns have the NFL's No. 6 pass defense, and Flacco hasn't exactly put up spectacular numbers in his previous trips to Cleveland. He's only thrown for more than 200 yards once in his five wins there. In fact, he's averaged only 142 yards passing in Cleveland. The reason Flacco wins there is that he doesn't make costly mistakes. Flacco has been picked off just once in 103 passes in Cleveland.

QB Watch: Raiders’ Terrelle Pryor

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
9:00
AM ET
A weekly examination of the Raiders’ quarterback play:

Pryor
Rewind: Terrelle Pryor was able to couch those fan-boy feelings right away, thank you very much. Or did you blink and miss his record-setting 93-yard run on the first play from scrimmage against his childhood favorite team in the Pittsburgh Steelers? Guard Mike Brisiel called him a "dadgum gazelle" on the play that was the longest touchdown run by a quarterback in league history, the longest run from scrimmage in Raiders franchise history, bettering Bo Jackson’s sprint in 1989 by a yard. Sure, Pryor’s 25.7 passer rating was a career low, but one of his two interceptions bounded off receiver Brice Butler’s chest. And the second-half play calling, with the Raiders trying to milk the clock with a 21-3 lead, left much to be desired.

Fast-forward: The Western Pennsylvania kid now gets to take on the Philadelphia Eagles, who have the No. 31-ranked defense in the NFL, 31st against the pass but ninth against the run. The Eagles know all about running quarterbacks: they face one in practice every day in Michael Vick. At least, when he’s not injured, as he is again this week with a left hamstring strain.

Passer rating, schmasser rating: Sure, Pryor’s 25.7 passer rating was an eyesore. But that only tells part of the story. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Pryor had a Total Quarterback Rating of 96.2, the fourth-highest in the NFL Sunday behind Colin Kaepernick (99.8), Andy Dalton (98.9) and Aaron Rodgers (98.6), on the strength of 29 action plays.

Prediction: Quick starts have not been an issue for the Raiders' offense -- going stagnant in the second half has been. Pryor seemed frustrated with the ineffectiveness of the ground game after halftime against the Steelers. Expect a more wide-open look against the Eagles.

QB Watch: Jaguars' Chad Henne

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
9:00
AM ET
A weekly examination of the Jacksonville Jaguars' quarterback play:

Henne
Rewind: Chad Henne came close to hitting the predicted 250-yard mark but finished with 228 yards and one touchdown passing in a 42-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in London. He averaged only 7.8 yards per completion, though, and the Jaguars had only one pass play longer than 15 yards. It was a big one: Mike Brown's 29-yard touchdown catch, which was the first time this season the Jaguars have scored a touchdown in a home game. Henne continues to struggle in the red zone. He was 1-for-5 for 1 yard inside the San Francisco 10-yard line.

Fast-forward: The Jaguars have a bye week before playing at Tennessee on Nov. 10. Coach Gus Bradley said in London that Henne is the Jaguars' quarterback for the foreseeable future. Blaine Gabbert, who won the starting job in preseason but has played in only three games because of injuries, will be the backup. Henne is still leaving some plays on the field -- like the red zone incompletions and the failure to run for a first down on fourth down against Denver -- but isn't making the kind of big mistakes that have plagued Gabbert throughout his career. The passing offense has been more consistent under Henne, generating more than 300 yards in two of the past three games.

Nashville success: Henne probably can't wait until the Jaguars' game against the Titans. In four games against Tennessee, he has averaged 287 yards passing per game.

QB Watch: Chargers' Philip Rivers

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
9:00
AM ET
A weekly analysis of the San Diego Chargers' quarterback play:

Rivers
Rewind: During the bye week, a point of emphasis for Philip Rivers and the rest of the offense has been improving the team’s execution in the red zone. The Chargers are tied for No. 22 in the NFL in red zone efficiency at 48.1 percent. Rivers said part of the team’s struggles has been achieving consistent and precise execution in the compact area of the red zone.

Fast-forward: The Chargers return to action on Nov. 3 at Washington, the team’s third trip to the East Coast this season. It will be Rivers’ first regular-season start at FedEx Field.

Streaking: Rivers has thrown a touchdown pass in all seven games this season and has not thrown a pick since his three-interception performance against Oakland -- that’s 56 straight pass attempts without an interception. Rivers' three 400-yard games in a season is second only to Dan Marino in 1984 (four).

