Stats & Info: Ryan Tannehill

Top stats to know: Dolphins at Jets

December, 1, 2014
12/01/14
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AP Photo/Lynne SladkyRyan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins are in control of their own playoff destiny entering Monday.
The Miami Dolphins look to keep pace in the AFC wild-card race as they visit the New York Jets tonight on "Monday Night Football." Here are the top stats you need to know about the game:

Tannehill’s improvement
After putting up average QBRs in his first two seasons (50 in 2012, 46 in 2013), Ryan Tannehill has a QBR of 58 this season. Two of the reasons for the improvement have been taking care of the football and making an impact rushing the ball. Tannehill’s plus-12 touchdown-to-interception differential is a vast improvement from the plus-6 he totaled from 2012-13. He also leads AFC quarterbacks with 276 rush yards.

In each of his past four games, Tannehill has completed at least 70 percent of his passes. That is something that neither Dan Marino nor Bob Griese ever did for the Dolphins (minimum 15 attempts).

If Tannehill can throw for 211 or more yards Monday night, he’ll become the fourth Dolphins quarterback with 10,000 career passing yards, joining Jay Fiedler and the aforementioned Marino and Griese.

Can Dolphins break MNF losing streak?
This is the 13th time the Dolphins and Jets will meet on a Monday night (Jets lead 7-5). Only the Raiders-Broncos (17 meetings) and Redskins-Cowboys (16) have been more frequent "Monday Night Football" opponents.

Tannehill is 0-2 on "Monday Night Football," losing twice last season at New Orleans and at Tampa Bay. In those games he had three touchdown passes, four interceptions and a Total QBR of 40.

The Dolphins have lost five straight Monday night games since their last victory in 2009. That win came against the Jets. Miami’s streak is tied for the second-longest active losing streak on "Monday Night Football" with the Minnesota Vikings. The only team with a longer streak is the St. Louis Rams, who have lost six straight games since their last Monday night win in 2004.

Geno faces tough test in return to starting lineup
Geno Smith will replace Michael Vick as the Jets' starting QB for Monday's game. The Jets' Total QBR of 25.9 this season ranks 31st in the NFL and is better than only the Jaguars' (21.8).

Unfortunately for Smith, the Dolphins have allowed the second-lowest Total QBR (40.3) in the league this season, behind only the Bills (39.6). One of the strengths of Miami's defense is protecting against the big pass play. Miami opponents are just 8-41 on throws of at least 20 yards downfield.

NFL Power Rankings: Dolphins on the rise

November, 4, 2014
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AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastRyan Tannehill is on the best run of his NFL career, with three 90+ Total QBR games in his last five.

The Miami Dolphins are 4-1 in their last five games and have climbed to 13th in the weekly ESPN.com NFL Power Rankings.

The Dolphins were ranked 25th after a 1-2 start. Coach Joe Philbin wouldn’t even commit to a starting quarterback after a 34-15 Week 3 loss to the Chiefs.

Since that point, Ryan Tannehill has been playing the best football of his NFL career, and the Dolphins defense has been performing at an elite level.

Tannehill’s emergence
Tannehill had one game with a 90+ Total QBR in his career before the Dolphins’ recent 4-1 stretch. He has three such games since -- the best three QBR games of his career.

Tannehill has completed 68.8 percent of his passes his last five games, averaging 8.2 yards per attempt. He completed 56.5 percent of his passes and averaged 5.0 yards per attempt his first three games this season.

His biggest improvement in the passing game has come against the blitz. Tannehill faced the blitz on 17 percent of his dropbacks the first three games of the season, completing 40 percent of his passes. Opponents took notice and ramped up the pressure, blitzing him 45 percent of the time since. Tannehill has responded by completing 60 percent of his passes against the blitz his last five games.

Tannehill’s improved play extends beyond the passing game. Through eight games, Tannehill has already set a career high with 245 rushing yards. Most of that yardage (211) has come via the zone read.

No quarterback this season has gained more yards via zone-read rushes than Tannehill this season, and all but two of those yards have come in the last five games.

Tannehill has averaged 12.4 yards on 17 zone-read rushes, and he’s had at least an 18-yard run in each of his last five games. In fact, only Arian Foster (six) has more 30-yard gains than Tannehill (three) this season.

Defensive improvement
The Dolphins are allowing an average of 13.6 points per game since Week 4, best in the NFL. They have also forced an NFL-high 14 turnovers in that span (tied with the Texans).

One of the best ways to the defense’s impact is expected points added (EPA). This is a measure of the impact on each play, taking into account field position, down and distance, clock and score and other situational factors (Read more here.)

