Lombardi: A look ahead to NFL Week 17

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At least they now have a chance—a slim one, but a chance, nonetheless.  

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Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel’s decision to start Josh Dobbs at quarterback after only being with the team for eight days proved to be the correct one. Dobbs wasn’t perfect last night, but at least he could complete a pass, operate the offense, and give the Titans somewhat of a passing game that the defense had to defend. With rookie third-rounder Malik Willis under center, the Titans had no chance to throw the ball, nor did the defense worry about anything other than Willis running around.  Now, heading to Jacksonville next week in a “winner gets in" game, the Titans have ten days to build from what Dobbs was able to accomplish against the Cowboys.  Despite his less-than-perfect statistical numbers, Dobbs played well enough for them to have a fighting chance to win the South, assuming they get Derrick Henry and Jeffrey Simmons back from their injuries. 

Remember back in April at the draft, when all the “so-called” draft experts had Willis going in the first round, then were outraged when he slipped all the way to the 86th pick?  Many loved his talents; thought he would develop into a starter by his second year with one so-called expert saying: “has all the tools to be a great NFL starting quarterback.”   He has athletic tools, not quarterbacking tools, and it was obvious from his Liberty tape, Willis was going to be a developmental player who might be a year away from being a year away.  Fooling the draft experts isn’t hard, but fooling an NFL personnel man who watches practices and studies game tape carefully isn’t easy. 

So, how could the Titans enter the regular season with Willis as the No. 2 man, when it was clear from the preseason games he wasn’t ready for game action?  Remember Vrabel pulled him during a game because he wasn’t giving the other players a chance to execute the offense.  His “in-game” demotion was a signal he was far from being ready, and the Titans front office convinced themselves he would improve.  And guess what?  He didn’t—at least not this season.  (Side note—all of us make a similar mistake when picking games.  We hold onto a belief that isn’t correct, and we make our bets believing—without evidence—the belief will come true.  I made this mistake last week, believing the Broncos would play well on Christmas day with no evidence to support the belief.  And before the first quarter was over, I knew I had made a poor choice, which pains me.  The moral of the story: Don’t chase beliefs. Don’t build your decision-making foundation on a hope and a prayer—they never get answered.)

It’s hard for me to understand how a general manager can watch practice and know the backup can’t play, yet doesn’t make a move to bring in another player.  Former general manager Jon Robinson’s decision to keep Willis as the No. 2 could not have been well received in the building.  It certainly had to create a lack of alignment between the coaches and the personnel people.  There was no chance Vrabel or his staff felt safe with Willis entering the game if something happen to starter Ryan Tannehill—from after the draft and before the season.  Willis screamed “raw and not ready” with his play. He showed quickly he would need more time to grow, and even after development time, the verdict will still be debatable.  I’m confident Vrabel and the staff believed keeping Willis as the third was fine, making him the two caused a ripple-down effect of problems that the 2022 season revealed. 

With Dobbs starting last night, that marked the 60th new starting quarterback entering games this season. That number moves to 61 when Jarrett Stidham starts for the Raiders.  The volatility in the quarterback position places a larger premium on the backup, which makes Robinson’s decision to keep Willis in that role so complex.  After the Kansas City game, when Willis completed five passes for 80 yards, with 46 coming on a quick screen, Robinson had to know it wasn’t going to work, yet he allowed it to continue and might have cost the Titans their season.  Teams cannot ignore the backup position and assume an unprepared rookie can handle the role unless the rookie is in a system like Kyle Shanahan runs in San Francisco with great run-after-the-catch players surrounding him.  Brock Purdy started 46 games at Iowa State, and Willis started 23 at Liberty. Wonder why Robinson lost his job? 

With ten days to prepare for their battle with the Jaguars, the Titans need to get healthy, and they need Dobbs to improve.  They don’t have as talented of a roster as the Jags, and if they were to become the fourth seed, they could beat Baltimore (currently the fifth seed) and advance—even with Dobbs at quarterback.   My point is: don’t rule out the Titans because with more time to prepare and Dobbs giving them a better option, they will give the Jags all they can handle—even shorthanded. 

QB Ratings

Top Five

1. Patrick Mahomes – With the top seed within their grasp, Mahomes will need to play the final two games of the year and secure his MVP trophy. 

2. Joe Burrow – Burrow has been on fire since the Bengals’ Week 10 bye.  His decision-making and accuracy on third down and in the red zone have only forced the Bengals to attempt 11 4th down conversions all season. 

3. Justin Herbert – There are few people on Earth that can throw the ball with pinpoint accuracy on every level like Herbert.  And the scary part, he isn’t done with his development as a player. 

4. Josh Allen – Still too many mistakes with the ball, but like Herbert, he does things few can do.  When the Bills’ offense needs a play, Allen makes one. 

5. Trevor Lawrence – The last three games, Lawrence has demonstrated why he was the best player in the 2021 draft.  Seven touchdown passes, one interception, 7.90 yards per attempt and averaging 25.6 points per game. 

Bottom Five

28.  Mac Jones – He has regressed from last season.  Is it the offense?  The offensive line?  Or him?  Only time and change will tell.

29. Carson Wentz – Before he was injured, he was in the bottom five and last week he played his best football of the year, albeit at the end of the game.  Now a starter, he will need to raise his level of play if the Commanders are going to reach the playoffs.

30.  Deshaun Watson – The rust is having a hard time wearing off, and he looks out of sync and playing slow-minded, which is natural for a long layoff.  The Browns would have been better off keeping Jacoby Brissett as their starter. 

31.  Russell Wilson – He is so jumpy in the pocket, and he runs into sacks now instead of away from them, which is why starting guard Dalton Risner was so upset.  When a quarterback will not climb the pocket (moving up, not out), then he hurts the offensive lineman, creating holding calls and bad plays.  Wilson hasn’t climbed the pocket all year. 

32. Davis Mills – One important statistic to examine when evaluating quarterbacks is expected completion percentage.  This means when a receiver is open, does the quarterback make an accurate throw and completes the pass?  Mills ranks 31st.  By the way, Derek Carr ranked 30th

Here are the bottom quarterbacks in that area:

33. Baker Mayfield

32. Zach Wilson

31. Davis Mills

30. Derek Carr

29. Carson Wentz 

Power Ratings