My Thoughts on the NFL Season Through Week 5

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Image courtesy of NFL.com

I craft this post as I’m lying down in my empty apartment in the West Loop of Chicago. I have nothing but a 50” Vizio TV in front of me and pillow underneath my achy back to get me through the next two hours of writing. The last month has been absolute mayhem…in a great way, but nonetheless I look forward to getting back to writing after a three-month hiatus.

With no further ado, I’m going to jump back into writing by offering you (hopefully) a cogent set of thoughts, arguments and observations about the NFL season through Week 5.

The Product on the Field Hasn’t Been Good (On the Offensive Side)

I have several theories for why I have been less than entertained during the first five weeks of the season versus past seasons and I will carefully state these reasons below. Interestingly, the Sunday Night football game between the Chargers and Steelers was both a miserable game to watch (first three quarters) and an exhilarating game to watch (4th quarter) all wrapped up in the same game. Here’s my theory around why the quality of play hasn’t been up to snuff through the first 1/3 of the NFL season.

Terrible QB Play

Quarterbacks that were in the top half of QB’s in Total QBR last season (which is a statistical measure that incorporates the context and details of a QB’s throws and what they mean for his team) have fallen off a cliff this year. Take note of where the following QB’s ranked last year and where they reside after 5 weeks this season vs. all passers.

  • Philip Rivers – 9th best QBR in 2014, 17th rated QB in 2015
  • Colin Kaepernick – 14th best QBR in 2014, 19th rated QB in 2015
  • Peyton Manning – 3rd best QBR in 2014, 22nd rated QB in 2015
  • Drew Brees – 5th best QBR in 2014, 25th rated QB in 2015
  • Joe Flacco – 10th best QBR in 2014, 29th rated QB in 2015
  • Russell Wilson – 8th best QBR in 2014, 14th rated QB in 2015
  • Nick Foles – 12th best QBR in 2014, 28th rated QB in 2015* (Caveat: Missed 8 games due to injury in 2014)

These QB’s represent half of the competent to great QB’s in the league right now and collectively have won four Super Bowls. Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco (who were all top 10 guys last year) are among the bottom 10 QB’s this season. There’s a reason why we have had so many ‘defensive struggles’ as the announcers like to say, such as the Broncos vs. Lions 24-12 battle in Week 3 that ended on a Matthew Stafford interception. And that reason is poor QB play from supposedly elite QB’s such as Rivers, Manning, Brees, Flacco & Wilson. Other elite QB’s such as Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo haven’t even been able to suit up, which leads me to my next point.

Injuries to Star Players

Below is a list of superstars who have missed (or will miss) considerable time (2+ games) this season and in parenthesis is the number of Pro Bowls for that player.

  • Ben Roethlisberger (3)
  • Jamaal Charles (4)
  • Dez Bryant (2)
  • Antonio Gates (8)
  • Victor Cruz (1)
  • Tony Romo (4)
  • Jordy Nelson (1)
  • Arian Foster (4)
  • Terrell Suggs (6)
  • Josh Gordon (1)
  • Jason Pierre Paul (2)
  • Alshon Jeffery (1)
  • Marshawn Lynch (5)
  • LeSean McCoy (3)
  • Le’Veon Bell (1)
  • Andrew Luck (3)
  • Kelvin Benjamin (0)
  • Martavis Bryant (0)
  • Todd Gurley (0)
  • The 4 players that retired on San Francisco in the offseason (Chris Borland, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Anthony Davis)

That’s a boatload of Pro Bowlers and young, emerging stars that have been sidelined for much of the first third of the season. And these are just the skill position guys. This doesn’t include the 68 lineman that the Bears have lost already this season and Nate Solder of the Patriots, who is out for the year with a torn right biceps.

Ineffectiveness of Star Running Backs

Of the 10 first round running backs selected in one of my fantasy football leagues, five weeks later you would only no brainer select three of those guys again. Here’s the top 10 backs and where they went in our draft.

