We’re halfway through the 2021 NFL season, and life is good. Let’s attempt to predict the future.
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What follows are my best guesses for every starting quarterback’s defining Week 11 storyline. This will be accomplished through a superlative format, identifying who is most likely to accomplish whatever.
Please don’t confuse this as an all-encompassing preview of the position; the goal is merely to get a solid preview on the game’s most important position and attempt to learn a thing or two along the way.
Most likely to function as the league’s best rookie quarterback: New England Patriots QB Mac Jones at Atlanta Falcons
Last week’s superlative was the same and compared Jones to the other rookie quarterbacks. Take my word for it: He’s been better than all of them this season and now finds himself ranked among the league’s very best at the position regardless of experience.
- PFF passing grade: 85.4 (No. 6 among 37 qualified quarterbacks)
- Big-time throw rate: 4.6% (No. 17)
- Turnover-worthy play rate: 2.0% (No. 7)
- Yards per attempt: 7.2 (No. 19)
- Adjusted completion rate: 76.8% (No. 13)
Jones ranks ninth and sixth from a clean pocket and under pressure in PFF passing grade, as the rookie has largely passed every test thrown his way through 10 weeks of action. New England’s status as the league’s fifth-most run-heavy offense in non-garbage time situations reflects the reality that Jones isn’t exactly handling the position’s largest workload but just realize the 2021 NFL Draft’s No. 15 overall pick sure looks the part of the team’s future at quarterback.
Seriously, some of these throws from Week 10 were absurd.
Mac Jones had some pretty, pretty, pretty good throws in Week 10 pic.twitter.com/t1iyrtZieT
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 15, 2021
Perhaps Jones’ fantastic real-life play will better translate to counting stats against a Falcons defense that has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to opposing signal-callers this season.
Most likely to get slightly better only because it can’t get much worse: Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan vs. New England Patriots
Ryan posted season-low marks in PFF passing grade (46.8), passing yards (117) and adjusted completion rate (52.6%) during the Falcons’ blowout loss to the Cowboys in Week 10. Previously, he had posted 84.0 or better PFF passing grade in four of his last five games, as the veteran signal-caller has performed about as well as expected considering the absence of his top-two receivers from 2020.
Unfortunately, this Patriots defense has largely shut down everybody except for Dak Prescott and Davis Mills. The unit ranks inside the league’s top-12 groups in yards per attempt (6.8, No. 7), explosive pass play rate (13.4%, No. 11) and QB rating (84.0, No. 2) allowed, so it’s tough to expect Ryan to move the ball too well with Calvin Ridley (personal, IR) and Cordarrelle Patterson (high ankle sprain) sidelined.
Don’t expect to see the Falcons score just three points in a game this season but just realize Thursday night’s date with Bill Belichick and company also probably won’t bring out the best from Atlanta’s 14th-year signal-caller.
Most likely to see all sorts of Cover 0: Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson at Chicago Bears
Cover 0 decides to play man-to-man coverage with no extra help in the secondary in the hopes of overflowing the offensive line with too many rushers to block. It’s a boom-or-bust strategy, as failure to influence the quarterback leaves essentially every receiver one broken tackle away from a chunk play.
Nobody has faced more Cover 0 than Jackson this season because the Dolphins utilized this look at a whopping 19 of his dropbacks in Week 10. To this point, the 2019 league MVP hasn’t managed to make defenses pay, as Jackson has posted middling marks in PFF passing grade (56.5, No. 20 among 30 qualified quarterbacks), yards per attempt (4.9, No. 19) and QB rating (61.1, No. 28) against Cover 0 this season.
The NFL is a copycat league so don’t be surprised if the Bears (15th in total snaps played in Cover 0) turn their general strategy upside down in an effort to make Jackson's life difficult. It remains incredible that the Dolphins held this prolific Ravens offense to just 10 points. Jackson will need to prove he can decimate this coverage scheme before the offense gets back to looking like the group that scored 30-plus points in three of their previous four games prior to Week 10.
