They’re the center of the spectacle that is an NFL offense. Whether zipping a well placed strike, wisely leading his team with an audible to a better play, lobbing a 50 yard bomb, or sometimes even scampering 20 yards to pay dirt, the Quarterback is not only the field general on the gridiron, he is often the face of the team in and out of competition. Having to deal with D-linemen coming at him trying to claim a crushing sack while whizzing passes by DBs who would take his would-be winning accolades to the house on an INT is challenge enough; members of his own camp add to the adversity as well. Fans and coaches who critique him at every turn for the slightest misstep just as quickly as they celebrate any success not to mention a starry-eyed backup thirsty for the first sign of weakness to step in to succeed and secede the starting job add to a signal caller’s worries. These are The Student of the Game’s Top 5 specimens who have the most pressure on the QB barometer going into the 2013 season.
5. Matt Ryan
Dubbed “the New Tony Romo” by me in the 2012 Preseason based on his playoff record (now at 1-4 vs. Romo’s 1-3), Atlanta’s QB “Matty Ice” melted plenty in the pressure cooker even while winning his first NFL playoff game in this past Postseason. Throwing a 4th quarter INT turned a 20-0 nothing lead into a 28-7 run by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2nd half. Fortunately for him, he was out-blundered by Seattle Head Coach Pete Carroll’s clock carelessness. The 2012 Coach of the Year’s offense was 3 yards from the end zone with 34 seconds and all 3 timeouts where he opted to throw the ball rather than pound RB Marshawn Lynch to drain time off the clock or at least burn one of the remaining 2 timeouts the Falcons had (both of which the Dirty Birds needed to line up the winning 49 yd. Field Goal by K Matt Bryant in a 23 second drive).
Despite best efforts to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the Divisional Round, Matt Ryan had an amazing game in the Conference Championship. Unfortunately, his failure to lead his squad to victory on the final drive not only got his Falcons eliminated 1 game short of the Super Bowl, but left a perceived soon-to-be retired Future Hall of Famer in TE Tony Gonzalez on the sides in despair saying to himself, “I was wide open”.
Let’s face it — with the formidable Falcons WR Corps, Gonzalez not retiring, and RB Steven Jackson arriving from the Rams to bolster a solid Run Support, this is an offense that despite being stacked in 2012 found a way to get even better.
That and the addition of DE Osi Umenyiora, fans and media will claim this is a do or die year. But as often as Matt Ryan has died in the playoffs, should he continue as a catastrophe in the clutch, the fans will likely turn on him. In truth, Ryan’s job isn’t in jeopardy because while he’s not elite, he’s too good to give up on while risking finding a replacement that is only as good as or worse than Matty Ice. The prospect of a legacy known for never winning a big game, improved rosters of NFC South bottom dwellers Carolina and Tampa Bay, and the return of New Orleans Coach Sean Payton to optimize the divisional rival’s awesome offense are specters that will haunt Ryan going into the next season with more fright than many signal callers in the league face.
4. Christian Ponder
As a football aficionado and former championship semipro player, the most downtrodden state I’ve seen an athlete (or anyone for that matter) is realizing that after all they’ve accomplished, they just might not be good enough to accomplish further success. This personal pressure point is among the ones threatening Minnesota VIkings QB Christian Ponder.
Having recorded 6 games with less than 150 yards passing in 2012 isn’t exactly what I expect from a playoff offense. Minnesota’s post season push, however, had more to do with top NFL RB Adrian Peterson turning in a 2,000+ yard season on the ground. Be that as it may, the Vikings fans and media don’t see this as overachievement of last season’s expectations, but more of a “what if we had” line of speculation to what could be with their current lineup.
What if we were better on ‘D’? . . . They drafted CB Xavier Rhodes, DT Shariff Floyd, and signed CB Jacob Lacey to supplement their improving unit.
What if we had better receivers? . . . They claim veteran WR Greg Jennings from the Packers while drafting WR Cordarrelle Patterson and parting with an unpredictable WR Percy Harvin.
In short, since the Vikings still have A.P., a better defense, and more weapons to throw to in the air, the QB and his offense should have a better chance to score more points per game and need fewer points to win games.
While these improvements are nice for a QB to increase production, they also lend less tolerance when production doesn’t come immediately — especially with a fan base excited to build on last year’s playoff run and expecting their 3rd year QB to have fully matured. Moreover, should those materialize within the first half of the season, NFL veteran QB Matt Cassel is waiting in the wings to end Ponder’s career as a starter. These factors have the current Vikings starter “ponder”ing intense pressures in the coming campaign.
3. Andrew Luck
Hype ran abound in the 2012 NFL Draft for the top QB prospect. For months previous, we heard about lower level NFL teams having the silver lined luster to the lament of their 2011 campaigns in entering the “Suck for Luck” Sweepstakes. The Indianapolis Colts being the ultimate losers of said season won the right to draft him the top pick overall. After featuring such names as Dan Orlovsky, Kerry Collins, and Curtis “I Shudda Beena” Painter and going 2-14, the 2012 SoTG Rookie of the Year Andrew Luck (and runner up for the NFL award won by Robert Griffin III) took the Colts to an 11-5 season which 7 wins came in the form of comebacks lead by the 1st year signal caller.
Little could we have imagined that the same pressure to live up to a similar level of hype would repeat itself going in the 2013 NFL season. After last year’s success and an early playoff exit, how is Luck rewarded? Colts fans demanding a repeat performance and Super Bowl aspirations without the benefit of a bona fide defense, a revamped WR core, and a patchwork RB squad. But then, that’s what happens with the spoiled fan base at Lucas Oil Stadium who had Future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning take them to the playoffs for 9 straight years before his Denver Departure.
