Analysis

Pre-Snap Read: Week 1 Features Spicy QB Storylines

Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers

Editor’s note: Paul Burmeister, former Iowa starting quarterback and current radio voice of Notre Dame Football, will provide insights into NFL games each week, with a sharp focus on the league’s signal-callers. This is his Week 1 installment of what we’re calling the Pre-Snap Read.

 

Week 1

Thursday, Sept. 8

Bills at Rams | 8:20 p.m. ET | NBC

During the last four years, no other quarterback in the NFL blossomed under his coordinator more than Bills quarterback Josh Allen did with Brian Daboll. Last year, Buffalo finished the season with the best offense in the NFL and was led by Allen, who in my opinion was the league’s best quarterback. 

No place was that more evident than it was in his postseason play against New England and Kansas City – games he combined to throw for 637 yards (77 percent completion percentage), 9 touchdowns and zero picks. He also rushed for 134 yards in those games. Just ridiculous.

 

And, somehow, he made it look easy. So simple that it’s easy to forget it wasn’t always that way for the fifth-year pro.

In four years, each with Daboll as his offensive coordinator and game-day play-caller, Allen became a rare example of a quarterback with massive physical potential metamorphosing into an MVP-caliber performer.

That reality comes to life when you take his NFL career and divide it between his first two seasons and the last two. The development is somewhere between textbook and shocking – the best-case scenario for any team general manager using a top-10 pick on a quarterback.

Pick any way to measure efficiency:

Completion percentage? Allen went from the mid-50s in year one with the Bills to the mid and upper 60s in years 3 and 4. 

TD-to-INT ratio? From just above 1:1 to nearly 3:1.

Yards per attempt? Up more than a yard, from 6.5 in Year 1 to almost 8 by Year 3. To me, this is most telling, because he didn’t inflate the previous numbers by getting conservative.

The up-and-down nature of the first part of his career didn’t make him shrink; instead, it made him grow. He became more efficient while still taking the appropriate risks downfield. He just became better at it.

Let’s not exclude the X-factor in the Bills’ offense: Allen’s running skills. He became a reliable threat in the run game, while also ascending as a pocket passer. His 17 rushes for 134 yards in the playoffs wasn’t an aberration, but rather the new normal. In the final seven games of the regular season, he averaged almost 9 carries per game.

The credit for Allen’s unique and awesome style of play – in and out of the pocket – and the way it improved, is mostly his. For that, I applaud his mental toughness as much as his physical talent.

But a young quarterback can’t grow that significantly from his first two seasons to his second two without high-level coaching – coaching that resonated with him during the week as well as on game day.

For each of Allen’s four years in Buffalo, Daboll was side by side with him – game-planning, implementing and play-calling. Each week, every Sunday. His role in Allen becoming his own brand of an explosive and efficient NFL quarterback cannot be overlooked, and that’s why I can’t wait to get our first look at Allen sans Daboll in the Kickoff game.

Former 49ers and Browns QB Ken Dorsey, who has been Buffalo’s QB coach the last three seasons, is now Allen’s offensive coordinator. That’s not only a soft place for the offense to land, it provides Allen a high level of continuity and smarts to start his fifth season, one that will only be considered a success if the QB and coordinator combine for winning football in January and February.

Sunday, Sept. 11

Packers at Vikings | 4:25 p.m. ET | FOX

Chiefs at Cardinals | 4:25 p.m. ET | CBS

Speaking of MVP-caliber quarterbacks without a major part of their recent success, I see similar attractions to these games.

Aaron Rogers without Davante Adams.

Patrick Mahomes sans Tyreek Hill.

This is low-hanging fruit in a way, but it’s also irresistible. Along with Allen, these are the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Rodgers and Mahomes are both beginning their new quarterback lives, ones without their ultra-productive wide receivers the last few seasons.

How will each navigate their new worlds?

I find Rodgers’ challenge to be the most drastic: Adams had 123 catches last season. Not one Packers receiver had even half of that.

I chuckled when I heard a friend say Adams was Rodgers’ first, second and third option last year. That’s a stretch, but I do think it’s fair to say he was his first and second look many times, which makes me intrigued to see how the MVP’s life in the pocket plays out now.

Even though teams defended the Chiefs differently last year, with two safeties routinely aligned deep – forcing coach Andy Reid and Mahomes to evolve and learn how to succeed with a more conservative approach – the idea of Hill lining up wide or in the slot still loomed large for opposing defensive coordinators. 

The threat of his speed and make-you-miss ability is where defenses began their game plans each Monday. He affected defenders and put them on their heels like no other receiver in the league.

Reid is still an excellent schemer, Mahomes is still fantastic and tight end Travis Kelce is still a problem. But the K.C. offense without Hill is unavoidably and drastically different. I can’t wait to see how defenses play the Chiefs, and how they attack, starting Sunday afternoon against Arizona.

Steelers at Bengals | 1:00 p.m. ET | CBS

While Allen and Mahomes and Rodgers deal with major changes, let’s not forget that Joe Burrow has the rare luxury of continuity. Big time.

He didn’t lose his head coach or his offensive coordinator. When does that happen after a conference championship?

And that’s just the beginning.

His top three receivers are all back. His top running back, who happened to be the fifth-leading receiver last year, also returns.

Burrow had a ruptured appendix in August, but head coach Zac Taylor, OC Brian Callahan, Jamar Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon returning had to make the third-year quarterback feel better. They represent the two coaches and four playmakers most vital to Burrow’s success last season.

The juxtaposition of what he maintains vs. what his high-level NFL counterparts lost is truly amazing. No matter what he does on Sunday against the Steelers, his starting point of it’s all back is a unique bonus to his season, and a fun nugget to keep in mind while keeping an eye on No. 9 in this game.

Colts at Texans | 1:00 p.m. ET | CBS

I love the Matt Ryan story, for the individual and the team.

Ryan has been on such poor Falcons teams the last few seasons that his productivity, and lack thereof, has flown under the radar. It hasn’t mattered much.

Now, he’s on a team that led the NFL in rushing a year ago and has a good young defense. The Colts have been a low-level playoff team that needed an upgrade at QB to be relevant in January. What does the first go-round look like?

Side note and potential extra hook: This is the third consecutive year Indy’s starting QB is a former top-5 pick from another team, and neither of the previous two (Philip Rivers in 2020, Carson Wentz in 2021) played poorly. In fact, both Rivers and Wentz played well the vast majority of their time with the Colts.

 

This isn’t an offense that lacked a good QB. It’s one that lacked a high-level one, making Ryan’s entry all the more intriguing to me.

Eagles at Lions | 1:00 p.m. | FOX

Patriots at Dolphins |1:00 p.m. | CBS

One more alluring combo package here. An early first-round pick (Tua Tagovailoa) and an early second-round pick (Jalen Hurts) from the 2020 draft face make-or-break individual years.

Each has piled up enough starting experience to where they can’t be called “new” anymore, yet they’re not quite veterans either.

Both organizations made major investments around them (Hill in Miami and A.J. Brown in Philadelphia) to prop up and accelerate their quarterbacks’ learning curves.

Weaving my way back and forth between these two games will be a fun way to analyze these two quarterbacks, comparing and contrasting the way Tagovailoa and Hurts get started on their third, and easily most crucial, NFL seasons.

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