Most likely to continue to improve: Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields vs. Baltimore Ravens
Fields is 22 years of age, so he’s allowed to get better with more experience. This has been the case through his first seven starts:
- Week 3: 50.2 PFF passing grade (No. 31 among all quarterbacks with 10 dropbacks)
- Week 4: 75.5 (No. 12)
- Week 5: 54.5 (No. 31)
- Week 6: 59.5 (No. 22)
- Week 7: 38.0 (No. 29)
- Week 8: 68.4 (No. 18)
- Week 9: 85.9 (No. 2)
The latter performance was particularly impressive, as Fields made a number of throws that showed off the sort of tantalizing upside that made him a consensus top prospect in the first place.
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 9, 2021
The Ravens' blitz-happy defense should give the rookie plenty of looks. Hopefully, Fields continues to progress and provide the Bears with some semblance of consistent play under center.
Most likely to take Mike Zimmer to the woodshed: Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers at Minnesota Vikings
Rodgers was rather brutal in his first game back from the COVID list, but this week’s get-right spot features a defense he shredded for seven total touchdowns in eight quarters of action last season. Danielle Hunter‘s (pec, IR) continued absence leaves this group without a true difference-making pass-rusher, which is particularly problematic given the Vikings' cornerback room has emerged as a massive liability:
- Cameron Dantzler: PFF’s 55th-highest-graded corner in coverage grade among 126 qualified players
- Patrick Peterson (hamstring, IR): 58th
- Bashaud Breeland: 107th
- Mackensie Alexander: 122nd
Failure to get after Rodgers will result in this group of underwhelming corners attempting to contain Davante Adams. Good luck, Minnesota.
Most likely to absolutely dominate when kept clean: Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins vs. Green Bay Packers
Cousins is PFF’s second-highest graded quarterback when kept clean this season. Unfortunately, things have gone south rather quickly when under pressure: Cousins joins Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers as the league’s only three quarterbacks who have experienced a dropoff of at least four yards per attempt when under pressure compared to when they’re kept clean.
Credit to the Packers for holding Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson to a combined 34 points over the past three weeks, but their standing as the league’s 24th-ranked defense in quick pressure rate (pressure in fewer than 2.5 seconds) could be problematic in this matchup. Cousins has consistently gotten the ball out quickly this season, sporting the position’s eighth-quickest average release time and fourth-lowest average target depth.
Most likely to take a ride on the struggle bus: Indianapolis Colts QB Carson Wentz at Buffalo Bills
There wasn’t too much to write home about regarding Wentz’s Week 10 performance against the Jaguars. He did make one of the week’s better throws on third-and-7 late in the fourth quarter, but otherwise, the Colts were largely content to ride Jonathan Taylor to victory.
The problem is that this Bills defense is a juggernaut. Pick a stat, any stat, and they probably lead the league in it.
- Pass yards allowed per attempt: 5.69 (No. 1)
- Explosive pass play rate allowed: 9.2% (No. 1)
- Pass TD rate allowed: 1.9% (No. 1)
- Pressure rate: 48.9% (No. 3)
- Quick pressure rate: 28.2% (No. 1)
- Fantasy points per game allowed to QBs: 12.5 (No. 1)
Wentz will have his work cut out for him this week. Hopefully, he can at least do enough to lead Taylor and Michael Pittman to solid fantasy days.
Most likely to either ball out or be meh: Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen vs. Indianapolis Colts
Nobody is saying the Bills shouldn’t have agreed to pay Allen all sorts of money to be their franchise quarterback for years to come, but that doesn’t make his erratic performance through the first nine games of 2021 any less noteworthy:
- Week 1: 72.6 PFF passing grade (No. 16 among quarterbacks with 10-plus dropbacks)
- Week 2: 45.4 (No. 30)
- Week 3: 85.5 (No. 3)
- Week 4: 62.5 (No. 24)
- Week 5: 92.8 (No. 1)
- Week 6: 81.3 (No. 7)
- Week 7: Bye
- Week 8: 72.3 (No. 10)
- Week 9: 50.8 (No. 24)
- Week 10: 86.4 (No. 2, pre-MNF)
The Bills’ success in terms of wins and losses has made Allen’s up-and-down first half of the season less of a talking point compared to Patrick Mahomes but just realize the Bills will need their franchise quarterback to be at his best if they hope to achieve their goal of representing the AFC come February.
