5 quarterbacks who must improve from Week 1 performance

A look at some of the quarterbacks who got off on the wrong foot in Week 1, including Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Stafford.

After an offseason full of quarterback movement, nearly half the teams in the NFL have a new starter. Some are rookies (or redshirt freshman), some are established veterans, and some are rebounding from seasons on injured reserve. The performances of the new guys as well as those that carried over will dictate their teams’ success.

It’s worth looking at who provided hope and who had a rough start. Veering away from the obvious (i.e. we all know about Nathan Peterman), let’s take a look at Week 1’s notable quarterbacks who will look to improve:

Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans)

Line: 17/34, 176 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT

Watson’s Texans lost to the Patriots on Sunday, by a not-as-close-as-it-seems 27-20. Watson started poorly but rebounded as the game went on, eventually helping Houston pull within a score. He wasn’t as electric as he often was last year, but it’s hard to be electric in New England, and he’s proven that he’s a more accurate passer than his 17/34 statline would indicate.

To rebound, Watson will look to target star receiver DeAndre Hopkins with more frequency; he threw in Hopkins’ direction just five times and only completed three passes for 23 yards. He also should look to make more plays with his legs, as he ran eight times for 40 yards on Sunday.

Hopes are still high for Watson, and while his Week 1 performance didn’t meet the high expectations placed on him after last season’s MVP-caliber output, there’s no doubt he has the potential to carry the Texans to the playoffs.

Matt Stafford (Detroit Lions)

Line: 27/46, 286 yds, 1 TD, 4 INT

The performances of the QBs on this list will vary, as Stafford is one of two turnover-prone veterans we’ll see mixed with the middle-of-the-road Watson-types. Stafford was overtly bad in Monday’s thrashing at the hands of the Jets, throwing four ugly picks and at times giving way to backup Matt Cassel.

Detroit as a whole was a disaster, but it was the offense that made mistake after mistake and looked lethargic even when not tossing the ball straight to Jets linebackers. Jim Bob Cooter’s unit put the Lions’ defense in difficult positions constantly and managed just 10 points while watching Sam Darnold enjoy a marvelous debut outside of his first-pass pick-six.

Stafford won’t be this bad for the rest of the reason, surely. He seemed off on many of Detroit’s drives, as if he didn’t quite seem to have an idea of what he wanted to do. The constant barrage of pressure, and the various knocks he picked up from Jets pass-rushers, did not help.

But the Lions have relied on little else other than Stafford’s gunslinging for most of this decade. If their franchise QB keeps flinging the ball to the wrong team, it’ll be a difficult problem to solve for a team that eternally lacks a run game and clearly has significant defensive issues.

At least rookie back Kerryon Johnson showed he could be a legitimate contributor.

Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Line: 23/41, 335 yds, 1 TD, 3 INT, 2 FMB

The Steelers’ bizarre 21-21 tie with the Browns, featuring two missed field goals in overtime and a lot of bad Cleveland weather, produced ample storylines. Big Ben’s struggles are potentially the most concerning of them for the Steelers fans.

Roethlisberger turned the ball over five times, doing everything he could to cough away a 21-7 lead. His second of three interceptions wasn’t his fault (the ball bounced off tight end Jesse James’s hands), but the other two likely were, and his two fumbles were a result of over-maneuvering in the pocket. He’s built his Hall of Fame career on elusiveness and extending plays. His struggles in that area could be attributed to age-induced decline.

The 36-year-old Roethlisberger was always going to age faster than his less-physical peers. Recent turnover-heavy games (most notably those two games against Jacksonville last year) are an interesting manifestation of Father Time’s effects.

He managed to rebound from the regular season blowout against the Jaguars, but his individual ceiling seems to be lowering quickly, and it’s hard to predict when he’ll have one of these games again. The Steelers need certainty that he won’t walk into a crucial division game and throw a handful of picks.

His connection with Antonio Brown, likely affected by the rocky debut of offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, wasn’t quite as on point as it usually is. On crucial downs, AB was often blanketed by stud rookie cornerback Denzel Ward, and Roethlisberger’s third interception looked like a miscommunication with Brown on a deep route.

Brown still had nine catches for 93 yards and a quintessential Ben-to-AB touchdown. But those nine receptions came on 16 targets. The Steelers have some figuring out to do.

Sam Bradford (Arizona Cardinals)

Line: 20/34, 153 yds, 0 TD, 1 INT, 1 FMB

With first-round pick Josh Rosen waiting readily in the wings, Bradford’s Cardinals put up just six points in a convincing 24-6 loss to the Redskins. It was a performance that represented somewhere between the floor and the ceiling of Bradford, with little above-average playmaking but just enough to allow him another shot.

The former No. 1 pick managed to avoid injury, a not insignificant victory, and he’ll be the Cardinals’ starter for their Week 2 game against Nick Foles and the Eagles. He’s due for more support from running back David Johnson, who ran for only 37 yards on nine carries. How long Bradford will remain the starter is a debatable topic, but you never know when he’ll produce something like last year’s domination of the Saints in Minnesota.

Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys)

Line: 19/29, 170 yds, 0 TD, 0 INT, 1 FUM

The Cowboys looked especially lethargic in an ugly 16-8 loss in Carolina, with Prescott struggling to find open receivers and Ezekiel Elliott starting relatively sluggishly by his standards on a 15-carry, 69-yard day.

Dallas, entering the season with a glaring lack of adept pass-catchers, felt the effects. The offense almost never built any significant momentum or looked capable of making a big play on the Panthers defense. Without an obvious difference-maker running routes (Cole Beasley and Allen Hurns are decidedly not that), the Cowboys’ output of eight points was predictable.

Better coaching and a dominant Zeke performance could overcome Prescott’s lack of receivers. Maybe they could try to make better use of Tavon Austin. What else can they really do? If only there were a free-agent wideout available …

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