In addition to participating in 9 nine different contests that were decided by 7 points or less, some are still not sold that it was Luck’s leadership that got them to the playoffs, but that Head Coach Chuck Pagano’s cancer diagnosis was what motivated the team to turnaround from a 2-win season. That and/or the coaching skill of Offensive Coordinator Bruce Ariens who set up the strategy of his team during what Indianapolis dubbed the “Chuck Strong” campaign and in so doing earned his own head coaching job at Arizona going into 2013. Any and all lines of logic are here usually followed by some indication of an alleged fluke.
In his sophomore year, the 2nd year starter must face the lesson that the only thing more difficult than meeting the fans’ expectations of improvement is to consistently feed a fans’ “entitlement” to win placed by the shadow of a legend in the form of a backhanded reward for early results and success. But the only way he can show that he’s indeed learned that lesson is proving that 2012′s achievements were all about Luck and not all about luck.
2. Colin Kaepernick
As Cinderella stories go, the 49ers represent a library’s worth of volumes where the protagonist was invited to the royal ball as they made it to their 2nd consecutive Conference Championship and the Super Bowl in 2013. One holding call away from San Fran-six-o, the bitter 49er Faithful turn to the fairy tale field general, QB Colin Kaepernick , with hopes that he has the bibbidi-bobbidi-BOOM to keep championship hope from being smashed like a pumpkin being pulled by a horse.
Unfortunately for said fan base, Disneyland is not a California football franchise and the NFL is a place where expectations of happy endings are more often turned into false prophecies once hit by harsh realities. While Kap had a fantastic season playing last year, he only started 10 games where barely any film was accrued on him. The current offseason now gives coaches a chance to put in the tape and pop some Aderall (allegedly) to pay close attention to the smack down by Seattle 42-13 at CenturyLink Field in Week 16 of the 2012 campaign.
On top of the fact that Kaepernick has so few starts and is being fed to fans with Super Bowl aspirations, San Francisco’s schedule lends itself to more intimidation than a wicked stepmother. In addition to playing in the NFC West, (arguably the best defensive division in the league) they have match-ups against the Packers, Colts, Texans, Redskins, and Falcons. As if there wasn’t any more we could pile onto this case, the top 49ers WR in 2012, Michael Crabtree, is expected to miss at least 10 weeks due to injury.
With Super Bowl success as the only happy ending possible for the 49ers fans in 2013, a solid showing still stains as a sophomore slump and could kill Kaepernick’s confidence, career, and the commensurate hopes of the entire franchise in coming seasons.
1. Robert Griffin III
If it’s said that the Colts spent 2011 having to “Suck for Luck”, NFL fans in the DC area could claim that their Redskins have been spending even longer “Whiffin’ for Griffin”. Trading a basket of draft picks, the Redskins picked up the heralded Heisman winner out of Baylor, QB Robert Griffin III. The only thing more shocking than the ‘Skins picking up QB Kirk Cousins 3 rounds later in the same draft was that the kid dubbed RG3 gave Washington fans something they’ve not had in their football team in years . . . Hope.
Hard to believe that delivering this hope with his renaissance man demeanor and versatility of talent would make his life in 2013 much more difficult than 2012 where he uplifted the franchise and fans. Playing in the NFC East with the nation’s biggest media market in New York, the biggest fan base in Dallas, and arguably the unfriendliest surroundings in the NFL in Philadelphia is enough of a challenge. It brings notoriety and fame to your name when you manage to win the division and much worse when those same people think your playing style is the reason that you got hurt and “they” didn’t get to see “their team” advance past an upstart 3rd round draft pick (QB Russell Wilson in Seattle) that won the starting job in training camp.
Certain media outlets even said the RG3 injury was in fact HIS fault because he decided to play on it in a playoff game — that’s bad enough. But apparently he’s supposed to do his own personal version of an Adrian Peterson comeback and return to top form. Getting weekly rehab updates as well as regular appearances on commercials, the multiplier on the QB barometer is only increased.
However, the thing that makes RG3 stand out ahead of anyone else currently on this list (in addition to major rehab and breakout rookie RB Alfred Morris allegedly hiding that he holds onto the ball to long) is the aforementioned Cousins is currently a viable threat as a backup. Having made clutch plays to finish off the Ravens in the game where Hiloti Ngata did the damage to Griffin (OK — he threw 2 passes — no big deal) and then winning the game the following week (allbeit against the Browns, but big contracts have been earned on less) should Griffin fail to come back healthy, he’s at risk to lose his starting spot to Kirk Cousins. Don’t believe me? Just ask Alex Smith about our #2 man on this list.
And there you have it — the Top 5 Most Pressured QBs on 2013 according to the SoTG. While I didn’t include any QBs with recent fat contracts signed (Matt Stafford, Tony Romo, Joe Flacco, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers) or retirements/career endings approaching (Peyton Manning, Blain Gabbart, Michael Vick, Marc Sanchez) they do deserve the parenthetical shout outs I deliver here. But since fans and media would either forgive failure due to previous success or didn’t expect success from them in the first place and thus lowering the pressure on said individuals, they are not in my Top 5.
Written By Kyle Nash, the Student of The Game
Host of the Student of The Game Podcast, NFL West Recess and Co-Host on the NGN Weekly Show on the National Gridiron Radio Network
Co-Host of the OT with Andrew G and Lead NFL Writer for the Sports Chronicles Radio Network
Co-Host of East vs. West Sports on the GoH Radio Network
Special Contributor to Pro Player Insiders
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