The Colts have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks this season so look for Allen to flirt with another upper-end outcome in this solid home spot.
Most likely to not give his offense a shot at success: Detroit Lions QB Jared Goff at Cleveland Browns
Goff has been playing scared all season, as he's essentially working as a younger version of present-day Ben Roethlisberger. There would be many years over the past decade where that comp would be a massive compliment, but 2021 is not one of those years. Overall, Goff and Mike White are the only signal-callers with an average depth of target below seven yards while Big Ben joins the ex-Rams quarterback as the league’s only two quarterbacks to throw short of the sticks on at least 60% of their passes this season.
The Lions rank 25th in team pass-blocking grade, 28th in receiving and 23rd in rushing, so their winless campaign isn’t all on Goff. Still, he clearly hasn’t been the solution either, and that probably won't change ahead of this week’s matchup against a pissed-off version of Myles Garrett and the Browns’ third-ranked defense in quick pressure rate.
Most likely to ball out when not targeting his wide receivers: Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield vs. Detroit Lions
Mayfield obviously couldn’t make things work with Odell Beckham. It’s also worth mentioning that he generally hasn’t been good when targeting any of his wide receivers this season:
- PFF passing grade targeting wide receivers: 79.7 (No. 21 among all qualified QBs)
- PFF passing grade when targeting running backs: 66.1 (No. 13)
- PFF passing grade when targeting tight ends: 78.5 (No. 11)
It’s great that Mayfield has shown off some truly great highs during his short career, but it’s also concerning that one receiver's presence was seemingly enough to reduce him to one of the league’s worst quarterbacks otherwise. Quarterbacks worth nine figures are generally expected to elevate the entire offense, even in non-perfect situations, but to this point, Mayfield hasn’t proven capable of consistently achieving this goal.
Credit to Mayfield for continuing to play through the pain, as he’s dealing with AC joint and knee injuries ahead of Sunday’s matchup. Don’t be surprised if he’s efficient in limited opportunities this week in a matchup that should feature plenty of Nick Chubb (COVID, IR) and D’Ernest Johnson.
Most likely to be overwhelmed by pressure: Washington Football Team QB Taylor Heinicke at Carolina Panthers
Credit to Heinicke for (another) great performance against the Buccaneers, but he could struggle to replicate that performance against the Panthers’ second-ranked defense in quick pressure rate. Heinicke grades out as the 24th-best quarterback under pressure this season, racking up three times as many turnover-worthy plays (six) as big-time throws (two) in these situations.
Heinicke has the league’s seventh-slowest average time to release among 37 qualified quarterbacks, so he’ll need to speed up his decision-making more than ever against Brian Burns and the Panthers’ third-ranked defense in PPR points per game allowed to the position.
Most likely to be back: Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton vs. Washington Football Team
Newton was responsible for the best feel-good moment of Week 10, yelling “I’m back” into the camera after finding the end zone in his first snap back in a Panthers uniform. He then threw a short touchdown to Robby Anderson on his next snap, ultimately playing nine snaps during the Panthers’ 34-10 beatdown over the Cardinals.
Last season wasn’t a complete waste for Newton in New England, as he turned in a top-12 fantasy performance on six separate occasions thanks, in large part, to his ever-dominant ability near the goal line. The Panthers sure don’t seem poised to abandon this skill-set in 2021 if last week was any indication. Newton has the potential to work as a weekly upside QB2 in fantasy land thanks to his fantasy-friendly dual-threat ability.
The Football Team wasn’t exactly a matchup to fear in the first place, and this point remains true with Chase Young (ACL, IR) done for the season. Fire up Newton as arguably the week’s single-best streaming option against the Football Team’s league-worst defense in fantasy points per game allowed to opposing quarterbacks.
