NFL rookie QB progress reports: What 2018 picks have shown so far

McShay: Jackson has provided Ravens with a 'spark' (1:05)

Todd McShay is impressed with Lamar Jackson's play so far, but says there is plenty to improve in terms of his throwing ability. (1:05)

I'm going to give a progress report on the five quarterbacks who were taken in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft.

Sam Darnold was the only one of the bunch to begin the season in the starting lineup, but four of the five passers had been handed their jobs before the calendar turned to October. The Ravens held out with Lamar Jackson in a specialized role, but once Joe Flacco injured his hip, Baltimore handed Jackson a temporary job that was declared to be permanent on Wednesday.

I've been watching these quarterbacks all year, but in writing this, I rewatched each of their past two starts closely to get a sense of how they're progressing. There will be numbers, of course, and I've written about several of these passers at other points earlier in the season.

If you're looking for me to make a declaration about which of these guys is going to fail and who is actually going to become a franchise quarterback, it's not going to happen. It's still way too early to say what will come of these passers, as the rookie seasons of Jared Goff and Carson Wentz will remind you. This is more about seeing how they've progressed and which skills they're exhibiting at the professional level than it is about ranking or grading their futures.

With that in mind, I've listed the five passers in alphabetical order, which means our look will start in Buffalo:

Jump to a rookie QB:
Allen | Darnold | Jackson | Mayfield | Rosen

Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

Pick: No. 7 | Starts: 8 | Total QBR: 57.1

Bills fans who were frustrated by Tyrod Taylor's low-risk, modest-reward efficiency looked to get the polar opposite when the Bills drafted Allen out of Wyoming. His prototypical arm strength and propensity for attacking teams downfield was supposed to augur a new era for the Bills' offense.

Instead, so far, the Bills have witnessed ... a less impressive version of Taylor. The same frustrated fans who were sick of Taylor failing to hit 200 passing yards in a game have seen Allen average 181.6 passing yards in his eight full starts. He is completing just 52.4 percent of his passes while throwing his average pass 10.5 yards in the air. (Over his three years in Buffalo, Taylor completed 62.6 percent of his passes while throwing them an average of 9.0 yards in the air.) Allen has added an unwanted propensity for interceptions, given that his nine picks are nearly as many as the 10 Taylor threw over his final two seasons in Buffalo combined.

Most notably, like Taylor, Allen is deriving a significant amount of his value from his work as a runner. It's unprecedented, actually. Over his three years in Buffalo, by ESPN's expected points added metric, about 25.8 percent of Taylor's value came from his legs on running plays. That's a lot more than the average quarterback; over the past decade, the typical quarterback generates only about 9.7 percent of his expected points added as a runner.

It's not in the same universe as Allen. With three games to go in his rookie season, he is unquestionably the most run-heavy quarterback of the past decade. Allen has generated 69.4 percent of his expected points on the ground, which is the most from a quarterback (with a minimum of 200 passes) by a considerable margin:

To be more specific, 57.6 percent of Allen's points added have come on scrambles, which is more than 20 percentage points higher than the second-highest quarterback in recent memory, who was Colin Kaepernick during the 2016 campaign. There's virtually no way Allen can keep this up over any length of time, although he certainly has been fun to watch as a scrambler. Rarely will you see a quarterback spin an opposing linebacker the way Allen twisted Kiko Alonso into knots:

One of the reasons this won't continue is simply that Allen is taking too many big hits. He needs to be smarter and get a better sense of his surroundings on the field, while offensive coordinator Brian Daboll needs to protect him. In the first quarter of the Bills' loss to the Jets, Daboll had Allen fake a swing pass and run a quarterback draw in the middle of the field, taking a big hit. Two plays later, the Bills had Allen simulate a snap and then sprint to the hashmark, where he was laid out by edge defender Jordan Jenkins, who was called for unnecessary roughness. When the Bills went back to the swing pass/draw later in the game, Allen did slide down, a positive sign.

As a passer, though, it's difficult to see any signs of improvement from Allen. His numbers are horrific -- he ranks last among qualifying signal-callers in passer rating (62.8) and QBR on pass attempts (26.8) -- and don't bear any resemblance to the quarterback Allen was supposed to be coming out of college. His deep balls have been scattershot at best; on throws 16 or more yards downfield, his passer rating is 36.2, which is nearly 20 points worse than any other qualifying passer. His Total QBR on those throws is also last in the league.