Since Week 4, the Dolphins’ defense has contributed an NFL-best 10.1 expected points added per game. In other words, the Dolphins’ defense has been 10 points better per game than an average defense would have fared in the same situations. The next highest defense in that time (Lions) has a 5.6 EPA.

The key to the Dolphins’ defensive success this season has been the pass defense.

The Dolphins have yielded the lowest opponent Total QBR this season (31.4) and have allowed a league-low 6.1 yards per pass attempt. The pass rush has contributed by pressuring opponents on 29 percent of their dropbacks, fourth-highest in the NFL this season.

Keys to victory: Buccaneers 22, Dolphins 19

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
12:09
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What were the keys to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 22-19 win over the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football?

Winning with defense
The Buccaneers held the Dolphins to only two rushing yards, the fewest in a game by the Dolphins in franchise history, and the fourth-fewest in a game by any team since the start of the 1990 season.

The Dolphins were hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 12 of their 14 rushes. They only gained one yard before contact on each of their two other runs.

Miami protected quarterback Ryan Tannehill until the final drive of the game when he was sacked twice. Tannehill’s 37 times sacked are the most by any quarterback in the NFL this season.

Spreading the carries around
The Buccaneers garnered 140 rushing yards, split between Brian Leonard, Bobby Rainey and Mike James. Each had at least 20 yards before contact, the only time the Buccaneers have had three such players in a game in the last five seasons.

Did You Know?
Mike Glennon became the sixth rookie quarterback in NFL history to earn his first career win on Monday Night Football. The other five are Scott Bull (1976 San Francisco 49ers), Charlie Batch (1998 Detroit Lions), Jonathan Quinn (1998 Jacksonville Jaguars), Shaun King (1999 Buccaneers) and Blaine Gabbert (2011 Jaguars).

Meanwhile, the Dolphins have lost five straight Monday Night Football games, tied for the longest active losing streak with the Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams.

Top stats to know: Bengals at Dolphins

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesSince Week 6, Andy Dalton has the most passing touchdowns (11) and the second-highest Total QBR (89.2) in the NFL.

The Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins will kick off Week 9 on Thursday night. The teams are trending in opposite directions. Miami has dropped its past four games, while Cincinnati has won its past four contests.

1. Andy Dalton’s play has been key to the Bengals' recent surge. Dalton has thrown for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns in three straight games.

He is the only quarterback in Bengals history to accomplish that within a season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Dalton has completed 65.2 percent of his passes 15-plus yards downfield in his past four games, nearly double his rate in the first four games. The league-average completion percentage on those passes is 41 percent.

2. Helping fuel Dalton have been two surprise weapons, Marvin Jones and rookie Giovani Bernard.

Jones has caught all eight of his red zone targets for seven touchdowns this season. He is the only player in the league to catch all of his red zone targets (minimum of five targets).

Bernard has given the Bengals a receiving threat out of the backfield. Bernard has 26 receptions this season, including 14 during the winning streak.

No Bengals running back had caught more than 20 passes from Dalton in a season entering this year. Bernard is one of seven players this season to average 9.0 yards after the catch (minimum 20 receptions).

3. The Dolphins started off this season strong, going 3-0 for the first time since 2002. They have lost four straight games since, their longest losing streak since they lost their first seven games of the 2011 season.

In their past four games they have turned the ball over 10 times, the fourth-most by any team in the NFL. The Dolphins have converted only 30.9 percent of their third downs during this losing streak; before that they converted half of their third downs.

4. Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 32 times this season, most in the NFL. The more alarming stat is that opponents are doing this without bringing additional pressure.

Tannehill has been sacked on 10.2 percent of his dropbacks against four or fewer pass-rushers this season, the highest rate in the league. In the past two seasons, only the 49ers have more sacks (52) with such pressure than the Bengals (51).

5. There is some reason for Dolphins fans to be optimistic. Both of the Bengals' losses this season have come on the road. They are allowing almost 10 more points per game in road contests this season. The Bengals' defense has forced only two turnovers in four road games this season compared to 10 in four home games.

Can't blame Tannehill for Miami's slump

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
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AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins have lost their last three games, including to the Bills on Sunday.
After a 3-0 start and peaking at No. 7 on the ESPN.com NFL Power Rankings, the Miami Dolphins have lost three straight and fallen to 16th in the Week 8 rankings.

With upcoming games at the 5-2 New England Patriots and at home against the 5-2
Cincinnati Bengals, the Dolphins will have to right the ship quickly, but what exactly needs righting?

At first glance it’s easy to put the blame on second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. His play has suffered over the last three games, with a near 30-point dip in his Total QBR.