Most likely to suffer from playing on the worst team in the league: Houston Texans QB Tyrod Taylor at Tennessee Titans
To say the Texans offense has been atrocious this season would be a massive understatement:
- Team PFF offensive grade: 59.2 (No. 32)
- Passing grade: 56.3 (No. 32)
- Receiving grade: 67.5 (No. 27)
- Rushing grade: 58.8 (No. 32)
- Pass blocking grade: 54.4 (No. 27)
- Run blocking grade: 48.0 (No. 32)
The league’s 32nd-ranked scoring offense has been held to fewer than 10 points on five occasions this season — no other team has more than two-such games. Taylor deserves better, but it’s a cruel world out there, so things could easily get worse before they get better in Houston.
Most likely to massacre the defense from a clean pocket: Tennessee Titans QB Ryan Tannehill vs. Houston Texans
Nobody has a higher PFF passing grade than Tannehill (93.6) when operating out of a clean pocket this season. Overall, he’s averaged a robust 8.2 yards per attempt in these situations, throwing nine touchdowns against four interceptions when defenses have been unable to put the 10-year veteran under duress.
Tannehill is certainly capable of making things happen outside of structure, as his 16 rushing touchdowns since 2019 are tied with Lamar Jackson for the third-highest mark in the league. Still, this offense is at its best when Tannehill is given the benefit of a clean pocket — something that should be readily available against the Texans’ 29th-ranked scoring defense.
Most likely to hear all sorts of mid-week calls for a benching: San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo at Jacksonville Jaguars
To be fair, Garoppolo has played his best ball of the year in recent weeks:
- Week 1: 73.2 PFF passing grade
- Week 2: 58.1
- Week 3: 52.7
- Week 4: 56.0
- Week 7: 50.0
- Week 8: 74.6
- Week 9: 78.6
- Week 10: 68.8
That doesn’t mean fantasy faithful won’t continue to bemoan the fact that the 2021 NFL Draft’s No. 3 overall pick remains on the bench. The 49ers’ second-half schedule remains borderline erotic if Trey Lance ever gets a chance the rest of the way:
- Week 11: Jaguars
- Week 12: Vikings
- Week 13: Seahawks
- Week 14: Bengals
- Week 15: Falcons
- Week 16: Titans
- Week 17: Texans
There hasn’t been much good in Jacksonville this season, but their second-ranked pass rush in pressure rate has been a lone bright spot. This could be a sneaky brutal afternoon for Garoppolo if not given ample protection.
Most likely to not get by with a little help from his friends: Jacksonville Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence vs. San Francisco 49ers
Yes, Lawrence hasn’t exactly lit the league on fire as a rookie. Also yes, he hasn’t gotten much help from his teammates — even on the rare occasions where he’s made something good happen. Only Lamar Jackson and Ryan Tannehill have more incompletions on passes deemed to be big-time throws by PFF this season.
Most incompletions on "big-time throws" this season (PFF):
1. Ryan Tannehill
2. Lamar Jackson
T3. Tom Brady
T3. Trevor Lawrence ???? pic.twitter.com/hsjNj2nifg
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 15, 2021
Don’t expect the going to get easier for Lawrence as long as he’s surrounded by PFF’s single-worst group of pass-catchers in terms of team receiving grade but just be careful about too heavily criticizing the rookie considering the utter lack of talent surrounding him.
Most likely to provide more bad than good: Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa at New York Jets
The list of quarterbacks with more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws this season is not great:
- Jimmy Garoppolo (+8 additional turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws)
- Mike White (+6)
- Taylor Heinicke (+5)
- Jared Goff (+5)
- Jacoby Brissett (+4)
- Davis Mills (+4)
- Ben Roethlisberger (+3)
- Daniel Jones (+3)
- Zach Wilson (+2)
- Sam Darnold (+1)
- Tagovailoa (+1)
Note that Tagovailoa’s decent Week-10 performance was, in large part, thanks to Isaiah Ford getting loose for a 52-yard catch on a coverage bust. Obviously, the 2020 NFL Draft’s No. 5 overall pick is an upgrade over Brissett, but even then, there isn’t too much optimism surrounding the league’s 28th-ranked scoring offense.