Allen doesn't have great (or even good) receivers, but in many cases, he's simply missing throws. He left two touchdown passes on the field against the Dolphins. One was in the third quarter on the familiar Air Raid mesh concept, with Zay Jones running a "hunt" route behind the crossing routes to beat zone coverage. The Dolphins totally blow their coverage on Jones, who is about as open as any receiver you'll see, but Allen throws behind his open receiver:

On the final meaningful play of the game, of course, Allen did an excellent job of extending the play under pressure before spotting an open Charles Clay in the end zone and ... underthrowing his pass by several yards. (The Dolphins might very well make the playoffs because Allen underthrew a wide-open Clay and the Patriots failed to cover a laterals play, which is a fun reminder of how seasons can swing on two plays.)

He still has too much hero ball in his system, which is common for rookies; while Allen was able to get away with throwing across his body into the end zone for a Jones touchdown against the Dolphins, he scrambled and threw an inexplicable interception on a similar throw against his body to Trumaine Johnson the following week. He has to pass up both of those throws, even if the first one turns into a touchdown.

For every throw Allen makes that arrives on time and with velocity, there's another where his footwork gets jumbled and he sails a throw to an open receiver. Allen does a good job of reading defenders' leverage both as a scrambler and in setting up screens, but he has missed on simple checkdowns and dump-offs. Watching Allen play, you never seem to get a sense of whether a ball is going to be delivered to the right spot. Sometimes, I wonder whether Allen knows, too.

What's next: Improved decision-making. Allen can't make his receivers better -- they've dropped 5.3 percent of his passes, the second-highest rate in football behind Blake Bortles -- but the first thing he can do is make smarter decisions. There has to be a tick in his brain telling Allen to avoid throwing across his body on the run, despite that massive arm strength. It's virtually impossible for Allen to be this effective as a scrambler moving forward, so it's on Daboll to find throwing lanes for Allen on third downs before the pass rush arrives.

Sam Darnold, New York Jets

Pick: No. 3 | Starts: 10 | Total QBR: 34.4

Darnold also has missed time with an injury, having just made it back from a foot injury that cost him three games. Like Josh Rosen, Darnold has legitimate gripes about his supporting cast. I ranked the Jets' weapons last in the NFL before the season, and that was before Bilal Powell was lost to a serious injury.

It doesn't look like offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates has much faith in Darnold's offensive line, either, which is a warranted concern. Center Spencer Long, playing through a finger injury, has struggled with his snaps all season, including two hands' worth of bad snaps during the Jets' loss to the Dolphins in Week 9. One of those snaps led to a pick-six and Miami's only touchdown of the game in a 13-6 win.

Darnold threw four interceptions in that game, the last before he was sidelined by that foot injury. Two of the interceptions came on fourth downs late in the fourth quarter in which Darnold was clearly forcing a desperate throw into coverage, but the Dolphins also dropped two picks on a series in which the Jets punted. Darnold's 4.8 percent interception rate is second in the league, and it doesn't include the league-high six dropped interceptions he has thrown. Factor in dropped interceptions for everyone and Darnold's 6.7 percent rate is comfortably the highest in football. The only other passers over 5 percent are from Florida: Jameis Winston (5.6 percent), Ryan Fitzpatrick (5.3 percent) and Ryan Tannehill (5.1 percent).

It's not a surprise. Watching the Jets' offense on a play-by-play basis feels a little like a wall is closing in on Darnold from the moment he takes the snap. The line isn't good enough to protect the USC product, who is being pressured on 32.9 percent of his dropbacks, the seventh-highest rate in the league. Teams aren't afraid of Darnold hitting receivers for big plays downfield, given that Darnold's QBR on deep passes ranks ahead of just Cam Newton and Allen. Darnold has just four completions on passes traveling 26 yards or more this season; among regular starters, only Newton has fewer (three), and the Carolina passer is dealing with a shoulder injury.

Defenses are closing in on Darnold's receivers, and unlike Allen, Darnold doesn't have the mobility to scramble away for big gains. He made a great play to tie his matchup with the Bills on Sunday, getting away from pressure and extending the down before hitting Robby Anderson for a touchdown, but that has been the exception and not the rule. Darnold has scrambled for just four first downs this season.

