In speaking on ESPN's 'Mike & Mike in the Morning' today, Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden was discussing this week's Thursday night game between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens. He postulated that Browns rookie QB Brandon Weeden would struggle, if for no reason other than the Thursday game being built for established QBs, with years of experience in their system.
After digging into the numbers, Gruden was right. It's not the Thursday game per se, but specifically the advent of the season-long Thursday game which favors teams whose preparations are established, and whose quarterbacks have full command over every facet of their offense. Typically the NFL would wait roughly half a season before starting their Thursday night games, but having these games start week two of the regular season gives teams just three days to prepare, and are often caught unawares.
Obviously we have an incredibly small sample size to work with here, but take a look at the four QBs who have started Thursday Night Football games this year, and their relative statistics:
- Jay Cutler: 11/27, 40.7% (season low), 126 yards (season low), 1 TD, 4 INT (season high), 28.2 QB rating (season low)
- Aaron Rodgers: 22/32, 68.8%, 219 yards (season low), 1 TD, 1 INT, 85.3 QB rating
- Cam Newton: 16/30, 53.3% (season low), 242 yards (season low), 0 TD (season low), 3 INT (season high), 40.6 QB rating (season low)
- Eli Manning: 27/35, 77.1%, 288 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 110.2 QB rating
With the exception of Eli Manning, none of the other three QBs had games up to their standards. Cutler is scatter shot at the best of times, but looked lost on Thursday, Aaron Rodgers remained accurate, but was hardly a difference maker, and Cam... well... we know what happened.
Time will tell whether Gruden's theory on early Thursday Night Football holds true, but it carries some weight already. It doesn't appear to be a huge coincidence that the two quarterbacks who fared the best are those who have spent the most time in their respective systems, dealt with adversity, and overcome pressure. In turn, we'll see if Cam Newton turns it all around, away from the pressure, and with more time to prepare.