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Lorenzo’s Locks: Three best bets you should consider for NFL Week 7
SportsPulse: Lorenzo is looking to bounce back after his first sub .500 week of the season. Here are his best bets for Week 7 in the NFL.
By Week 7, several NFL teams already have seen enough to make significant changes.
Two coaches — Bill O’Brien of the Houston Texans and Dan Quinn of the Atlanta Falcons — have already been dismissed in recent weeks, while the Chicago Bears’ Mitchell Trubisky became the first starting quarterback to be benched for good this season. As other coaches look to avoid becoming the next figure sent packing, more changes behind center could be coming for several struggling offenses.
With that in mind, we asked NFL reporters and columnists from USA TODAY Sports and the USA TODAY Network: Which quarterback most needs to turn things around this season?
NFL WEEK 7 PICKS: Do Steelers or Titans fall from ranks of unbeaten?
Gardner Minshew. What happened to the mania? That was so 2019. Since a season-opening upset win against the Colts, the Jaguars have lost five in a row and Minshew has been a turnover machine. He’s coughed the ball up eight times during the losing streak (four fumbles, four interceptions) and may have had his worst outing of the season during last Sunday’s loss against the Lions. And this is the guy they banked on while trading away Nick Foles?
Minshew needs to turn it around quickly to prove that he’s worthy of being the franchise quarterback to build around. Or even just the quarterback for next week, as coach Doug Marrone this week wouldn’t rule out benching Minshew, which would give Mike Glennon a shot. If the losses keep piling up, the Jags will find themselves positioned to draft another franchise quarterback hopeful. Trevor Lawrence? They would be too lucky for that dream of an answer. Remember, the Jets are even worse. Then again, maybe Sam Darnold can will the Jets to a few wins and the Jags can Tank for Trevor. Sure, there are others lining up for this dishonor (hello, Carson Wentz and Daniel Jones) but unlike others, Minshew doesn’t have the benefit of heavy investment — like a mega contract or a first-round entry into the league — to buy him time.
There’s another layer of challenge with the fact that in his second season, Minshew is learning another new system (Jay Gruden’s), so there’s that layer of challenge. Entering Week 7, Minshew leads the NFL in completions (162), but that – like a few other numbers – is so misleading. He’s 13th in completion percentage (67.5%), 22nd in average yards-per-attempt (7.01), 19th in passer rating (94.1). And those 11 TD passes? Since Week 2, five of the scoring strikes have come in garbage time as games have gotten out of hand because Minshew and his unit have been notoriously slow starters. No, the Jags’ woes are hardly all on Minshew, the so-called “Jock Strap King.” But with Marrone on the hot seat, switching quarterbacks is a desperation move waiting to happen. If Marrone doesn’t survive, the next coach will have a QB decision, too, leaving Minshew needing to demonstrate – now, then later – that he’s possessing more mania in his back pocket.
Could Sam Darnold be in a more precarious position? The 23-year-old starter for the Jets, now in his third season, continues to perpetuate the narrative of his young career: Inconsistency, injuries, occasionally dazzling play … all adding up to disappointing results for this still-beached organization. In Darnold’s defense, it’s so difficult to assess a player whose supporting cast has never been better than marginal. But franchise quarterbacks are supposed to raise all boats, and he just hasn’t provided enough glimpses he’s that guy. And with the Jets currently in the pole position to draft Clemson star Trevor Lawrence atop the 2021 draft, the future is murkier than ever for Darnold. Will the team pick up his fifth-year option next spring? If Lawrence is drafted, will the Jets move him to a better situation? Or will he be relegated to the fringes of the league the way 2018 draftmate and fellow first-rounder (and former Pac-12 star) Josh Rosen has been? And even if the Jets win a few games and Darnold remains the centerpiece of their future, what can he hope to glean from an already lost season that’s almost certain to end with a search for another head coach who will bring a new system? Darnold can’t control much right now, but he needs to play better if he’s going to remain a QB1 in 2021 and beyond – wherever that might be.
The Vikings extended Kirk Cousins’ contract in March for two years, $66 million after his 2019 performance featured a 26:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio and he led a 10-6 Minnesota team to a wild-card playoff win. Cousins has already thrown more interceptions than he did all of last season, his 10 picks leading the league entering Week 7. Losing top receiver Stefon Diggs to Buffalo hasn’t helped, but Cousins needs to protect the ball better. Even he considers the straits dire. “When you turn the ball over, it really hurts your chances to win,” he told reporters. “The reality is, if the pace I’m on in terms of interceptions, if that were to continue, I won’t finish the season.”
My gut reaction was Kirk Cousins because of his poor start to the season. He has thrown 11 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions, and a year after leading the Vikings to the second round of the playoffs, Cousins and Minnesota own a 1-5 record. But there’s actually more at play here. Cousins and the Vikings have taken a step backwards after the decision to trade away Stefon Diggs. Across the board, this offense really is very average. Adam Thielen isn’t enough. The offensive line isn’t playing well. In his last game, the first interception definitely was Cousins’ fault, but his target ran the wrong route on the next, and his third came after his pass was deflected at the line. Cousins has been pressing trying to compensate for deficiencies around him, and it’s not working.
But my other guy is Baker Mayfield because, unlike Cousins, he actually does have a lot to work with. He’s got great receivers, he has talented running backs and tight ends, and his offensive line is playing well. Yet his play has been uneven in his third season, and he has played his worst in the biggest moments (blowout losses to Baltimore and Pittsburgh). Three coaching changes have hurt Mayfield, but he also deserves a good deal of blame for his struggles. We’re seeing him make the same mistakes this year that he has in his first two seasons. He’s not being smart with the ball. He’s not displaying an ability to read defenses. He’s pulling the trigger, expecting one thing, and getting it wrong. The Browns’ roster is built with lots of young talent, but their quarterback’s struggles are troubling and could wind up preventing this squad from reaching its potential. Maybe the Browns wouldn’t have been able to beat the Ravens and Steelers no matter what. But Mayfield certainly didn’t give Cleveland their best shot at winning with his poor play in each divisional matchup. So, by a nose, I’m saying Mayfield is the guy that most desperately needs to turn things around. It looks like a lost cause in Minnesota. But Mayfield’s team is 4-2, they still have a chance – if he plays better.
I’m going to go with Sam Darnold. While Wentz and Jones certainly have to show improvement, and you could add in Browns QB Baker Mayfield, the situation with the Jets is far more precarious. Eagles coach Doug Pederson and Giants coach Joe Judge should have at least a few seasons’ worth of job security. Same goes for Kevin Stefanski in Cleveland. Jets coach Adam Gase, however, will almost certainly be replaced. The Jets are the lone team yet to have win a game, and they’re the odds-on favorite to end up with the No. 1 overall selection in the draft. That could put them in contention for Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, if he declares. That, coupled with the notion that the Jets might be big sellers in the trade market as they look to do a complete rebuild, all spells trouble for Darnold, the 2018 No. 3 overall pick who still has issues with footwork and arm mechanics because of a long windup. And when confronted with pressure, those problems appear to get even worse. It’s not all on Darnold, as the Jets offensive line struggles to hold pass blocks and the roster is devoid of star talent at the skill positions, so maybe a fresh start somewhere else would work out for everyone.
Baker Mayfield: The shine seems to be coming off and the excuses wearing thin the former No. 1 overall pick. Mayfield plays behind an elite offensive line and with an arsenal of playmakers to rival just about any team in the NFL, yet he hasn’t taken the leap many expected. If the 4-2 Browns are going to make a run at the playoffs in the cutthroat AFC North, they need Mayfield to rise to the occasion the next couple months.