The most concerning thing so far is that Darnold has posted the league's worst QBR when opposing defenses don't get pressure on him. There is evidence of Darnold locking onto receivers and either getting tricked by coverages or not noticing how defenders have flowed to his throwing lanes. You can see that on a number of Darnold's interceptions, including a T.J. McDonald interception in Week 2, a Kiko Alonso interception in the rematch between these two teams, and this Joe Schobert interception, courtesy of NFL Next Gen Stats, on a play in which Darnold recognizes he has an open receiver, gets pressured and then throws a second later as if that receiver is still open:

It feels like Darnold is still getting used to the speed of the pro game, where windows close far quicker than they do in college. It's not anything unprecedented for a rookie, but it's naturally going to take time for Darnold to grow more comfortable under center. He has to stay on the field to get those reps, and given that he briefly left the Bills game with foot trouble before returning, he might be a risk to finish the season.

What's next: Get help. Darnold needs a better infrastructure to succeed. He needs a center who will reliably snap the ball into his hands. His receivers need to hold on to the ball, as Jets receivers have dropped 4.5 percent of Darnold's passes this season, the sixth-highest rate in the league. With Todd Bowles likely on his way out after the season, Darnold will likely be working with a new offensive coordinator in 2019, and that OC will need to make his life easier than Bates has. Darnold has completed only 55.9 percent of his passes this season, but NFL Next Gen Stats use player-tracking data to suggest that the expected completion percentage on Darnold's throws is only 60.9 percent. That's the third-lowest expected rate in the league for passers with 250 attempts or more, ahead of only Josh Rosen and Russell Wilson.

The problem, of course, is that the Jets will be in the market alongside several other teams for a limited pool of talent. As many as 11 teams have a realistic shot of changing their coach this offseason, and most of them are going to want to look for the next Sean McVay. The Jets will likely be among that group. They need to add weapons for Darnold and will have cap space to burn, but the best receivers in this year's free-agent class either have concerns about age (Golden Tate, Randall Cobb and Chris Hogan), injuries (John Brown and Donte Moncrief) or inconsistency (Devin Funchess and Tyrell Williams). Is New York really going to improve by paying one of those wideouts as much as $14 million per season? It seems like an absurd price, but the Jets are already without a second-round pick as part of the Darnold trade and might be even worse off if they don't surround their young quarterback with more talent.

Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

Pick: No. 32 | Starts: 4 | Total QBR: 38.9

Of these five quarterbacks, Jackson is the only one whose short-term growth is important after the Ravens named him as their permanent starting quarterback on Wednesday. The other four passers on this list can confidently make a Topgolf reservation for January, but Jackson is the starting quarterback on a team that has a 47.3 percent chance of making the postseason, according to ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI). The 21-year-old still has plenty of time to develop, of course, but the Ravens need him to be competent now.

What they're getting, at least so far, has been difficult to summate. Jackson has been an effective runner in an offense that has gone run-intensive; as I mentioned on Monday, the Ravens have run the ball a league-high 63.9 percent of the time in Jackson's four starts. He is the league's ninth-leading rusher over the past month, but it has come against just about the worst slate of opposing defenses a schedule could offer. Jackson gets the brutally bad Buccaneers defense this week before finishing up with tougher opposition in the Chargers and Browns.

As James Light pointed out on Twitter, John Harbaugh & Co. have essentially overhauled the offense overnight by cribbing huge chunks of what Jim Harbaugh ran during his time in San Francisco. Ravens associate head coach Greg Roman was the offensive coordinator for the 49ers at that time and serves as the common link between the two teams.

Roman's running game has consistently been creative while remaining bruising. In San Francisco, the 49ers operated out of the pistol to accommodate the skills of Colin Kaepernick, who made his name as a pistol quarterback at the University of Nevada. (In a week in which Washington spent practice time implementing the pistol for Josh Johnson, the success the Ravens have had in reimagining their offense overnight for Jackson is a reminder of how the "we can't change our scheme in midseason" argument was nonsense.) In Buffalo, Roman coaxed a pair of successful seasons out of former Ravens backup Tyrod Taylor, who also spent time in the pistol.

