Palmer: Brady, Romo, Ryan all produce statement games

Jesse Palmer
9/20/2011 1:03:12 PM
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The New England Patriots are a juggernaut on offence. QB Tom Brady has now thrown for 940 yards in his first two games, the most ever by a QB over the first two weeks of a regular season. Brady's numbers are so good in fact, that he is on pace to throw 56 TD passes and over 7,500 yards this season if he stays healthy! I think the Pats have a definitive advantage on the field, and it has to do with personnel. Second-year tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are making all the difference this season.

Many wondered why the Pats parted ways with veteran TE Alge Crumpler this offseason, but it now appears quite obvious why they did. Both Gronkowski and Hernandez create major mismatches for this offence, and they present a "pick your poison" dilemma for opposing defences. Both tight ends are big and both can run. The Patriots like to keep them both on the field, because they run routes effectively and can also block at the point of attack. You simply cannot cover them with linebackers or safeties, and if you decide to leave bigger bodies on the field to stop the run, then you suffer a death by aerial assault. If you choose to add smaller and faster cornerbacks into the mix to prevent the tight ends from catching the football, then the Pats run the football down your throat.

Tom Brady has already developed quite a chemistry with his tight ends, as he has targeted them on 47 per cent of his passes already this season. Since the beginning of 2010, Brady has thrown his TE's 23 TD passes, almost twice as many as any other QB-TE tandem in the NFL. When you factor in other skill players such as wide receivers Deion Branch and Wes Welker, the Patriots passing attack becomes all that much more difficult to defend. Consider that Chad Ochocinco is still learning his playbook, and hasn't yet seen meaningful snaps. This offence could become that much more dangerous with him on the field, however he may have problems even seeing playing time when you consider just how good both young tight ends are.

Playing Through Pain

The gutsiest performance of the week goes to Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo. After being sidelined in Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers with a punctured lung and fractured rib, Romo re-entered the game down by 10, and engineered a come-from-behind, overtime victory on the road. I think Romo not only demonstrated what type of leader he is, but he also showed his competitive spirit.

After Jon Kitna threw a costly interception, Romo slammed the bench on the sidelines and then began looking for his helmet. He knew he was coming back into the game. Romo was seen huddling his offence together on the sidelines, and speaking individually with his skill players. The comeback was underway. Romo then efficiently marched his offence down the field, hitting WR Miles Austin for a touchdown pass down the right sideline, and then promptly led a two-minute drive to put the Cowboys in position for a game-tying field goal that forced the game into overtime. On their very first OT possession, head coach Jason Garrett called a play-action post throw that caught the 49ers off guard, and Romo found WR Jesse Holley for a 77-yard gain that set up the game-winning chip shot field goal.

At the end of the day, Romo passed for 345 yards and 2 TD's without throwing an interception. His QB rating of 116.4 was the highest of any quarterback this past weekend. The question continues to be asked: is Tony Romo an elite QB? In my opinion, he is not yet. While he has been named to the Pro Bowl three times, and has thrown for over 4,000 yards twice in his career, he has failed to win consistently in the post-season. Look at the best QB's in the NFL: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. All have one thing in common: they've won Super Bowls. Romo has a playoff record of 1-3, and in order for him to take the next step, he needs to win in the playoffs. The question will continue to linger as to whether or not Romo is one of the best, but nobody can question his toughness or his commitment after this past weekend.

Proving His Worth

Give Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan a ton of credit. He slayed the dragon this weekend. Ryan is the franchise quarterback in Atlanta, he led the Falcons to an NFC-best 13-3 record last year in the regular season. Still, he may not be the most popular QB in his city. If you watched this past Sunday, it is quite obvious that many fans still cheer for former Falcons franchise QB, and current Eagles starter Michael Vick.

In a highly-anticipated duel between two pivots this past weekend, Ryan outgunned Vick, as the Falcons beat the Eagles 35-31. There was a lot of pressure on Ryan this weekend, not just because of the Falcons' lackluster performance in a Week 1 loss in Chicago, but because many felt that he needed to play well in order to win over the fans, and to justify himself as the Falcons "best option" at QB. As good as Ryan has played in his first three seasons, he has not yet won a playoff game, and many are unwilling to consider him an elite QB until he does just that. After setting career highs in virtually every major passing category last year, Vick was named the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year, and was awarded a six-year, $100 million contract to make him one of the league's highest-paid players.

Ryan is the opposite of Vick in many ways. His style of play is conservative rather than flashy. He doesn't scramble. He operates in the offence and takes what the defence gives him. Ryan did what he does best versus the Eagles, picking apart their zone blitzes on his way to a conservative 195 yards passing and a career-high four touchdowns. Vick, meanwhile, was a turnover waiting to happen, throwing an interception and fumbling two times before having to leave the game in the third quarter with a concussion. It shouldn't need to be stated, but Matt Ryan is the right choice at QB for the Atlanta Falcons, and he proved it on Sunday.

Jacksonville Blues

Every former quarterback that watched the Jacksonville Jaguars play the New York Jets on Sunday can empathize with Jags QB Luke McCown. Facing arguably the best defence in the NFL, on the road, McCown went 6-for-19 for 59 yards and threw four interceptions before being benched in favour of rookie Blaine Gabbert in the third quarter. Rex Ryan's pressure schemes consistently confused the eighth-year journeyman QB, and he often forced the football into double coverage. As quarterbacks, we've all had days when nothing seems to go right. You throw an early interception, then try and make up for it later by forcing a throw into tight coverage. You then begin pressing, and the picks keep piling onto each other. Before you know it, your team is down by four touchdowns and you're on the bench.

The Jacksonville Jaguars must be second-guessing their decision to cut former starter David Garrard right about now. Head coach Jack Del Rio's reasoning for the move was that Garrard never could seem to get it going consistently for this Jags offence, and it appeared their best chance was with McCown, who outplayed Garrard in the pre-season. The Jags were hoping to let Gabbert sit this season, and allow him to develop after a subpar showing in training camp. Two things are now happening in Jacksonville. It appears that Gabbert's timetable to start has been moved up, even if he isn't quite ready yet for the responsibilities of being a starting pivot in the NFL.

Secondly, head coach Jack Del Rio's hot seat just got hotter, since all player and personnel decisions inevitably fall on the shoulders of the head coach. Cutting David Garrard may have taken the Jags from being a contender in the AFC South, and forced them into a rebuilding year with a rookie QB. That's not good news for Del Rio's future, and that's certainly not what Jags fans or their front office want to hear.

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