But a deeper look at the Dolphins this season suggests that Tannehill’s supporting cast has been letting him down, including his coaches.

Play calling
After gaining 20 yards on 23 rushes in Week 1, the Dolphins may have been too quick to abandon the running game.

Since Week 1, the Dolphins have averaged 4.6 yards per rush, which is sixth-best in the NFL during that time.

Despite a successful rush attack, the Dolphins have dropped back to pass at the third-highest rate this season (69 percent of plays).

All of the dropbacks for Tannehill have been a problem, especially with the issues the Dolphins have had with pass blocking.

The offensive line

The Dolphins traded for tackle Bryant McKinnie this week to help shore up the line. McKinnie, however, lost his starting job with the Baltimore Ravens earlier this season and was an inactive for the first time in his career since.

The Dolphins’ current offensive line has yielded a league-worst 26 sacks this season and most of the burden falls on the line.

Tannehill has only averaged 3.3 seconds before passing, scrambling or taking a sack this season, sixth-lowest in the NFL. Despite this, Tannehill has the second-highest sack rate.

Even when given time to throw, Tannehill has been let down by the Dolphins’ big offseason acquisition.

Mike Wallace
Tannehill and Wallace have yet to find a connection this season, as the duo has completed 50.9 percent of their attempts. Only four quarterback-receiver combinations with at least 40 attempts have been worse this season.

Wallace is frequently used to stretch the field for the Dolphins, as his average target depth has been a team-high 14.3 yards downfield. This will certainly contribute to a lower completion percentage, but Wallace and Tannehill have struggled all over the field.

Also contributing to the low completion percentage are drops. Wallace has dropped nearly eight percent of his targets this season, highest among Dolphins wide receivers.

Wallace is still new to the team so chemistry may develop, but Brandon Gibson is new to the team as well and Tannehill has completed 70.7 percent of his attempts to him this season.

Stat your case: Chiefs/Dolphins, playoffs?

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
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Each week, the Stats & Information Group will look at a noteworthy discussion topic and debate the possibilities that come from it, using data to back up their points.

This week’s topic is “Which surprise 2-0 AFC team is more likely to make the playoffs: The Chiefs or Dolphins?”

The case for the Chiefs
The last time the Chiefs started a season 2-0, they finished with a 10-6 record and playoff berth.

That was in 2010 and through two weeks that season the Chiefs scored 37 points and allowed 29. So far this season, the Chiefs have fared better. They’ve scored 45 and allowed 18.

Their 27-point scoring margin is currently the third-highest in the league (trailing only the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks) and is the team’s highest through the first two weeks of a season since 2003, the last time they made it as far as the AFC Divisional playoffs.

The Chiefs defense has been a big part of that. Through two games, they've contributed the most Expected Points Added of any defense in the NFL. They ranked second-to-last in that stat last season.

In addition, Kansas City is holding opponents to 248.0 yards per game this season, the third-fewest in the league.

They are also holding opposing quarterbacks to a league-best 20.7 QBR through two games.

Last season, opposing quarterbacks had a 68.9 QBR against the Chiefs, which ranked them 30th in the league.

On the other side of the ball, quarterback Alex Smith has been a valuable addition.

Kansas City is one of two teams, along with Houston, that has a perfect red zone efficiency through two games.

Smith has helped the Chiefs score a touchdown on all five of their red zone drives this season. Last season, the Chiefs scored a touchdown on a league-worst 27 percent of their red zone drives.

Also of note on Smith is that he currently has more rushing yards (82) than the Dolphins’ leading rusher, Lamar Miller (72).
--John Carr

The case for the Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins are showing signs of a squad that knows how to win. The offense, led by second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, is scoring touchdowns rather than settling for field goals, and the defense has been getting after opposing quarterbacks, forcing turnovers and making timely stops.

Tannehill has outdueled fellow 2012 first-round picks Brandon Weeden and Andrew Luck in the first two games. He’s made good decisions and distributed the ball efficiently (three players with 10-plus receptions).

Tannehill has completed 71 percent of his throws against standard pressure so far this season, something he did at a 58 percent rate in 2012.

His 63.5 Total QBR since the start of Week 15 last season rates second-best in the NFL in that span, trailing only Russell Wilson.

New additions Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson have teamed with Brian Hartline to form a formidable receiving corp. Wallace had a career-high nine catches against the Colts, Gibson has converted third downs on six of his eight grabs and Hartline already has as many touchdowns (one) as he did all of last season.

The defense has accounted for nine sacks (22 quarterback hits) and four interceptions, and has not allowed a touchdown to a wide receiver through two games.