Prediction: Rivers faces a Washington defense that’s giving up 274 passing yards a contest, tied for No. 27 in the NFL. The Chargers had two weeks to prepare for Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s multiple looks, so it’s reasonable to expect a good performance from Rivers -- 24-for-30 for 315 yards and two touchdowns.

QB Watch: Bengals' Andy Dalton

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
9:00
AM ET
A weekly analysis of the Cincinnati Bengals' quarterback play.

Dalton
Dalton
Rewind: Perhaps the most overused word in football lexicon is "consistency." Coaches always preach it. Players always say it. Fans always want it. Consistent success is the cornerstone of what this game is all about. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has been the perfect model for it these past three weeks. During Sunday's 49-9 romp over the New York Jets, the third-year starter added to his already impressive recent résumé by posting his third straight 300-yard, three-touchdown game. He became only the ninth quarterback since 2001 to accomplish that feat in three consecutive regular-season contests.

Fast-forward: Dalton doesn't have long to enjoy his latest outing. He'll be looking to continue his run of consistency Thursday night when he leads the Bengals on the road against the Miami Dolphins. He'll be facing a pass defense that has been stingy much of the season, including this past Sunday when it allowed Tom Brady to throw for just 116 yards on 13 completions. Only twice this season have the Dolphins allowed a 300-yard passer, including Drew Brees' 397-yard outing in New Orleans.

QBR high: With a 98.9 Total QBR Sunday, Dalton had the highest single-game QBR score of his three-year career. He also ended up having a 125.7 passer rating that was a couple of plays away from being a perfect score. It was the third straight time he had a passer rating over 100.0 and marked the second consecutive game in which he had a 90.0-plus QBR.

Prediction: In last week's prediction, we said a third straight 300-yard performance for Dalton was a possibility. It happened. This week, I'm not as confident in saying to expect a fourth consecutive one, but still look for Dalton have another strong showing. With Cincinnati's defense decimated by injuries, the offense will have to put this game on its shoulders to win.

QB Watch: Titans’ Jake Locker

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
9:00
AM ET
A weekly examination of the Tennessee Titans' quarterback play:

Locker
Rewind: Jake Locker continues to rehabilitate the right knee and right hip he sprained on Sept. 29 against the Jets. He returned for the team’s final game before the bye, but wasn’t completely back at peak performance.

Fast-forward: Locker ran three times against the 49ers, and looked like himself when he did so. The two times he could have slid, however, he went head-first. That was likely because of the mechanics of the knee brace and the chances of catching it on the field by sliding feet-first. We don’t yet know if he will be in the same brace, or a smaller version, Sunday in St. Louis. The Titans have long talked about how an effective run game would set Locker up for maximum success. The Rams are 23rd against the run, which is more favorable than the past three run defenses the Titans have faced: the Chiefs (11th), the Seahawks (15th) and the 49ers (14th).

Continuing curve: Locker showed steady progress through the Titans’ first four games, after which they were 3-1. Unfortunately he suffered his injuries halfway though the fourth game. He missed two games against tough defenses, and was part of a losing effort that dropped the Titans to 3-4. Now the Titans play a beatable opponent on the road. Locker has had extra time to get healthy. It would be huge for the Titans if he could plug back in where he left off before he got hurt against the Jets.

Prediction: I expect a solid game. But my big concern is the swarming tackles I saw the Rams make of Russell Wilson in the loss to the Seahawks. Locker is significantly bigger than Wilson. He’s also got much more of an injury history. The Titans need their running backs to do the bulk of the running in order to help Locker protect himself.

QB Watch: Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
9:00
AM ET
A weekly examination of the Miami Dolphins' quarterback play.

Tannehill
Rewind: Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill continues to be turnover-prone. He threw two interceptions and lost a key fumble in Sunday’s 27-17 loss to the New England Patriots. Tannehill now has 10 turnovers during Miami’s four-game losing streak. He is clearly suffering through a sophomore slump in his second season.

Fast-forward: Things do not get easier for Tannehill and Miami’s offense. The Dolphins will host the first-place Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) on Thursday, which is Halloween night. Cincinnati has a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. But the Bengals have a particularly aggressive and talented defense that poses a lot of problems. Cincinnati rattled and confused New York Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith this past Sunday during a 49-9 blowout.