Jackson is not yet the passer that Kaepernick and Taylor were early in their careers. Through four starts, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner has posted a QBR of 46.0 on passing plays. Across their first four starts, Kaepernick was at 78.6, while Taylor was at 65.9. Jackson has missed too many throws, including several big-play opportunities. When he was still taking odd snaps behind Flacco, Jackson missed Willie Snead on what could have been a 90-yard touchdown on a wheel route. As a starter in Week 13, Jackson whiffed on a throw to a wide-open John Brown that should have pushed the Ravens into the red zone:

While it's a buzzword, the Ravens really aren't running many (if any) run-pass options with Jackson. His best throws have come after lengthy scrambles, like this seven-second wait before firing a pass off to convert first-and-20 against the Chiefs, or off play-action, like this perfect pass to Mark Andrews for 74 yards.

Overall, though, Jackson hasn't made opposing teams pay for peeking into the backfield. Jackson is just 4-of-14 for 140 yards on passes 16 or more yards downfield, which isn't really good enough considering the lackluster defenses he has been facing. His receivers aren't exactly speed demons, but Brown was having more success with Flacco -- who was arguably the worst deep passer in the league -- before Jackson took over. Over the next two weeks, he gets to face the defenses that rank 23rd (the Bucs) and 32nd (the Chargers) in DVOA against deep passes. Jackson had plenty of success throwing downfield at Louisville, so chances are he's going to make some plays in the weeks to come.

Jackson also hasn't been able to stress teams enough in the red zone, given how successful the Ravens have been running outside the 20. While he scored on a pretty speed option against the Falcons, Jackson's Ravens have scored eight touchdowns in 14 tries over the past four weeks, which is 20th in the league. The 32nd overall pick has posted a Total QBR of just 25.9 inside the opposing 20, which is 31st among 33 passers with 30 red zone plays or more.


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More than anything else, though, Jackson needs to protect the football. He has thrown three interceptions and fumbled six times in his first four starts, including three fumbles against the Falcons in Week 13. One of those fumbles, when Jackson was stripped while trying to scramble out of pressure, was returned by Vic Beasley Jr. for a touchdown. Last week, a Jackson fumble when he came under unblocked pressure from Justin Houston late in the fourth quarter ended what could have been a game-winning drive and set up the Chiefs for a game winner of their own, only for Harrison Butker to miss a field goal and force overtime.

Both Kaepernick and Taylor were far better at protecting the football, a necessary element for this style of play. They were also both able to stay relatively healthy, an issue that is already eluding Jackson. The Ravens have given Jackson a massive workload; the 6-foot-2, 212-pound Jackson carried the ball 26 times in his first start, a modern record for NFL quarterbacks. He has run the ball 67 times in his first four starts, which is a full season of carries for most QBs.

Both Kaepernick and Taylor averaged between five and six carries per game during their time under Roman. Jackson is averaging nearly 17 carries per start, and he's already feeling the impact. He has missed time in each of the past two games, giving way to Robert Griffin for a concussion check (after he was kicked in the head by a teammate while scrambling) in Week 13 and for the final two snaps in overtime against the Chiefs after suffering an ankle injury. Unlike Allen, Jackson has been judicious and smart in avoiding unnecessary hits, but he is on pace to average 268 carries over a full season. No quarterback in modern league history has topped 141 carries in a campaign. This amount of emphasis on Jackson running the football is unprecedented and unsustainable.

What's next: Clean up the takeaways. It's difficult to operate a ball-control offense if you don't hold on to the football.

Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

Pick: No. 1 | Starts: 10 | Total QBR: 47.2

There have been two Mayfields; the guy we saw under Hue Jackson and Todd Haley has looked different from the passer who has played his past five games under new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens. Overnight, Mayfield has transformed from struggling rookie quarterback to Pro Bowler:

Under Haley, Mayfield ranked 29th in passer rating and 30th in Total QBR. Under Kitchens, meanwhile, Mayfield ranks third in passer rating and sixth in QBR. What has changed?

1. The Browns benched Desmond Harrison for Greg Robinson. General manager John Dorsey didn't do a good job of addressing the left tackle position after future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas retired. Dorsey used a second-round pick on Austin Corbett, who played both guard and left tackle at Nevada. Corbett has barely played this season and is now sidelined with a foot injury. Corbett took over at Nevada for Joel Bitonio, who was the Browns' left guard next to Thomas. Jackson tried Bitonio at tackle in August, but the move didn't stick when the coaching staff fell in love with rookie free agent Harrison, who went undrafted for off-field concerns. At the end of August, the Browns traded swing tackle Shon Coleman to the 49ers and installed Harrison as their Week 1 left tackle.

