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Matt Schaub needs to step up for Houston to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender
While the term "hot seat" is typically associated with head coaches and their job security, they are not the only ones who feel the heat during an NFL season. Along those lines, the official "start" to the 2013 season is less than a month away, as training camps will open and the battle for roster spots begins anew among the players.
It’s no secret that quarterback is the NFL’s glamor position. The majority of the league’s highest-paid players are quarterbacks and it’s the job that gets the most attention, notoriety and accolades. However, the good comes with the bad, which is why quarterbacks also are the most criticized, scrutinized and, when things go bad, vilified.
No position in the NFL is on the “hot seat” throughout the season more than quarterbacks. While job security may not be an issue, many signal-callers still feel the heat from fans and pundits alike depending on their team’s expectations. Here are the 12 quarterbacks we feel are under the most pressure this fall.
1. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans
Schaub, a two-time Pro Bowler with three 4,000-yard seasons to his credit, is firmly entrenched as the Texans’ starter. So why is he tops on our list? The two-time defending AFC South champions are considered one of the league’s top teams and Super Bowl contenders in 2013. Houston, however, has yet to advance past the AFC Divisional round of the playoffs and if it wants to reverse that trend this season, the passing game must step up.
Schaub’s career-high in touchdown passes is 29 and he tossed just 22 last season. He also has consistently come up short in the games that matter most. In the Texans’ five losses last season, including the playoff defeat in New England, Schaub threw a combined two touchdown passes and six interceptions. Houston has one of the league’s best running games led by Arian Foster, an All-Pro wide receiver in Andre Johnson, a Pro Bowl tight end in Owen Daniels and drafted Clemson wideout DeAndre Hopkins in the first round in April. Schaub has a solid offensive line protecting him and plenty of weapons at his disposal. It’s now on him to do his part and lead his team on a deep playoff run, before the Texans’ championship window closes.
2. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
Romo’s inclusion high on this list shouldn’t come as a shock. For starters, there are fewer NFL jobs that have a higher profile than the starting quarterback of “America’s Team.” Then there’s the matter of the six-year, $108 million contract extension Romo signed in March, which if anything, only adds to the pressure.
The Cowboys have missed the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. Romo, who missed 10 games because of injury in 2010, is 17-21 as the starter over this span with a 70:36 touchdown-to-interception ratio, including a league-high 19 picks last season. Everyone is feeling the heat in Big D, with head coach Jason Garrett at the top of the list. Romo’s not too far behind him, however, as the Cowboys’ faithful are fully expecting their quarterback to play like the big star on his helmet.
3. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
Cutler is entering the final year of his contract and there’s a new coaching staff in charge in the Windy City. The gunslinger doesn’t have to be worry about losing his job, provided he stays healthy. That said, this is a critical season for the 30-year-old, as new Bears’ head coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery have to decide whether he’s the long-term answer or not.
Cutler has won (34-22 during regular season) plenty of games for the Bears, but the 82:63 touchdown-to-interception ratio and less than 60 percent completion rate leave a lot to be desired. The team focused on addressing the offensive line (Cutler has been sacked 148 times in four seasons in Chicago) in free agency and through the draft, and also added a new weapon in tight end Martellus Bennett. There should be no more excuses as Cutler enters what’s basically an audition season for him.
4. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
In 2008, Rivers led the NFL in passer rating (105.5) and touchdown passes (34). Since then his passer rating has dropped each year, down to 88.6 last year, and he has turned the ball over 49 times over the last two seasons combined. As a result, the Chargers have missed the playoffs in each of the last three seasons and Mike McCoy is now in charge following the firing of Norv Turner.
Rivers is only 31 and he has a new offensive coordinator in former Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt. The hope is that Whisenhunt can do for Rivers what he did for Ben Roethlisberger when he was taken by the Steelers in the first round of the 2004 draft. Whisenhunt was the Steelers’ offensive coordinator at the time, and the duo helped bring another Super Bowl ring to Pittsburgh in Roethlisberger’s second season. Whether the Rivers-Whisenhunt union results in a Lombardi Trophy for San Diego remains to be seen, but Rivers needs to find his old form or the team will have no choice but to start looking for its next franchise quarterback.
5. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets
What, you were expecting Tim Tebow? Before the Jets jettisoned Tebow, the team added to the ever-present quarterback controversy by drafting Geno Smith in the second round. It’s no secret that Sanchez’ days as the Jets’ starter are numbered. The only question that really remains is when and will Sanchez be able to show enough prior to that point to convince another team to give him a second chance?
6. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans
Locker did miss five games last season because of a shoulder injury, but it’s what he did in his 11 (2,176-10-11, 56.4 completion percentage) starts that have him on this list. This will be just his second season as the Titans’ starter, but it’s clear that Locker needs to show he can get the job done this fall. For one, head coach Mike Munchak is starting to feel his own seat get a little warm, and the team signed former Buffalo starter Ryan Fitzpatrick in the offseason to backup Locker, at least for now. The early success of fellow first-round picks Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, not to mention Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, only add to the pressure Locker is under this fall.
7. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Freeman bounced back from a disappointing 2011 campaign (16 TD, 22 INT) to throw for a career-high 4,065 yards and 27 touchdown passes. The 25-year-old is entering the final year of his rookie contract, so why is he feeling the heat? For starters, he completed less than 55 percent of his passes last season and has yet to put two productive seasons together. He’s also just 24-32 as a starter in Tampa and the Buccaneers drafted NC State’s Mike Glennon in third round of this year’s draft. Similar to Cutler, Freeman needs to show the league he can be a franchise quarterback, especially if Tampa Bay decides to not re-sign him after this season.
8. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars
It’s an understatement to say things haven’t worked out so far for the 10th overall pick of the 2011 draft. Gabbert has won five games in two seasons, has completed less than 54 percent of his passes, and has fewer touchdown passes (21) than games played (25). While the lack of success in Jacksonville is not solely Gabbert’s fault, he’s likely the first one on the chopping block with a new coaching staff taking over and veteran Chad Henne on the roster. It’s pretty much now or never for Gabbert, and the reality is he may not even get the chance to start in Week 1.
9. Michael Vick, Philadelphia Eagles
Vick, who just turned 33, is at a career crossroads. While he is expected to get the first shot of running Chip Kelly’s highly anticipated offense with the Eagles, his one-year contract doesn’t offer much job security. Vick hasn’t played a full season since 2006 and he has a career completion rate of 56 percent. It’s pretty clear that Vick isn’t the long-term answer, so there’s no reason to think Kelly won’t turn to Nick Foles (or Matt Barkley for that matter), at the first sign of trouble, whether it’s injury-related or not.
10. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
To be fair, Weeden has just one season under his belt and it’s not like the Browns’ offense is flush with Pro Bowl-caliber pass-catchers. That said, Rob Chudzinski is now in charge with Norv Turner is calling the plays, and they need to figure out fairly quickly if Weeden is their guy or not. Having Trent Richardson in your backfield certainly helps, but unless Weeden can improve on his 57.4 completion percentage and 14:17 touchdown-to-interception ratio, not to mention in the win column, his tenure in Cleveland may be short-lived.
11. Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
Ponder helped lead the Vikings to a 10-6 mark and wild card spot in the playoffs last season. So what’s not to like? How about less than 3,000 yards passing and only 18 touchdowns? Granted, when you have Adrian Peterson you probably don’t need your quarterback to do much, but Ponder has to show he can do more through the air than his measly 183.4 yards per game. The Vikings traded Percy Harvin to Seattle, but signed Greg Jennings and drafted Cordarrelle Patterson to give Ponder more weapons. As long as he manages the game and doesn’t throw too many interceptions, Ponder should be fine, but the occasional 300-yard, three-TD game certainly wouldn’t hurt his long-term standing either.
12. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Smith gets a fresh start in Kansas City with Andy Reid. He’s shown what he can do when he gets the majority of the snaps, going 19-5-1 in his last two seasons in San Francisco. He also has shown, however, that he has a tendency to get hurt, which resulted in him losing the 49ers’ starting gig. Smith won’t turn 30 until next year and he has two years left on his contract. He should get plenty of chances to prove to Reid that he’s the long-term answer for the Chiefs, but Smith also needs to realize that his leash isn’t as long now as it was when he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2005.