Peyton Manning (Getty Images)
The AFC South, which was one of the strongest division in NFL history a year ago, collectively won just one game Sunday (an inter-division matchup between Jacksonville and Tennessee), and there are question marks all over the division at the quarterback position.
Question marks at quarterback in a division that boasts the great Peyton Manning? Yes, question marks at quarterback.
There’s no reason to believe that Peyton Manning is going to magically turn into Rex Grossman, but Manning didn’t look the same in a Sunday evening loss to the Chicago Bears, a team that finished 28th in the league in defense a year ago. Manning played in his first game since knee surgery and was off the mark on several throws. He finished 30 of 49 for 257 yards, which is more than respectable, but at 32 years old, it’s not outlandish to think that his best days may be behind him.
“I thought he played OK,” Colts head coach Tony Dungy said following the game. “We didn’t hit some that we normally hit. All in all we didn’t play well enough to win.”
Jacksonville just paid their signal caller, former backup David Garrard, $21 million guaranteed to be their franchise quarterback. The Jaguars saw plenty in Garrard following a season in which he was third in the NFL in quarterback rating (102.1), had a 6:1 touchdown to interception ratio in his only year as a full-time starter. The accurate signal caller who made very few mistakes a year ago looked like anything but that player on opening day. Garrard looked rattled, held on to the football for too long, and accounted for three turnovers and led his team to just ten points in the Jaguars season opening loss to Tennessee. Prior to last season, Garrard had nearly as many interceptions as touchdown passes and the Jaguars may have been premature in giving him a franchise quarterback type of deal after just one solid season.
“We’d like him (Garrard) not to take the abuse first, and second we need to avoid those negative plays,” Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio told reporters when evaluating his quarterback’s performance. “We’d much rather have that ball get thrown away and us go to second and ten or third and whatever rather than take the negative play.”
In Houston, there are question marks surrounding their quarterback as Matt Schaub, who signed a six-year, $48 million deal prior to last season hasn’t yet played up to his contract. Schaub missed five games a year ago and had a 1:1 touchdown to interception ratio. He followed that up with three turnovers in the season-opening blowout loss to Pittsburgh. Hardly what you’d want out of a quarterback who receives top-ten money.
Texans head coach Gary Kubiak described the play of his quarterback.
“That’s part of the game. That’s part of the NFL. You’re never going to go through here unscathed. Never will everything be easy or perfect. That’s part of being a quarterback in the National Football League. He battled through yesterday. He had a couple of decision that he made that hurt our team. He knows that he’s got to protect the ball there. He has to throw it away. He took some shots, kept battling. We’ve got to protect him better. What tells me he can come back—he’s a quarterback in the NFL. You better be able to come back. You’re going to go through those things.”
Finally, the biggest quarterback question mark may be in the place of the only victory in the division, Tennessee. Vince Young has been wildly inaccurate throughout his career, and is certainly more of a running threat than that of a passer. Following a season in which he threw just nine touchdown passes and 17 interceptions, Young missed several wide open receivers against Jacksonville, and threw two terrible interceptions and finished with a quarterback rating of 45.8. What was more disturbing is the fact that Young didn’t want to re-enter the game after throwing his second pick, showing a lack of leadership and competitiveness. Young left the game shortly thereafter with a knee injury, and backup Kerry Collins promptly led the team down the field for a game-clinching touchdown.
Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher seemed visibly aggravated at his quarterback following the incident.
"If I appeared upset, it's because I wanted to get my quarterback on the field so we could go," Fisher told reporters Monday.
In a division where the last-place team finished with a .500 record, things have seemingly changed a year later, and who knows what will transpire under center.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering multiple teams in the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie is a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports and Sirius NFL Radio, and has been featured on the NFL Network. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.