Miami stymied Luck’s late-game comeback attempt with an interception in the end zone and a game-ending fourth-down sack. Miami, which has not allowed a second-half touchdown, limited Luck to 79 yards in the second half.

Both the Chiefs and Dolphins could claim Wild Card berths; however, Miami is better poised to take the AFC East from the weakened New England Patriots, while the Chiefs must contend with Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos.
--Jeff Yusem

Class of 2012: Best QB class ever?

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
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US Presswire/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck (left) and Robert Griffin III are two of the best rookie QBs we’ve seen in a while.


Are Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and the other Class of 2012 quarterbacks on par with storied the QB classes of 1983 and 2004?

While this week’s Hot Read compares the three classes in their respective infancies, we decided to see how they stack up relative to the eras in which they played through 10 career starts.

Class of 1983: Dan Marino, John Elway, Jim Kelly, Todd Blackledge, Ken O’Brien, Tony Eason
Class of 2004: Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Matt Schaub, J.P. Losman
Class of 2012: Luck, RG3, Brandon Weeden, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill

The NFL has become a pass-happy league since the Class of 1983 made its debut. From 1983 to '86, NFL offenses passed on roughly 53 percent of their plays. So far this season, that number is more than 58 percent. (NOTE: Keep in mind that this includes QB scrambles as rush attempts instead of broken pass plays, as that data is not historically available.)

If that kind of increase doesn’t seem like much, consider this: From 1980 to '89, there were 14 instances of a QB throwing for 4,000-plus yards in a single season. In the '90s that number rose to 22. Since 2000? It’s happened 61 times.

In addition to throwing more often for more yards, quarterbacks are completing a higher percentage and throwing far more touchdowns than interceptions in the current era.

Since that is all NFL passer rating takes into account (Total QBR wasn’t available pre-2008), it makes sense that the league-wide passer rating is 12 points higher now than it was in the mid-1980s (and nearly six points higher than it was from 2004 to '06).

Looking at the QB classes in a vacuum, the Class of 2004 in its infancy rates the best statistically, as it has the highest completion percentage, touchdown-to-interception ratio and passer rating of any of the three groups. Up next would be the current crop, which also had a better completion percentage, TD-INT ratio and passer rating than the 1983 group.

But what happens when we adjust for the eras in which they played?

Through 10 career starts, the classes of 1983 and 2004 put up better cumulative statistics than their respective league averages. That’s not the case for the current crop.

Entering Week 12, the Class of 2012 has a completion percentage nearly 2.5 points lower than the league average. While its TD-INT ratio of 1.22 isn’t bad at face value, it’s actually 26 percent lower than the current league average. The group’s cumulative passer rating of 80.5 -- which would have ranked 13th in the NFL in 1983 -- is more than six points below the current league average.

Of course, there is more to quarterback play than throwing. Led by Luck and Griffin, the current rookies have rushed for 1,059 yards and 12 touchdowns, more than the two previous classes combined at this same early point in their careers.

So it would seem logical that Total QBR -- which measures everything a quarterback does (passing, avoiding sacks, sustaining drives, fumbles, etc.) and at what point in the game he does it -- would paint a more flattering picture for the Class of 2012. While the rookies’ Total QBR measures closer to the league average than other metrics, the current group’s cumulative rating of 55.1 is still below the current league average of 56.1.

Rookies raising the bar for league QB play

November, 17, 2012
11/17/12
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US PresswireRobert Griffin III (left), Andrew Luck (center) and Russell Wilson are among the starting rookie quarterbacks this season.
Last season after Week 10 of the NFL season, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees topped the Total QBR chart, both with 82.7 averages. This year, they average a 71.2. Yet somehow, the league average Total QBR is up to a 57.6 from last year’s 54.0.

Sure, other big names such as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are pulling their weight, but the difference is this season’s rookies.

The five starting rookies who began the 2012 season as their teams’ starting quarterbacks (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden) have the highest average Total QBR, a 54.9, of any rookie class since 2009. And, they are far outperforming the quarterbacks they replaced, who averaged a 39.2 through Week 10 last season.

Even though pass completion percentage is about the same between the groups, this season’s rookies are better in key QBR areas.

Facing the blitz, the five rookies have a 61.0 Total QBR, better than both the replaced quarterback’s 37.8 and the non-rookie’s 53.8. In fact, the league leader in Total QBR facing the blitz is Robert Griffin III, with a 97.7. With RG3 at the top of this list, it’s not a surprise that a key component to success facing the blitz is rushing ability. The rookies have a 2-to-1 ratio of rushing first downs to fumbles, not bad considering the same ratio for the non-rookies is 1-to-1.