Things didn't go great. In eight starts, Harrison allowed four sacks and committed eight penalties, including one that resulted in a safety, per Stats LLC. The Browns pushed former Rams bust Robinson into the lineup at left tackle when Harrison went down with an injury at the time of the coaching change, and while Robinson hasn't played at a Thomas-esque level, he has been an upgrade. Stats LLC suggests Robinson hasn't allowed a sack in five starts, although he has committed four penalties and still has his struggles with balance and interior rushers. Robinson might not be a long-term solution, but he's an upgrade at a position of weakness.

2. Mayfield is getting pressured way less frequently. Owing in part to the tackle change and in part to Mayfield growing more comfortable in the pocket, the Browns have given Mayfield far more time to work with since Kitchens took over. Before the coaching change, Mayfield was pressured on 30.7 percent of his dropbacks, which was the 13th-highest rate among qualifying passers. Since Week 9, though, Mayfield's pressure rate is down to 20.3 percent, which is 31st among 33 passers. Only Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger are bothered less frequently.

Mayfield has been sacked just once in his past four games. On those rare occasions in which he has been pressured, he has posted an 88.9 Total QBR, up from 16.3 under Haley and Jackson. He has been able to hit big plays under duress, like this 28-yard laser to Rashard Higgins for a touchdown against the Falcons, and after escaping pressure, as he did on a picture-perfect 51-yard strike to Jarvis Landry against the Panthers last week. The Landry pass had just a 15 percent chance of being completed per the NFL's Next Gen Stats, making it the eighth-least likely touchdown of the season.

3. The Browns have done more with play-action. Under the Jackson regime, Cleveland didn't do enough with play-action. Just 17.5 percent of Mayfield's pass attempts came with a play fake, and those plays produced a QBR of just 46.8. Over the past five games, though, Jackson's play-action rate has spiked to 28.1 percent, and his QBR on those throws is all the way up to 85.4.

Cleveland's biggest play last week came on its first snap from scrimmage, when rookie corner Donte Jackson spent a little too much time looking into the backfield on play-action. It gave former Ravens first-rounder Breshad Perriman enough time to accelerate past the rookie corner, and with James Bradberry essentially playing in a safety's position (by virtue of being in coverage on David Njoku) and taken away from the throw by a go route crossing the hash marks, Perriman was freed up for a 66-yard gain.

4. Mayfield has dominated in the red zone. Over the past five games, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner has gone 11-of-13 in the red zone for 120 yards with nine touchdown passes. His passer rating of 144.7 on those throws is the best in football by more than 11 points. Mayfield was pretty good in the red zone under Haley, throwing for six touchdowns in 26 passes and posting a passer rating of 97.3, but he has been absolutely on fire since the coaching change.

In the past five games, the Browns have made 14 trips to the red zone and scored 14 touchdowns. I don't need to tell you that's the best rate in football. Under Haley, they had converted 58.2 percent of their red zone trips into touchdowns, which was 18th in the league. Nick Chubb's ability to catch the football has made the rookie a much more dangerous red zone weapon than traded back Carlos Hyde, who was essentially on the field to run the ball. The Georgia product already has one of the catches of the season on a wheel route in the red zone for a score against the Bengals.

No, the Browns probably aren't going to convert 100 percent of their red zone trips into touchdowns from here on out. Mayfield is going to get sacked more frequently than once per month. That stuff isn't sustainable, but even if the Browns are just pretty good in the red zone, that would be an enormous improvement on an offense that averaged just four points per red zone trip last season, the second-worst rate in the league. Mayfield already has proved that Cleveland's ceiling is way better than pretty good, and that in itself means a lot.

To put this in context, Mayfield has just completed what might be the best five-game stretch of play for any Browns quarterback since 1960. Mayfield's 114.5 passer rating since Kitchens took over has been the best over a stretch of five consecutive games with 100 pass attempts or more for a Cleveland quarterback since Milt Plum posted a 115.6 mark over a five-game stretch 58 years ago.