  • Le’Veon Bell (#1)
  • Adrian Peterson (#2)
  • Jamaal Charles (#3)
  • Marshawn Lynch (#4)
  • Eddie Lacy (#5)
  • Matt Forte (#7)
  • CJ Anderson (#8)
  • DeMarco Murray (#9)
  • Jeremy Hill (#10)
  • LeSean McCoy (#12)

I have highlighted in blue those backs that would be locks for those draft positions again. The other 7 remaining backs would not be selected again in the first round due to injury (Charles, McCoy & Lynch) and ineffectiveness (Lacy, Anderson, Murray & Hill). Key Lesson: Stop selecting running backs in the first round. The league is so pass happy that wide receivers, QB’s and top tier tight ends (Gronk) should be the positions that are off the board first.

The League’s Reliance on Aging QB’s

The league’s coffers are rather dry right now at the quarterback position. The league is (and has been) overly reliant on a group of effective but aging QB’s. And the problem is, there’s no one behind these guys to fill their cleats and become the new face of the league. Here’s a run-down of QB’s who will most likely be out of the league within the next five years.

  • Peyton Manning (39)
  • Tom Brady (38) – Claims he will play through his age 44 season
  • Drew Brees (36)
  • Josh McCown (36)
  • Carson Palmer (35)
  • Tony Romo (35)
  • Eli Manning (34)
  • Philip Rivers (33)
  • Ben Roethlisberger (33)
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick (33 next month)
  • Jay Cutler (32)

Here are the 30+ guys that still have plenty of tread on their tires but who are still in the second half of their respective careers

  • Aaron Rodgers (31)
  • Alex Smith (31)
  • Joe Flacco (30)
  • Matt Ryan (30)
  • Brian Hoyer (30)

Finally, here are the alleged ‘youngsters’ who are the next wave of QB’s.

  • Andy Dalton (28 in two weeks)
  • Matthew Stafford (27)
  • Ryan Tannehill (27)
  • Sam Bradford (27)
  • Kirk Cousins (27)
  • Colin Kaepernick (28 in three weeks)
  • Russell Wilson (27 next month)
  • Nick Foles (26)
  • Andrew Luck (26)
  • Cam Newton (26)
  • Tyrod Taylor (26)

Here’s the short list of under-25 QB’s that are starting right now

  • Derek Carr (24)
  • Blake Bortles (23)
  • Teddy Bridgewater (22)
  • Jameis Winston (21)
  • Marcus Mariota (21)

16 of the 32 starting quarterbacks are aged 30 or older. That’s an alarming statistic and was an issue that baseball dealt with in the early to mid 2000’s when the entire sport was led by grey-beard pitchers such as Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Andy Pettitte, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez, to name a few pitchers from that era.

The NFL is plagued with a similar issue. The league has so many older quarterbacks and not enough coming through the pipeline to replenish the aging and eventual retiring talent. Within five years, 11 of the league’s starting quarterbacks (34%) will no longer be throwing a pigskin (they will be either retired or holding a clipboard on the sideline).

Quite simply, there’s just not enough young talent coming through the pipeline to keep the game exciting now and in the future. I worry for the future of the sport given the poor leadership, health issues and off the field behavior. These litany of issues, combined with the observations I noted above have contributed to a poor quality product through the first five weeks. Let’s hope this is a minor blip in the radar for the $10 billion a year National Football League. If it’s not, we’ll certainly know why.

About Jim Armstrong

Jim is a life-long sports fan and split his childhood between the ‘burbs of Chicago and central NJ, while throwing in a summer living outside of Boston into the mix. This explains his passion for the 90′s Bulls, late 90′s/early 00′s Knicks and late 00′s Celtics (he will explain in a future post). Jim never played a minute of college basketball or football but did complete a Tough Mudder recently and continues to play in basketball leagues year-round. If this doesn’t make him an expert, then I don’t know what does. Jim crunches numbers for a living and enjoys applying these analytical skills to his sports obsessions. In his free time, Jim enjoys spending time with his family, fishing and writing.

Comments

  1. Intriguing indeed

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