Facebook Twitter

What has happened to quarterback play in the NFL?

SHARE What has happened to quarterback play in the NFL?

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) in action during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)


The NFL has built its brand around quarterbacks and the passing game. The league has bent its rules to give quarterbacks and receivers all the advantages, with both positions being designated as hands-off to defenders.

The NFL has cashed in on the Era of the Quarterback.

But what if suddenly the league’s quarterbacks didn’t, you know, play well? What if they had a group slump? What if teams suddenly had to — egad — run the ball?

Well, that’s what’s happening. The game’s best quarterbacks are suddenly throwing wounded ducks. Something weird is going on.

Lamar Jackson, the MVP two years ago, has thrown seven interceptions in three games (to five touchdown passes). His passer rating has ranged from 46.5 to 88.1 the last five games; the league average is 88.6. He’s averaged 219 yards passing the last five games, which would be good if this were 1965.

Matthew Stafford has thrown touchdown passes to the wrong team in three consecutive games. Three pick-sixes. That gives him five interceptions and five touchdown passes during that stretch. The Rams, once a frontrunner in the league, have lost all three games.

Baker Mayfield, the best pitchman since Peyton Manning, might have to pitch product on a full-time basis if he keeps playing the way he has recently — three straight games with a rating of less than 80 and three interceptions/three TD passes.

He’s averaged just 196 yards passing the last six games.

Patrick Mahomes, the league MVP three years ago who has made it look so easy since becoming the starter in 2017, is up and down this season and sometimes looks as lost as a rookie.

He threw one interception and zero TD passes last week, a week after throwing five TDs and no picks a week earlier, which followed a five-game slide in which he threw six TD passes and six interceptions.

Russell Wilson, the seven-time Pro Bowl quarterback, has averaged 166 yards per game passing the last five games while throwing for just four touchdowns against three interceptions.

Since returning to the lineup after a finger injury, he has thrown one TD pass and two interceptions in the three games and has completed only about 53% of his passes.

Tom Brady The Great has looked like a 44-year-old recently. He has thrown six interceptions in the last four games, and the defending Super Bowl champs lost two of those games. Before that, Brady was having another great season.

The league’s top two young quarterbacks have experienced struggles after taking up the pro game so seamlessly.

Joe Burrow has two TD passes and three interceptions in the last three games and has topped 200 yards only once. Justin Herbert has played better than Burrow, but he’s thrown seven of this season’s 10 interceptions in the last six games.

At least he continues to produce — he’s had six 300-yard games.

Josh Allen has thrown seven of his 10 interceptions in the last four weeks (and eight TD passes).

Matt Ryan, the 2016 league MVP, has failed to top 190 yards in three straight games and has thrown five interceptions to just one TD pass.

Ryan Tannehill has thrown eight interceptions in the last five games.

Jalen Hurts makes a living with his running but his passing is a disaster. He has failed to throw a TD pass in five games; his stats for the last two games: 0 TDs, three INTs.

The quarterback play hit rock bottom last week when Cam “I’m back!” Newton completed just 5 of 21 passes (23.8%), the lowest completion rate in 17 years. There’s a reason he was unemployed most of the season.

The only quarterbacks who seem impervious to the outbreak of ordinary quarterback play are Aaron Rodgers and Dak Prescott.

Rodgers has thrown just two interceptions in the last 10 games and 23 touchdown passes. Dak Prescott had a terrible two-interception, 216-yard outing against Kansas City, but has played well.

It’s probably no coincidence that the league’s successful teams are those that haven’t banked everything on throwing the ball and have established good running attacks — teams such as the Titans, Ravens, Cardinals, Cowboys, Bengals, Patriots, 49ers and Colts.

It’s as if NFL defenses, despite the many handicaps that league rules have placed on them, have figured out how to defend the modern pass attack. But don’t expect the Great QB Slump of ’21 to last long.