Only the Jets (24) have dropped more passes than the Dolphins (22) this season, so this group’s offensive woes don’t solely fall on Tagovailoa’s shoulders. Still, this problem isn’t expected to be resolved by Sunday, as there’s a reason why Dolphins-Jets opened with Week 11’s lowest game total (44 points).
Most likely to check the ball down: New York Jets QB Mike White vs. Miami Dolphins
Nobody has a higher check-down rate than White (10.9%) among 37 quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks this season. White’s 7.7 yards per attempt on these passes ranks an unsustainable fourth among all quarterbacks with at least 10-such throws so don’t confuse White’s fun 405-yard performance against the Bengals in Week 8 as a true sign of a future franchise signal-caller.
White is PFF’s sixth-lowest graded quarterback when throwing at least 20 yards downfield this season so good luck convincing this aggressive Dolphins defense to not load the box and take away easy completions. Hopefully, Zach Wilson (knee) is back under center before too long, as he's at least entertaining while he experiences inevitable growing pains.
Most likely to save his best for last: New Orleans Saints QB Trevor Siemian at Philadelphia Eagles
Siemian has aged like a fine wine during his limited action this season:
- First quarter: 4.1 yards per attempt
- Second quarter: 7.0
- Third quarter: 6.6
- Fourth quarter: 7.6
Siemian rather inexplicably trails only Tom Brady in PFF passing grade in the final frame this season.
Will this keep up? Probably not but credit to Siemian for consistently keeping the Saints in games during Jameis Winston’s (ACL, IR) absence.
The Eagles rank ninth in fantasy points per game allowed to opposing quarterbacks, but they’ll need to play for 60 full minutes in order to keep Siemian under wraps.
Most likely to function as a fantasy QB1: Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts vs. New Orleans Saints
All Hurts has done in his 14 career starts is put forward one fantasy-friendly performance after another:
- Week 14, 2020: fantasy QB11
- Week 15, 2020: QB1
- Week 16, 2020: QB12
- Week 17, 2020: QB20 (in three quarters)
- Week 1, 2021: QB5
- Week 2, 2021: QB10
- Week 3, 2021: QB10
- Week 4, 2021: QB4
- Week 5, 2021: QB11
- Week 6, 2021: QB7
- Week 7, 2021: QB6
- Week 8, 2021: QB24 (in three quarters)
- Week 9, 2021: QB12
- Week 10, 2021: QB7 (pre-MNF)
Hurts’ Week 10 performance would have been even better had Quez Watkins not dropped a beautiful potential score from Hurts before halftime.
The rushing upside is what makes the real difference here. Overall, Hurts has a 16-game rushing line pace of 155-875-8.5 — the rush attempts mark would only trail 2019 and 2020 Lamar Jackson while the rushing yards would rank seventh all-time at the quarterback position.
The Saints are hardly a cakewalk, but this is the same group that allowed Hurts to rush for 106 yards in his first career start last season. Continue to fire up Hurts as a top-10 fantasy option with all the confidence in the world.
Most likely to face Cover 3 all game: Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow at Las Vegas Raiders
Nobody has run more Cover 3 than the Raiders this season. Overall, their 335 snaps dwarf the second-place Seahawks (267). They’ve largely been average out of this look, ranking 17th in EPA per play (-0.009) through 10 weeks of action.
The problem is that Burrow has absolutely lit up Cover 3 this season, ranking third in PFF passing grade (83.9), 12th in big-time throw rate (4.7%) and fourth in yards per attempt (9.1) while not having a single turnover-worthy play against the look.
Maxx Crosby and PFF’s highest-graded pass rush group have the potential to disrupt any passing game but just realize failure to do so could be especially problematic this week thanks to Burrow’s excellence against what the Raiders secondary does best.