If you prefer adjusted yards per attempt, Mayfield has just finished the seventh-best five-game stretch in a season for a quarterback in Browns history and the best since Brian Sipe in 1978, some 40 years ago. That list includes Sipe, two seasons from Plum, Frank Ryan and the legendary Otto Graham. Nobody is a sure thing as a rookie, but Mayfield is playing better than any Browns quarterback in generations.

What's next: Keep it up. Mayfield doesn't have to improve. If he continues at or near this level, he'll be a franchise quarterback.

Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals

Pick: No. 10 | Starts: 10 | Total QBR: 30.5

If anyone deserves a mulligan out of this group, it's Rosen. The 21-year-old UCLA product is already on his second offensive coordinator after Mike McCoy was fired and replaced by Byron Leftwich. Perhaps more importantly, Arizona has somehow lost each of its five starting offensive linemen, which is close to unprecedented for an NFL offensive line. The guys replacing the deposed starters aren't exactly experienced, either:

Joe Barksdale inflates the totals, but he was just signed after being released by the Chargers last week and went straight into the starting lineup five days later, which is telling. All of the players along that projected starting line have had injury issues, so it's not necessarily surprising that they would struggle to stay healthy, but it's difficult to evaluate any quarterback behind a truly patchwork offensive line.

It's easy for young quarterbacks to develop bad habits behind that sort of line. Some passers, even if they didn't have issues in college, begin to tuck and scramble at the first sign of pressure. They stop looking downfield and start attuning their eyes toward the footsteps they sense are coming before the defense even arrives. It's fair to wonder whether a quarterback like David Carr might have had an entirely different career if he had developed behind a better offensive line.

The good news, at least for now, is that Rosen isn't exhibiting those issues yet. The most promising part of Rosen's development remains his footwork, which is remarkably consistent. He just looks comfortable in the pocket, even as pressure whizzes by him. Rosen isn't going to be much of a scrambler, but he already has superb instincts for when and where to step up in the pocket and create a throwing lane. If anything, he might be too focused downfield and take more coverage sacks than the Cardinals would want.

It's fair to wonder whether the Cardinals could do more to create easy throws for Rosen. He hasn't seen any sort of jump under Leftwich's tenure. David Johnson's usage rate in the passing game hasn't changed much; after averaging 19.1 routes and 4.3 targets per game before McCoy's firing, Johnson is averaging 18.3 routes and 5.2 targets per game under Leftwich. Most of the target increase came in Sunday's loss to the Lions, when Johnson caught eight passes on 10 targets for a grand total of 12 yards.

Whether it's the receivers or the scheme (and it's likely a bit of both), Rosen just doesn't have easy passes. A mere 34.4 percent of his throws are going to open receivers, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, the worst rate in the league for quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts. As an example, there were three third-and-long plays against the Lions in which the Cardinals just ran curl routes to the sticks and had Rosen choose an option. Darius Slay knocked out the first throw to J.J. Nelson, then returned the second for a pick-six when rookie Trent Sherfield didn't come back to the ball. On the third, Sherfield came back to the ball but wasn't able to make it back to the sticks to convert, with the Cardinals subsequently punting on fourth-and-1.

There are situations in which an offense might want to run all curl routes and let its quarterback choose which receiver he wants to hit, but this isn't it. Rosen doesn't have the velocity to whip those throws in, and the Cardinals don't have the receivers to scare opposing defensive backs into respecting the threat of getting beat downfield if they sit at the sticks. On the interception, Rosen also chose to throw the curl to his most inexperienced receiver when Sherfield was matched up one-on-one with the best cornerback in Detroit's backfield, which is certainly curious.

Rosen's accuracy also hasn't been consistent. He's capable of anticipating a receiver coming open and throwing before the break, as he does with Nelson on this would-be touchdown, but Rosen's throw travels too far upfield and is uncatchable. He has actually been significantly better in the red zone, as Rosen ranks last in QBR outside of the red zone and 19th inside the opposition's 20-yard line. His anticipation plays up inside the 20, as it did on his fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk in the comeback victory over the 49ers.

What's next: More completions. Rosen can't spend so much time in third-and-long, where his offensive line isn't able to hold up. The Cardinals have to throw more on early downs and give Rosen easier completions. If the current staff isn't creative enough to create safe throws for its young quarterback, he'll need a new offensive coordinator. If Fitzgerald retires this offseason, the Cardinals would suddenly have the worst set of receivers in the league. Some help there might make everyone's lives easier.