Under Pressure – QB Edition
Bringing back old article runs seems to the be the au fait of the 2023 season. So here’s another one. We last brought you Under Pressure in the 2020 season. And the Quarterback edition had some familiar names. Unfortunately Dwayne Haskins didn’t get chance to redeem himself, as he passed away in an unfortunate accident in April 2022 before his second season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
However, Tyrod Taylor was benched for Justin Herbert in a bizarre turn of events. And Derek Carr has made a move to New Orleans in an attempt to give the Saints a change at Quarterback.
So who is under pressure to perform in the 2023 season?
Kyler Murray – Arizona Cardinals
Disclaimer: This article came out after Kyler Murray was not removed from the PUP list. He was set to miss at least the first four games of the 2023 season.
In Murray’s absence, the Arizona Cardinals have the choice between Josh Dobbs and Clayton Tune. Dobbs likely has the inside track to the job. The former Cleveland Browns quarterback featured, and fared well, in several games for the Titans at the tail end of last year. Fifth-round rookie Clayton Tune has looked fair enough in pre-season action. And he managed to beat out Colt McCoy to a spot on the Cards’ 53.
But both are a downgrade from what they could have had – and arguably the Cardinals are setting themselves up for a tough season. Does this have the number 1 pick in mind? I can neither confirm nor deny, but eyes on the outside certainly see it that way.
I digress. Why is Murray the one under pressure?
1. No more Kliff Kingsbury
The head coach Murray has seen all his starting action with has parted ways with the Cardinals. Kliff Kingsbury has left the building. And, in his place, rookie head coach Jonathon Gannon.
So, while Murray has no immediate pressure to learn the whims and ways of a new coach, these schemes and plays are new and untested under Gannon. How does Murray fit into this new approach?
2. The race for the bottom
As previously mentioned, the Cardinals look in freefall for that first overall pick. Early signs are that the 2024 draft class are short of top-quality Quarterbacks. So the tank will need to be hard.
Murray could find himself traded away for draft capital and stuck on another team that may find it hard to use him. Or worse.
3. Injury capping
Modern-day surgery can do wonders for a player’s health these days. Quick returns to practice are more commonplace than ever before. But a repaired ACL can tear again, and the greatest risk is up to 2 years after the surgery.
There will be pressure for Kyler to go straight back up to his past performance. But can he risk doing that if it might mean another injury? And could that seriously cap his rushing ability – which gives him that a fantasy upside to his play?
4. Measure of a man
Of course, when Murray does return, he will face the calls about his height once again. Kyler is the joint-shortest Quarterback in the NFL, standing at 5 foot 10 and one eighth (alongside new number 1 pick Bryce Young).
So far, he’s managed to put the myth of the struggling short Quarterback to bed. But some critics haven’t been convinced yet – and he will have to do the same convincing on his return. Clayton Tune and Josh Dobbs are both 6’3″ and new coaching staff may want to take a different direction!
Matt Stafford – Los Angeles Rams
How could Matt Stafford be under pressure? He helped win the Rams the Superbowl, for crying out loud!
However, a lot can change in an NFL day, let alone two seasons. And the fall from winning the Biggest Show on Earth to a 5-12 record happened a lot quicker than expected.
Moreover, could some of the contributing factors that led to this tumble put pressure on Stafford in 2023?
1. F***ed Them Picks
One of the policies that the Rams have carried for several seasons…trade away first round picks. And this, in my opinion, has had a huge effect on the depth of talent present in the Rams squad.
Cooper Kupp played a massive part in the Rams’ Superbowl run, with 6 receiving touchdowns across the postseason. But Odell Beckham wasn’t convinced enough to stay and play a role in 2022. And the players vying for the backup roles behind Kupp have yet to take a step forward.
Similarly, the proven veteran depth at Running Back behind Cam Akers quickly disappeared across the following 12 months. And who could back up Tyler Higbee as that vital Tight End outlet?
It’s not all doom and gloom though. The Offensive line might still be smarting from losing Andrew Whitworth, but seems to be the only unit that seems to have held its shape. That might be the key in allowing Stafford to make the also-rans a key part of the offense.