Losing targets: Tannehill lost one of his favorite receivers in Sunday’s defeat to New England. Slot receiver Brandon Gibson will be out for the season with a knee injury. Gibson was a reliable target for Tannehill over the middle of the field and recorded 30 receptions for 326 yards and three touchdowns. Tannehill has now lost two safety valves for the year due to knee injuries: Gibson and tight end Dustin Keller.

Prediction: Cincinnati is coming into this game with a lot of momentum. The Bengals are on a four-game winning streak, and the Dolphins are on a four-game losing streak. These are two teams heading in opposite directions. It will take a big performance from Tannehill to change that. Although it is possible, Tannehill is on a bad turnover streak and could continue that against a good Cincinnati defense.

QB Watch: Texans' Keenum, Schaub

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
9:00
AM ET
A weekly examination of the Houston Texans' quarterback play.

Keenum
Keenum
Schaub
Schaub
Rewind: Eight days ago, before the Houston Texans broke for their bye week, head coach Gary Kubiak told quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Case Keenum that he had decided Keenum would start against the Indianapolis Colts. It gave the young player a week to prepare mentally and let his body recover from playing his first NFL game.

Fast-forward: The deep ball is one of Keenum's strengths, and something that returned to the Texans' offense with greater frequency when Keenum started against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Colts have given up 24 passes longer than 20 yards this season and only three longer than 40 yards.

Not set in stone:: Kubiak stopped short of saying Keenum would be the Texans' starter the rest of the season, so this is very much an audition for him. Keenum got his first start when Schaub was hampered enough by an ankle and foot sprain that he couldn't play. Kubiak indicated Schaub is now healthy enough that he could have played this week. He's going with Keenum because he felt good about Keenum's performance in his debut. A fresh face at quarterback can be a boon for a team and sometimes can be enough to turn around a season. Kubiak is probably counting on that.

Prediction: Keenum will be better able to identify defenses than he was in his debut. On the other hand, the Colts will have a better idea of what they'll face. I predict a similar output to his 271 yards and one touchdown pass. He'll play a relatively clean game again, not throwing any interceptions.

QB Watch: Bills' Thad Lewis

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
9:00
AM ET
A weekly examination of the Bills' quarterback play:

Lewis
Rewind: The Bills' string of injuries at quarterback nearly grew longer Sunday when Thad Lewis was drilled from behind by Saints linebacker David Hawthorne on a designed run to begin the game. Lewis stayed on the ground for several moments before coming to his feet and returning for the next series. He lost a fumble on the play and another on a strip-sack by Cameron Jordan later in the quarter. Those two plays defined the game for Lewis; the Saints took advantage of the second turnover, scoring a touchdown. Lewis, who later threw an interception, finished with a 13.5 QBR, the worst of his three starts so far and the third-worst of any NFL quarterback in Week 8.

Fast-forward: The task doesn't get any easier for Lewis, as the Bills return home to face the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. With two of the NFL's best pass-rushers in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, pass protection -- which has been an issue for Lewis since taking over as the starter -- will stay in focus. The Chiefs are disrupting 24 percent of opponent dropbacks, the highest rate in the NFL. The Bills' offensive line will need to be on its toes Sunday.

Wood defensive on sacks: Lewis has been sacked 13 times in the three games that he has started, the most of any NFL quarterback in that span. Center Eric Wood said after the game that not all of the sacks, however, can be pinned on the offensive line. He expounded on those thoughts Monday on WGR 550 in Buffalo. "In a lot of football, in a lot of circumstances, it's really easy to blame the offensive line," Wood said. "We have plays where guys have blown assignments, a sack [allowed] by the tight end. ... Are we playing perfect? No. But do we deserve all the blame for plays [Sunday]? No."

Prediction: This just doesn't seem like the type of game where Lewis will excel. He'll be under constant pressure from a very good Chiefs defense. He may be playing with a banged-up top receiver, Stevie Johnson, who is dealing with a hip flexor injury. And the status of his most explosive running back, C.J. Spiller, is still up in the air. Lewis is at a level where he needs a lot to come together around him to be successful, and it doesn't look like that will happen against Kansas City.

