NFL Preseason: Updating Quarterback Battles After Week 2

Oakland Raiders quarterback Matt Flynn

Aug 16, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Matt Flynn (15) looks to pass the ball agains the New Orleans Saints in the first quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks ago, we looked at the status of all the quarterback battles in the NFL, with nothing but training camp reports and rumor to back everything up. Now we have two weeks of actual, on field performance to make decisions. What’s going on around the league at the most important position?

New York Jets:

Mark Sanchez stats: 23-36, 294 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, one sack, two rushes for five yards; 48% success rate

Geno Smith stats: 6-7, 47 yards, 38% success rate

This has not been the highest level competition ever seen by man here. Geno Smith, of course, missed the second preseason game with an ankle injury, leading Sanchez to whelm against the Jaguars – not overwhelm, or underwhelm, just … whelm. Sanchez played into the third quarter, with a lot of those yards coming against second and third stringers. His two interceptions have been very costly – one was in the end zone as the Jets were driving for a touchdown, and the other ended up returned for a touchdown the other way. If there was a decent option on the other side, Sanchez would have lost this job weeks ago.

However, Smith has been brutal on the practice field recently – not unrelated to that ankle injury, I’m sure. He really should have been resting, as he hasn’t helped his stock with his recent performances. He was ahead of Sanchez on most people’s lists until the ankle injury and subsequent ugly practices. If there was a decent option on the other side, Smith would have lost this job weeks ago.

So, with neither side performing well, it becomes Smith’s turn to start on Saturday against the Giants, and is expected to win the starting job, barring a multiple-turnover day. It’s gotten to the point where beat writers are calling the entire competition farcical – Smith is General Manager’s John Idizk’s guy, and was going to be the guy, regardless of how unprepared he was. So, what should Jets fans be looking for on Saturday? Well, a deep ball or two might be nice – Smith was Captain Checkdown in his limited action in week one. Balls thrown more than ten yards through the air would be something at least to hang his hat on; there’s a difference between protecting the ball and being hyper-conservative. Jets fans shouldn’t be too happy no matter who starts, though – this quarterback competition has been a disaster.

Philadelphia Eagles:

Michael Vick stats: 13-15, 199 yards, one touchdown, one interception, one sack, two rushes for 20 yards; 68% success rate

Nick Foles stats: 11-14, 96 yards, one interception, one sack, three rushes for 23 yards; 65% success rate

Matt Barkley stats: 19-36, 175 yards, one touchdown, two rushes for nine yards; 37% success rate

Before preseason week one, it seemed that Matt Barkley and Nick Foles had fallen so far off the radar that the job was going to go to Vick by default. It turns out, that was only half true – while Barkley went throughout camp without a single first- or second- team rep, Foles provided quite a spirited competition for Vick, but came up short – Vick was named the starter Tuesday, a week earlier than Chip Kelly promised.

That shouldn’t be too much of an indictment of Foles, though – he basically only had one error up to this point, an interception in the end zone. Vick just played very well and fits better in Kelly’s up-tempo offense. Foles has been playing it safe, and that’s actually not a bad attribute to have in your back-up quarterback. The Eagles have said they’re not trading Foles, and Foles’ll likely get another crack at the starting job next year, because Vick’s not a long-term answer. This is how you want your quarterback competition to go – impressive to beat out adequate, not poor to beat out also poor. Eagles fans can at least brag about that to their Jets counterparts.

Buffalo Bills:

EJ Manuel stats: 26-33, 199 yards, two touchdowns, one sack, four rushes for 29 yards; 60% success rate

Kevin Kolb stats: 12-21, 111 yards, one interception, one rush for seven yards; 41% success rate

Manuel has outplayed Kolb. That’s really all there is to it. He’s looked sharper when he’s been in the game, he’s been fairly solid every time he’s had the ball, he’s led solid two minute drills, and he’s protected the football. If it wasn’t for the minor knee surgery he just had, he’d be the starter week one for sure – and, as far as I’m concerned, he is the starter as soon as he’s healthy. He’s already begun the rehab procedures, and it’s really a battle against time, rather than Kolb, now – as soon as he’s ready to practice once again, he’ll start.

The Bills have stopped short of saying that will be week one so Kolb has two more weeks to try to prove that he deserves to get the starting job. In his only preseason game so far, he was constantly throwing behind his receivers and having passes tipped. He’d need back-to-back-to-back 300 yard plus passing games for the Bills to seriously consider keeping Manuel on the bench when he gets healthy, and nothing in Kolb’s history suggests that’s very likely. Bills fans should hope Manuel gets back soon.

Oakland Raiders:

Matt Flynn stats: 16-21, 161 yards, one touchdown, six sacks, two rushes for eight yards; 48% success rate

Terrelle Pryor stats: 7-15, 97 yards, one interception, one sack, seven rushes for 46 yards; 48% success rate

Tyler Wilson stats: 3-6, 28 yards, one sack, three rushes for -5 yards; 29% success rate

Suggestions that Tyler Wilson was ever in this quarterback race were misguided – he didn’t even play in the second preseason game, and has fallen behind Matt McGloin in the race for third quarterback. We can move on from him at this point.

There’s not been any official announcement from the Raiders as to their starting position, but it’s fairly obvious it’s Flynn’s job at this point in time. A great deal of his failed play in the Saints game came from new left tackle and part-time turnstile Alex Barron, who let him get sacked five times in one half – there’s only so much he can do against that. He still looked better than Pryor, who was only one for five against the Saints, and struggles to throw the football at all – his only plus attribute is his legs, and that’s not enough to win him the job. It’s a rough situation, and one that doesn’t bode well for getting better anytime soon.

Jacksonville Jaguars:

Blaine Gabbert stats: 18-26, 184 yards, one touchdown, one interception, one rush for two yards; 61% success rate

Chad Henne stats: 12-21, 117 yards, one interception, one sack, one rush for zero yards; 39% success rate

The gap in success rate is almost entirely thanks to their respective performances against the Dolphins, and credit where credit is due – Gabbert carved the Jets up in the second preseason game, after being awful the week before. A bit of constancy wouldn’t kill him, but he looked like an actual NFL quarterback against the Jets, which is something he hadn’t done much of up to this point in his career. He was named the starting quarterback – but it can never be that easy, can it? He fractured his thumb, and may or may not be ready for week 1.

The job was open for Henne to take, but his performance against the Jets defense was abysmal. Four for 10 for 30 yards isn’t going to impress anybody, and it’s not like his week one performance enlightened the world. Still, the timing of the announcement indicates that Gabbert was going to be the starter all along, which was the right move – they need to know if they have to draft a new quarterback next year, and Gabbert will either shine or, more likely, lead them to a bad enough record to be at the top of the draft in 2014. Either way, starting Henne doesn’t give them any new information, and doesn’t improve their playoff chances that much.

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Bryan Knowles is a writer and hopelessly devoted sports nut, with strong opinions that are subject to revision near-daily. A graduate of UC Davis and San Jose State University, Bryan spends his days teaching high school English and his nights watching far too many sporting events.
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