Most likely to struggle to stretch the field: Las Vegas Raiders QB Derek Carr vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Carr has turned in his two worst performances of the season in PFF passing grade in back-to-back weeks without Henry Ruggs in action. It’s rather easy to see that this passing game has become a shell of itself without the services of the field-stretching ace:
- Carr in Weeks 1-8: 90.2 PFF passing grade (No. 4 among qualified QBs), 8.5 yards per attempt (No. 6), 9.2-yard average target depth (No. 7)
- Weeks 9-10: 51.4 PFF passing grade (No. 27), 6.9 yards per attempt (No. 19), 6.9-yard average target depth (No. 24)
This is just a small sample size, and DeSean Jackson should help matters down the stretch as long as he can remember the end zone's location. Still, things are so much easier for everyone involved in this Raiders offense when the opponent has to respect the deep ball but reduced efficiency could become a more constant occurrence for this passing game during the second half of the season.
The Bengals’ 11th-ranked defense in EPA allowed per pass thrown 20-plus yards downfield probably isn’t the sort of get-right spot this passing game needs. Carr and company need a tuneup in order to stay competitive in the ever frightening AFC West.
Most likely to make big-time extended plays: Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott at Kansas City Chiefs
Few have been better than Prescott this season at creating big plays in instances when he’s had all day to throw. The following metrics denote his performance when taking 2.5 or more seconds to attempt a pass:
- PFF passing grade: 85.4 (No. 4 among all quarterbacks)
- QB rating: 115.6 (No. 1)
- Passing touchdowns: 12 (No. 2)
- Yards per attempt: 9.7 (No. 4)
- Adjusted completion rate: 72.3% (No. 13)
It makes sense that defenses have had all kinds of problems containing CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup when unable to force Prescott to get the ball out quickly. The Chiefs’ sixth-ranked pass rush in quick pressure rate will certainly have a better chance of bringing out the worst in Prescott if all-world LT Tyron Smith (ankle) remains sidelined.
Most likely to continue to look like a world-beater: Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes vs. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys rank fifth in EPA allowed per pass play, although that’s, in large part, thanks to the group racking up 14 interceptions on the season — tied for the second-highest mark in the league.
This group has been a bit less dominant on a per-play basis:
- Yards allowed per attempt: 7.6 (No. 22)
- Explosive pass play rate allowed: 16.1% (No. 23)
- Yard after the catch per completion allowed: 6.4 (No. 31)
Clearly, Mahomes and company got a large chunk of their swagger back during the Chiefs’ dominant 41-14 win over the Raiders in Week 10 so don’t be surprised if points are again flying on the scoreboard if they can manage to limit turnovers. Get your popcorn ready, as no matchup has a higher game total than Cowboys-Chiefs (55 points).
Most likely to supply some deep-ball goodness: Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray at Seattle Seahawks
Murray has missed back-to-back weeks with an ankle injury and should again be considered questionable for Sunday. Colt McCoy (chest) will draw his third consecutive spot start if Murray can’t suit up.
If the Cardinals get their third-year phenom back in action, look out. Entering Week 9, Murray and the Cardinals had a league-high 67% catchable deep ball rate this season. Only the Seahawks (61%) were also over 60%. Nobody has a better PFF passing grade than Murray (99.2) when throwing at least 20 yards downfield, and his 47.2% big-time throw rate in these situations is truly absurd.
The going might not be as easy downfield if DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring) is again unable to suit up, but at this point, it’s tough to expect anything other than greatness from Murray. This is particularly true in fantasy land, as Murray joins Justin Herbert, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes as the only quarterbacks to average more than 21 fantasy points per game in NFL history.
Credit to the Seahawks for largely shutting down Aaron Rodgers and company in Week 10, but the best version of Murray and this Cardinals offense sure looks capable of hanging 30 points on just about anybody.
Most likely to rebound to some extent: Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson vs. Arizona Cardinals
Wilson’s inability to lead the Seahawks to a single point in Week 10 was obviously concerning when projecting how this offense might finish the season. Rehab on his finger didn’t seem to bring back the best version of Mr. Unlimited, and it’s fair to wonder what the ceiling of this group is when Wilson is playing at less than 100%.