Blitz pressure isn’t the only area where rookies have raised the bar. With their teams tied or down one possession (zero to eight points) in the fourth quarter, the rookies have a 58.8 Total QBR, a far cry from the 16.1 their predecessors managed last year.

But if the numbers don’t convince you, the play behind them should. Four times this year Andrew Luck and the 6-3 Colts have gotten the win when they started the fourth quarter tied or behind one possession. And don’t forget Week 6 when it wasn’t Tom Brady but Russell Wilson who threw the game-winning pass, giving the Seahawks a 24-23 win against the Patriots.

With rookies not only significantly outperforming their predecessors, but also playing at an overall above average level, average Total QBR through Week 10 is the highest it has been since Total QBR’s inception.

Sanchez joins Eli in 3rd-down struggles

November, 12, 2012
11/12/12
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AP Photo/Elaine Thompson Mark Sanchez struggled again in a 28-7 loss to the Seahawks on Sunday, posting a QBR below 10 for the third time this season.
NEW YORK QBs STRUGGLE AGAIN
Eli Manning wasn't the only New York quarterback to post a low QBR on Sunday.

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez finished with a 6.2 QBR, the second-lowest among all quarterbacks who started Sunday. Like Manning, Sanchez has posted three straight weeks with a Total QBR under 50, and this week had his third game this season of 10 or worse.

Sanchez, like Manning, has struggled on third down in the last three weeks, converting 20.0 percent of his chances with no touchdowns, one interception and four sacks.

NEWTON HAS CAREER-WORST DAY
The only starting quarterback Sunday who had a lower QBR than Sanchez was Cam Newton.

Newton had a career-low Total QBR of 2.0 on Sunday against the Denver Broncos -- his previous low was 15.1 in Week 5 of this season. Newton was sacked seven times, one of which went for a safety, for a loss of 43 yards. In addition, the Carolina Panthers were 0-for-12 as a team on third down (Newton completed just 1-of-5 passes).

QUICK HITTERS
*Andy Dalton had a career-high 94.8 Total QBR in a 31-13 victory against the New York Giants on Sunday. Dalton was 7-of-9 passing on third down, including three of his four touchdowns, good for a 99.1 Total QBR in those situations.

*Christian Ponder also had a career high with a 90.0 Total QBR after posting three consecutive weeks below 20. Ponder is 5-0 this season when he posts a Total QBR of 50 or better, and 1-4 when it is less than 50.

*Josh Freeman’s Total QBR of 94.4 was the second-highest in his career. His best game was 96.5 in Week 2 of 2010 at Carolina.

*Eleven QBs posted a Total QBR of 80 or higher this week, tied for the most in a single week since the start of the 2008 season. Eleven QBs also accomplished the feat in 2010 Week 3 and 2009 Week 3.

TOTAL QBR AND WINNING
Total QBR can be used to quantify just how important the quarterback position has become to winning in the NFL. Looking back to previous years, the team with the higher Total QBR has won 86 percent of regular-season games since 2008 (as far back as Total QBR goes). That is higher than the comparable mark for teams with the advantage in total yardage, turnover differential, and NFL passer rating.

Keep in mind that just because a team wins a game with a lower QBR than its opponent does NOT mean that Total QBR was “wrong” or not as good for that game. That just means that the winning team was able to overcome its QB being outperformed by the opposing QB (on a rate basis), usually by playing better in other aspects of the game (rushing game, special teams, etc.).

Complete QBR statistics for all quarterbacks can be found here.

Is Newton to blame for Panthers' woes?

September, 26, 2012
9/26/12
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Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThe Carolina Panthers are off to a slow start this season, but is Cam Newton to blame for their struggles?
This is the third installment of a weekly NFL discussion that takes a closer look at one of the week’s hot topics. Today’s discussion focuses on whether Cam Newton is to blame for the Carolina Panthers slow start. The Panthers travel to Atlanta to take on the undefeated Falcons Sunday afternoon at 1 ET.

Yes, Cam deserves the blame
The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, plain and simple, so look no further than Cam Newton as the focal point for the Panthers’ 1-2 start.

Newton has thrown five interceptions through three weeks, or once every 16.6 attempts (30.4 attempts in 2011).

The only quarterbacks with more interceptions than Newton are Brandon Weeden, Jay Cutler and Michael Vick, who all have six. Newton would have joined those three if Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson hadn’t dropped a potential sixth interception in Week 2.

Newton has completed 38.9 percent of his passes on third down, the worst rate in the league among quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts on third down.