2. No respect these days
The team will not be short of youth this season – the Rams had plenty of picks in this years draft to stock up their roster.
But stories about the lack of connection that Stafford has generated with these young backups in concerning. There are reports that the veteran Quarterback is struggling with learning rookies’ names of his younger players. And the creation of rapport is being stifled by the younger generation getting wrapped up in their phones rather than interacting with their team mates.
And, while the comments have been laughed off by Stafford and his head coach Sean McVay, perhaps there is a smidgen of reality in those comments that both should pay attention to. Connections have to be built in order to create understanding of how your players operate. And if Stafford can’t do that, perhaps they will need to turn to someone who could.
3. Back to back pains
Matt Stafford has featured in another of my previous series – an Injury Risk article from several seasons ago. It highlighted Matt Stafford’s back injury as a concern for the future when he was at the Lions.
As luck would have it, Stafford played the full season that year…and every game in the following season – his Superbowl winning campaign with the Rams. However, 2022 saw nearly half the season lost to a spinal cord contusion – with reports suggesting it was around his neck area.
It was a frightening reminder that Stafford had also missed a large portion of the 2019 season with broken bones in his back. The veteran had elected against the surgical route in that instance, but it seems the back issues have reared up again.
At the moment, Stafford is up and about, training as normal. And there has been no news of any procedure to help fix the issue. So how long could it be until the Quarterback misses more time – and will that be time to call it a day?
Jimmy Garoppolo – Las Vegas Raiders
I have chosen three players from the Western divisions by complete accident. And Jimmy’s last team was also on that side of the country. But it’s his current home that could cause him the most pressure.
1. Too quick a return?
Jimmy’s contract suggested that Raiders leadership had more than the 2023 season in mind. But there were plenty of pre-season concerns about his injury history on his arrival in Vegas.
Many onlookers didn’t believe that he’d actually end up signing for the team because of that injury. And the signing of an injury waiver rather than a physical suggested that the Raiders wanted him that badly, they were willing to risk a different approach for him.
Nevertheless, earlier this month saw the Raiders’ new starting Quarterback pass the training camp physical. And he took the field for the first time since December. But training camp is one thing, and the brutal hits of the regular season is another.
With the season so close to starting, was there pressure on Jimmy G to prove he could be that guy again? One can only hope that he’s had the rehab and training to perform without fear of reinjuring that foot.
2. Which Jimmy G will take the stage?
After all, Jimmy Garoppolo does just fine at his job.
He expected to be the backup in San Francisco in 2022. But he took control of the Niners offence after Trey Lance’s disastrous Week 1 injury, and did what he needed to do. It was sturdy but unspectacular. He led a reasonable pass offense, had an average completion percentage, and only threw four interceptions in his 12 games last year.
That is, until he got injured and the diamond of Brock Purdy was uncovered.
So now he heads to Las Vegas, where he is assumed to be the starter. But little doubts remain as to how this season pans out for him. Could it be the Jimmy Garoppolo that helps lead his team to a playoff berth through a sturdy but unimpressive statline? Or could it be the Jimmy G who picks up another season-ending injury and allows rookie QB Aiden O’Connell to step up to starter?
Previous years have seen plenty of examples of both scenarios unfolding. And that the pressure that drafters will be under if they see his name next on the board.
3. O’Connell’s around the corner
Considering his lack of NFL experience, Aiden O’Connell performed very well in the off-season. And the rookie fourth-round pick could be a surprise to take over from Brian Hoyer as the backup Quarterback on this team.
At present, the coaching staff are familiar with Jimmy and Brian as they worked with both of them at previous regimes. But O’Connell was brought in by the organisation in this draft. And there may be something to be said by one of the Raiders’ minority owners. You know, the later round draft pick who went onto achieve incredible feats with the Patriots and Buccaneers.
And, as we know what happened with Brady and Bledsoe, all it takes is a moment. One play, one tackle, one shot, one opportunity. And a big-money deal doesn’t matter when you want the best for the future of the franchise. And perhaps it happens again, if not for the romance of the sport.