A date with the Cardinals’ sixth-ranked defense in fantasy points per game allowed to opposing quarterbacks certainly doesn’t look like the spot to expect the best out of Wilson, although few defenses can slow down this group when everything is clicking between Wilson, D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Tentatively continue to fire up Russ as a QB1 in fantasy land, but true alarms will be sounded if Wilson again looks like a shell of his usual self in Week 11.
Most likely to add to this growing lowlight reel: Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger at Los Angeles Chargers
Mason Rudolph was predictably terrible in relief of Roethlisberger (COVID, IR) in Week 10, as this passing game is rather terrible regardless of who is under center.
It’s truly unfortunate to have to watch this version of Roethlisberger on primetime. He’s posting decade-long lows in just about any passing metric one can find. Whether it’s PFF passing grade (55.9), average target depth (7.5) or QB rating: (83.2), 2020 is basically the only comparable down year to what Roethlisberger has gone through to start 2021. He’s been playing through various ailments, but ultimately ranks outside of the league’s top-30 quarterbacks in both PFF passing grade and yards per attempt through 10 weeks.
And yet, the Steelers passing game shouldn’t necessarily be counted out against Derwin James and company. The Chargers have settled in as a rather average group against the pass this season while their performance stopping the run continues to be rather brutal.
EPA allowed per pass/run play in 2021 (PFF)
Further down: Good against the run
Further up: Bad against the run
Further left: Good against the pass
Further right: Bad against the pass
Okay Bills mafia okay. pic.twitter.com/AfNYuaMhkE
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 15, 2021
Most likely to make the most out of his downfield shots: Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Herbert has been nothing short of unstoppable when throwing the ball at least 20 yards downfield this season:
- PFF passing grade: 95.5 (No. 5 among 36 qualified quarterbacks)
- QB rating: 134.0 (No. 1)
- Yards per attempt: 16.6 (No. 7)
- Adjusted completion rate: 55.2% (No. 4)
The problem has been the lack of opportunities. Herbert has attempted just five total passes at least 20 yards downfield since the Chargers’ Week 7 bye, and he averaged four-such throws per game in Weeks 1-6. Overall, Herbert has only attempted these sort of downfield throws on 7.6% of his dropbacks this season — the fourth-lowest mark in the league among 37 qualified quarterbacks.
Herbert has thrown for fewer than 225 yards in three of his past four games. Perhaps Los Angeles will gameplan some additional shots downfield ahead of this Sunday night matchup against a Steelers defense that could be without difference-makers T.J. Watt (knee, hip) and Joe Haden (foot).
Most likely to make his best plays on the ground: New York Giants QB Daniel Jones at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jones hasn’t always helped his cause over the years — seriously, stop fumbling the ball. With that said, Jones can cause some problems for opposing defenses when left unaccounted for:
- Rush yards since 2019: 967 (No. 4 among all quarterbacks)
- Yards per carry: 6.1 (No. 5)
- Explosive runs: 30 (No. 8)
Hopefully, Jones displays better passing ability with a healthier supporting cast. This would certainly help matters against the Buccaneers’ walking graveyard of a cornerback room but either way, don’t be surprised if/when Jones shows off some “sneaky athleticism” when he escapes the pocket.
Most likely to still push the ball downfield while getting the ball out quickly: Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady vs. New York Giants
There’s a fairly linear relationship between quarterbacks holding the ball longer and proceeding to throw further downfield. However, some quarterbacks still manage to be “Check-Down Charlies” despite taking too long to throw (looking at you, Jared Goff), but generally, the ball goes further downfield the longer the quarterback takes to throw.
And then there’s Brady, who has managed to get the ball out quicker than just about anybody while not compromising Bruce Arians’ “no risk it, no biscuit” mentality.
QB average time to release vs. average target depth ranks in 2021 (PFF)
Further up: Throws the ball downfield more
Further down: Doesn't throw downfield much
Further left: Gets rid of the ball quickly
Further right: Holds the ball for a long time
Tom Brady is different. pic.twitter.com/9nO8ydlL85
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 15, 2021