His average third-down pass travels 15.7 yards downfield, 3.7 yards deeper than the next-closest quarterback, which probably doesn’t help Newton’s 31.8 conversion percentage on third-down dropbacks.

That ranks 22nd out of the 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL and behind quarterbacks such as Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford, Ryan Tannehill and Matt Cassel.

Newton is one of 18 quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts in the red zone, throwing for one touchdown and one interception. While it’s a small sample size, he’s the only one of those 18 who doesn’t have a positive touchdown-interception differential in the red zone.

Why the slow start for the Panthers? How about a quarterback who is turning the ball over, not converting on third down, and struggling in the red zone compared to other quarterbacks? Assessing blame starts with Cam Newton.

-- John Parolin

No, defense is the problem
How about looking on the other side of the ball to pin the blame on the Panthers’ struggles?

Carolina is currently ranked 27th in rush defense (139.3 yards per game) and has allowed the second-most yards after contact (241) in the league. They are allowing opponents to convert 46.3 percent of their third downs, tied for 26th in the league, and have forced only two turnovers this season.

The defense’s inability to get off the field has consistently put Newton and the offense in a tough spot. The Panthers’ average starting field position is their own 25-yard line, tied for second-worst in the NFL.

Only the Titans have possessed the ball less than the Panthers’ average of slightly more than 25 minutes per game. It’s no coincidence that the bottom five teams in the league in time of possession have a combined record of 3-12.

It’s easy to point the finger at the quarterback but in this case the defense deserves its share of the blame. If Newton had any faith in his defense, he might not be trying to do too much.

-- Mike Landrigan

Rookie QBs boost accuracy in Week 2

September, 17, 2012
9/17/12
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Stephen Brashear/Getty ImagesThe Seahawks' Russell Wilson was one of three rookie passers to win for the first time in Week 2.
Week 1 was not a banner week for the majority of the five rookie starting quarterbacks, the most to start in a week since 1950. But the handful of first-year starters showed on Sunday that one game of experience can make a difference.

In the opener, the five passers combined to throw four touchdowns compared to 11 interceptions. Among them, only Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins won his debut. Week 2 was a different story, though, with the rookies combining to toss seven touchdowns and just one pick. They also raised their collective completion percentage from 52.3 to 67.3. And maybe most importantly, three of them picked up their first career win. Here is a closer look:

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, threw for 224 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 23-20 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. It took former Colt Peyton Manning until the seventh game of his rookie season to have an interception-free game.

Luck, who tossed three picks in his debut against the Chicago Bears, showed marked improvement when facing four or fewer pass rushers. In fact, rookies across the board proved to be better against four or fewer rushers than they were in the opener.

Griffin’s Redskins lost 31-28 to the St. Louis Rams, but it was not because of a poor effort on his part. He became the first Redskins player since Mark Rypien in 1992 to have at least one passing touchdown and two rushing scores in a game, and according to the Elias Sports Bureau, his 82 rushing yards were the most by a Washington quarterback since Harry Gilmer in 1952.

In addition to excelling with his legs, Griffin has been deadly early on when throwing the ball downfield.

Seattle Seahawks third-round pick Russell Wilson didn’t post extraordinary numbers in a 27-7 win over the Dallas Cowboys, throwing for 150 yards and a score, but he had the highest completion percentage (75.0) by a Seahawks rookie in franchise history (minimum 20 attempts). After completing just 40.9 percent of his passes against five or more rushers in Week 1, Wilson only saw that type of pressure on five attempts against the Cowboys.

The Miami Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill was also much better in Week 2. After throwing three interceptions and no touchdowns in his debut and earning himself a Total QBR of 3.1, Tannehill went 18-for-30 with one passing touchdown and one rushing score for a 76.2 QBR in a 35-13 triumph over the Oakland Raiders.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden bounced back from a dismal Week 1 performance in which he threw four interceptions and no touchdowns for a QBR of 1.2, the worst of any passer in the opening week. Sunday in a 34-27 loss to the Bengals, however, Weeden threw two scores with no picks for a QBR of 56.0.

Why the rookie QBs might win now (or not)

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
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A look at statistical benchmarks that 2012 rookie quarterbacks are chasing.

Five rookie quarterbacks are expected to start in Week 1 – Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Russell Wilson.

The Elias Sports Bureau researched back to 1950 and determined that the most rookie quarterbacks to start a season opener in any season was three, and that hasn’t been done since 1968 and 1969.

Five would be as many rookie starters as there were in the entire 2011 season. Those 2011 rookies were a combined 23-38 as starters, the most wins by a rookie class since the NFL-AFL merger.

More often than not, teams with rookie quarterbacks take their lumps. The combined record of rookie starters in the last three seasons is 51-95.

