The NFL has become a league of young quarterbacks, and that bodes well for the league's future. The Jaguars, of course, have one of those young passers, Byron Leftwich. So, how does he compare to what the other "kids" are doing?
Ten teams either began the season with a starting quarterback who has been in the league three or fewer years, or have since turned the reins of their team over to such a quarterback. Those teams and their quarterbacks are: Arizona and Josh McCown, Baltimore and Kyle Boller, Chicago and Rex Grossman, Cincinnati and Carson Palmer, Detroit and Joey Harrington, Houston and David Carr, Jacksonville and Leftwich, Pittsburgh and Ben Roethlisberger, San Francisco and Ken Dorsey, and Tampa Bay and Chris Simms.
McCown, Grossman, who was lost for the season to a knee injury in week three, and Dorsey are the NFC's three-lowest rated passers. Simms, in his second year, will make his first start this week.
Harrington, in his third year, appears to be making his turn to the good. He is the sixth-rated NFC passer at 91.1, with six touchdown passes against only two interceptions.
The AFC has the more impressive crop of young quarterbacks, especially if you include Tom Brady and Chad Pennington, each of whom is in just his fourth pro season. Carr, in his third year, has a 91.8 passer rating, fifth-best in the AFC. Roethlisberger, a rookie who has made just two starts, is at 86.2
Then there's the trio of Palmer, Leftwich and Boller, all of whom were first-round picks in the 2003 draft. Leftwich's 83.5 passer rating ranks near the middle of the AFC pack. Boller is a couple of notches lower at 74.8, while Palmer, in his first season as a starter, is next to last in the AFC at 58.8.
CBS broadcaster Ian Eagle will be in the booth for this Sunday's game between the Jaguars and Chargers. Eagle has seen Leftwich on multiple occasions and offers this evaluation:
"Jacksonville entered the season confident they were ready to make significant enough improvement to be a playoff team. Now it's apparent they know Leftwich can play and succeed, but they are still reluctant to put the game in his hands. The QB's role for the Jaguars has been scaled back; they've been asking him to manage the game, don't make mistakes and make a play or two down the stretch if necessary. So far, so good; his performances have been strong enough for the Jags to get off to a 3-1 start," Eagle said.
"Ultimately, it's not about the statistics, but rather the best way a football team has a chance to succeed. Piling up big numbers is glamorous, but it's not the measure of a great QB. In four games this season, Leftwich is finding ways to win. The time for him to be turned loose will come at a later date," Eagle added.
At this point in time, only one of the 10 quarterbacks surveyed qualifies as having been turned loose: Palmer, who has attempted 154 passes. That's 41 more pass attempts than Leftwich has been allowed, and Leftwich is number two in pass attempts among our 10 young quarterbacks.
What has been Palmer's problem? Interceptions, seven to be exact. It's what you expect of a young quarterback. It's the reason you shouldn't turn him loose.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars have to do to beat the San Diego Chargers.
1. Kidnap LaDainian Tomlinson—I can't bear to say "Stop the run" again. But is it not the truth?
2. Expand Leftwich's role—Yes, but do it very carefully. The Chargers are 29th in the league against the pass; fifth against the run. That means you gotta move the ball through the air, but carefully, please.
3. Help the ends—The Jaguars are getting killed on the perimeter. The outside linebackers need to step up and accept a greater responsibility.
4. Rush up the middle—Marcus Stroud and John Henderson need to get in the face of Drew Brees, a shorter quarterback.
5. Do something on special teams—They need to provide a spark.
6. Play with energy—Frankly, it wasn't high enough against the Colts.
7. Be professional—Jack Del Rio says this is a business trip. OK, close the deal.
8. Win the line of scrimmage—That didn't happen against the Colts.
9. Play loose—Because playing tight won't work.
10. Respect these guys—These aren't last year's Chargers.