QB Watch: Browns' Jason Campbell

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
9:00
AM ET
A weekly examination of the Browns' quarterback play:

Campbell
Rewind: Jason Campbell did a lot to soothe nerves -- in the front office, with the coaching staff and in the stands. His 293-yard, two-touchdown day in a 23-17 loss to Kansas City exceeded most expectations and showed the team may be able to count on decent-to-good quarterback play as the season continues. For the Browns, that level of play represents a step up. Campbell showed in the first quarter he hadn’t played much in nearly two years, but after shaking off that rust, he played extremely well. Now he has to keep up the pace.

Fast-forward: The Browns passed on Campbell three times this season as they looked for a quarterback. They started the season with Brandon Weeden, went to Brian Hoyer when Weeden was hurt, then went back to Weeden when Hoyer hurt his knee. Campbell never complained, but it was odd that a guy brought in to be the backup on a $4 million contract was so easily passed over. Campbell now has the chance the Browns took from him two years ago when they broke his collarbone in Oakland: the chance to hold on to the job and perhaps re-establish himself as a viable player in the league.

The calmest demeanor: Campbell must undergo a transformation on the field. Off, he is calm to the point of being placid. He can say the angriest words in the calmest voice. This may be why he is not perceived as fiery; it’s simply not his personality. That doesn’t mean he can’t succeed; it’s just interesting to see a guy act this way in a game that many play with so much emotion.

Prediction: Baltimore is a tough draw for Campbell in his second start, but the Ravens are not your uncle’s team that won the Super Bowl a year ago. Some defensive leaders are gone, and Baltimore, like the Browns, is under .500. But the one thing the Ravens can do is get after the quarterback. Campbell will need to maintain his poise and avoid interceptions if the Browns are to win what could be a winnable game -- provided Campbell is what he showed in Kansas City.

QB Watch: Colts’ Andrew Luck

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
9:00
AM ET
A weekly examination of the Colts’ quarterback play

Luck
Rewind: The Colts had their bye last weekend, so Luck hasn’t played since he went 21-of-38 for 228 yards and four touchdowns (three passing and one rushing) in their victory over the Denver Broncos Oct. 20. His performance earned him AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors last week.

Fast-forward: Sunday will be the first time in his young career -- 24 games -- that Luck won’t have Reggie Wayne on the field with him. Wayne is out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Luck has targeted Wayne a team-high 58 times this season. That means Luck will have to find another go-to receiver against a Houston Texans defense that's the best in the league. The Texans are giving up only 145.6 passing yards a game this season. They're 13th in the league in sacks with 22. The Colts also don't have an established third receiver on the roster. Luck was 13-of-27 for 186 yards and two touchdowns against the Texans in Houston last season.

Strong play after the bye: Luck had one of his best games after their bye week last season. He went 31-of-55 for 362 yards, two touchdowns and an interception and the Colts scored 27 points in the second half of their come-from-behind victory over the Green Bay Packers. Indianapolis came from 18 points down, tying for the third-largest comeback in franchise history.

Prediction: Missing Wayne and facing the best team in the league at defending the pass could make for a long night for Luck. Establishing a running game with Trent Richardson and Donald Brown would help ease Luck’s load and potentially open up the passing game.

QB Watch: Chiefs' Alex Smith

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
8:00
AM ET
A weekly analysis of the Chiefs’ quarterback play:

Smith
Rewind: Alex Smith had statistically his best game of the season, completing 24 of 36 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's win over the Cleveland Browns. The touchdowns were the first for Smith in four games. Smith also did not throw an interception.

Fast-forward: Something eventful usually happens when an opposing quarterback attempts a pass against the Buffalo Bills. They lead the league in touchdown passes allowed with 20 but are second in the league with 12 interceptions. Smith’s games have tended to be uneventful in both regards. Smith has thrown just nine touchdowns and four interceptions. He is 26th in touchdown percentage among NFL quarterbacks and third in interception percentage.

Sack party: Smith was sacked six times by the Browns, five times in the second half. He has been sacked 24 times, and his protection can’t be blamed in every case. Smith is often guilty of holding on to the ball too long or not dumping it off when he has the chance. Smith’s sacks haven’t been devastating to the Chiefs because he hasn’t lost a fumble on a sack this season.

Prediction: Given Buffalo’s strong pass rush and Smith’s habit of taking the sack, things could get messy at times for him. But the Bills will make some big plays available to Smith, and he will take advantage. Look for another couple of touchdown passes from Smith.

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