But there’s always hope of a performance like in 2008 when Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco led the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens to 11-5 records.

Let’s take a snapshot look at some notes about each of those soon to be making their NFL debuts:

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
The Colts, who will make Luck the first rookie quarterback to start for them since Peyton Manning in 1998, will hope that Luck’s skills in the red zone carry over to the NFL.

The Colts had the lowest Total QBR (11.9) inside of the red zone in 2011. Luck excelled in the red zone throughout his collegiate career, throwing 52 touchdowns and just three interceptions in 183 pass attempts.
The Colts had the lowest Total QBR (11.9) inside of the red zone of any team in 2011. Luck has excelled in the red zone throughout his collegiate career, throwing 52 touchdowns and just three interceptions in 183 pass attempts.

Since the start of 2010, no player in FBS had a higher touchdown to interception differential than Luck's +45.

Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins
Griffin is the fourth quarterback drafted by the Redskins in the first round since 1967. The other three: Heath Shuler, Patrick Ramsey, and Jason Campbell, were 34-55 as starters in Washington and never started a postseason game.

In head coach Mike Shanahan’s three seasons in Washington, Redskins quarterbacks ranked in the bottom half of the league in completion percentage, yards per attempt and touchdown passes.

Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
Tannehill will be the Dolphins 17th different starting quarterback since the 2000 season, the most in the NFL in that span. He’s the first quarterback the Dolphins have drafted in the first round since Dan Marino in 1983.

Tannehill made just 19 college starts and threw 15 interceptions in 2011. Only five quarterbacks in the FBS had more.

His 15 picks are the third-most by a first-round pick in his final college season over the last 15 years. However, the player with the most, the previously-mentioned Matt Ryan (19), turned out to do quite well in the NFL.

Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
Weeden’s selection marked the second time in the last six drafts that the Browns took a quarterback in the first round, and according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Weeden is the oldest player to be drafted in the first round in the Common Draft Era (28 years, 195 days).

The Browns need for a presence at the quarterback position is a significant and lasting one. They’ve thrown for 131 touchdown passes since 2004, second-fewest in the NFL to the Oakland Raiders (130).

Over just the last two seasons, Weeden threw for 71 touchdowns. That was the second-most in the FBS over that time.

Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Wilson will be the Seahawks' first rookie starting quarterback since Rick Mirer in 1993.

He’s going to be the first quarterback drafted in the third round or later to start in Week 1 of his rookie season since Kyle Orton for the 2005 Chicago Bears.

One of the things the Seahawks will be looking for improvement in is third-down success.

Last season, Seahawks quarterbacks completed only 52 percent of their passes on third down, the fifth-lowest success rate in the NFL, and were sacked 22 times, tied for second-most.

Wilson was masterful on third down last season, completing 64 passes in 85 attempts (75 percent, best in FBS), with 16 touchdowns and only two interceptions.

Class of 2012 QBs benefit from draft trend

April, 27, 2012
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Photo by Al Bello/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck (L) and Robert Griffin III hold up their jerseys after being chosen with the first two picks of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Nine straight Super Bowls have been won by franchise quarterbacks, which means the demand for an elite signal-caller has never been higher.

For proof of this, simply look at the top of the NFL Draft, where Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III continued a decade-long trend of quarterbacks being chosen earlier than ever.

A quarterback has been selected first overall 20 times in the 46 drafts during the common era (since 1967). But in the past 12 drafts, 10 quarterbacks have been chosen first.

The exponential rise has been particularly pronounced over the last 25 years. From 1988 to 1994, the first quarterback was chosen with the 15th pick on average. There wasn’t much difference in the next seven drafts, before the tide turned with the new millennium.

Quarterbacks were taken first overall in five of seven drafts from 2002 to 2008, for an average pick of 1.6. And Andrew Luck’s selection makes it four straight quarterbacks chosen first since 2009.

The mindset is emphasized by when the next quarterback has been picked over the last quarter-century. From 1988 to 2001, the second quarterback typically went in the second round. Over the last 11 years, the second quarterback has jumped into the top half of the first round.

Still not convinced? How about the third quarterback, which has leaped from an average slot in the third round to a late first-round selection over the last 25 years.

Because of this new emphasis on franchise field generals, three quarterbacks were taken with the first eight picks this year, for the third time in the common draft era. You’re welcome, Ryan Tannehill.

Paul Carr contributed to this post.
No. 14 Texas A&M (current member of Big 12 Conference) faces No. 18 Arkansas Saturday, a year before the Aggies officially join the Razorbacks in the SEC. This is the third straight year the teams will meet at the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX.

Arkansas won the previous two, by 7 points last year and by 28 in 2009. Before 2009, the teams hadn’t met since they were both in the Southwest Conference in 1991. Texas A&M hasn’t beaten an SEC team in 16 years. The Aggies are 0-6 against SEC opponents since their last win, in 1995 against LSU.

The Aggies haven’t beaten an SEC team in 16 years and are 0-6 against the conference since their last win in 1995, when they beat LSU in their season opener. Of course, Texas A&M was in the Southwest Conference then.

Texas A&M is looking for its first win against the Razorbacks since 1991. Arkansas is looking for its first three-game win streak in this series since winning six straight from 1977-82.

Both teams are coming off losses against ranked teams last week. It was the same situation last year -- both teams lost heading into this matchup, but Arkansas bounced back to win 24-17.

How the Aggies Will Try to Win
Texas A&M has only been forced into one “3 & out” in 39 drives this season, the fewest number, and lowest percentage, of “3 & outs” in FBS.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill completes 70 percent of his passes thrown outside the pocket this season, while Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson completes just 38 percent of the same throws.

How the Razorbacks Will Try to Win
Wilson (seven touchdowns, two interceptions) has been a better passer inside the pocket this season than Tannehill has (four touchdowns, four interceptions), completing a higher percentage of those passes for more yards per attempt.

Wilson was 6-for-8 when Alabama sent a blitz last Saturday -- he’s shown all season that he can make quick decisions when the defense sends five or more pass rushers, completing over 74 percent of his passes.

He’ll need to be big Saturday -- Arkansas’ running game was held to 17 yards on 19 rushes last week against Alabama. The Razorbacks are without RB Knile Davis, who’s out for the season with a left ankle injury.

What's the best QB-WR combo in Big 12?

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AP Photo/Matt Strasen
The best QB-WR combo might not be decided until Dec. 3 in Stillwater when OSU hosts OU.

The Big 12 is stacked with talented quarterback-wide receiver combinations. Last season, five of the top 20 passing offenses played in the Big 12, and four of them – the Baylor Bears, Texas A&M Aggies, Oklahoma Sooners and Oklahoma State Cowboys -- return their starting quarterback and top wide receiver.

But which quarterback-wide receiver duo is the best in the Big 12? With all due respect to Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Kendall Wright and Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill and Jeff Fuller, this conversation should not leave the borders of Oklahoma.

Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have arguably the two best QB-WR tandems in the nation. In fact, all four players -- Landry Jones, Ryan Broyles, Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon -– have a serious chance at winning the Heisman based on their numbers last season.

Jones and Broyles thrive in Oklahoma’s quick pass, high-octane offense. Jones attempted more passes than any other quarterback in the country in 2010 and Broyles averaged an FBS-best 9.4 receptions per game.

Oklahoma was at its best when throwing quick screens and allowing its receivers to make plays in space. Of Broyles' 131 receptions last season, 51 were thrown at or behind the line of scrimmage. He averaged 10.0 yards after the catch on passes thrown that distance and did not drop a pass.

At Oklahoma State, Weeden and Blackmon did not connect on as many wide receiver screen passes, but they showed a similar propensity to turn short passes into long plays. When targeted at or behind the line, Weeden averaged 10.5 yards after the catch and 7.9 yards per reception. Those short passes added up, helping Blackmon to gain 100 or more receiving yards in every game he played last season.

Weeden and Blackmon were difficult to stop in the downfield attack as well. They combined for 12 touchdowns on plays of 20 or more yards (best of any QB-WR duo in the country) and averaged 32.1 yards per TD reception. On throws of 20 yards or more, Weeden completed 20 of 33 passes (60.6 percent) to Blackmon for 10 touchdowns.

Comparatively, when targeting Broyles on throws of 20 or more yards, Jones completed 11 of 23 pass attempts for five touchdowns in 2010. Broyles averaged 23.1 yards per TD reception and five of his 14 touchdowns were 20 yards or longer.

Oklahoma and Oklahoma State excel in different areas of the passing game. Oklahoma’s Jones and Broyles are efficient, completing passes that move the chains and lead to touchdowns. No other duo had more touchdowns the past two seasons. The Cowboys’ Weeden and Blackmon are more dynamic, converting more big plays downfield at a higher rate than any other duo in the country. No other duo had more touchdown plays of 10 or more yards last season.

Maybe the verdict on this one won’t be decided until the Sooners travel to Stillwater on Dec. 3 to meet the Cowboys.

For exclusive video, stories and blogs about quarterbacks from every level of competition, check out ESPN’s “Year of the Quarterback” page.

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