Week 11: Meet your new QB

Rusty Smith of the Tennessee Titans could be the latest in a longer than usual line of quarterbacks who've started a game this season.

What we learned

Vince Young acknowledges booing from the crowd in Nashville during Tennessee's game against Washington. ((Frederick Breedon/Associated Press))

Hello, Rusty Smith.

Wait ... Rusty who?

The biggest story emerging from Sunday was yet another schism in the relationship between quarterback Vince Young and coach Jeff Fisher. Young earned umbrage for a reported tantrum after an overtime loss to Washington, and for his complete inability to establish chemistry with new receiver Randy Moss.  

Thank you cards

The players on the right might have faced considerable heat for underperforming in key moments on Sunday, but the teammates on the left helped pick them up with key plays that led to victory.

LeSean McCoyJason Avant
Maurice Jones-DrewDavid Garrard
Bryan McCann/Sean LeeJon Kitna
Mark SanchezShonn Greene
James SandersWes Welker

The total number of quarterbacks who started a game in 2008 and 2009 was 53 and 55, respectively. Those totals are usually bumped up by Week 17 and 18 anomalies — lowly teams getting a look at a reserve quarterback (See Buffalo last season with Brian Brohm) or playoff teams wanting to rest their starter (See Mark Brunell getting a start for New Orleans late last season).

So consider that should Smith line up under centre to begin Tennessee's Week 12 game against Houston, he'll be the 52nd quarterback already this season to start a game.

What's been remarkable is the number of teams who've had to employ three starters, which used to be the domain of the truly awful or the odd team that was just pure unlucky from an injury standpoint.

It looks like the Titans could be the fifth such team. Yes, the Steelers only did because of the Ben Roethlisberger suspension and Carolina is truly awful. But Tennessee, Miami and Cleveland are decent teams who are on their third pivot.

Part of it has to do with the league getting more strict on the proper diagnosis of concussions and rest for injuries. Jay Cutler might not have missed a game in previous years with concussion symptoms.

Yahoo blogger Matthew J. Darnell pointed out last week that injured reserve placements are on a record pace.

The NFL, of course, is paradoxically interested in an 18-game season for revenue purposes.

At least half of the teams in the league have already started at least two quarterbacks, and in the high-stakes league there is more emphasis than ever on having a backup, preferably one with previous experience, who can win a couple of games.

Expanding margins

Quarterback instability definitely had a part to play in the fact that, on the whole, Week 11 featured the largest average margin of victory this season.

Tyler Thigpen, Brian St. Pierre and Troy Smith, all new to starting in the league — or new to starting in their latest NFL city — were on the losing end of some lopsided scores this week.

Margin of victory by week

A host of tight games brought the margin down from Week 5 to 7, but two of the last three weeks have featured the biggest gaps of the season.

1  8.9
6  9.0

It was a noteworthy development given that there was just one team on Sunday with over 40 points, and it was the largest sample size possible (i.e., there are no more byes left).

There were two shutouts on Sunday — there'd been just one in the first 10 weeks of the season — and two other games in which teams were held without a touchdown.

Century 2010

With the quarterback instability, teams might be expected to lean more heavily on their running backs.

If they are, it isn't being reflected in the number of breakout games.

There were seven players who went over 100 yards rushing ahead of the Monday night game, but for the fourth time this season not a single one eclipsed 150.

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew gained over 100 yards on the ground for the third consecutive week on Sunday. ((Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press))

The number of 100-yard rushing performances is 73, essentially the same total at the same point in 2009. But it's part of a downward trend generally, as there was an average of 82 at this juncture between 2000 and 2008.

There have been just eight rushing performances of over 150 yards so far in 2010, also the lowest total this century at this juncture of the season.

Looking ahead

There is a pair of huge NFC battles among the more meaningful matchups on the Week 12 schedule:

Green Bay (7-3) at Atlanta (8-2):  Perhaps no NFL team is in a groove like the Packers. Aaron Rodgers has seven touchdowns and no picks in his last two, while the defence under Dom Capers has allowed just one touchdown in the last three games. The Falcons haven't been overwhelming opponents but they've been winning — and they rarely lose in their dome.

Philadelphia (7-3) at Chicago (7-3): On the hot seat entering the season, it's beginning to look more like Lovie Smith is sticking around. Just 18 months ago, Smith dismissed the possibility of Michael Vick serving as a backup to Jay Cutler, and now the two will square off in the 1B marquee NFC matchup of the week.

Jacksonville (6-4) at N.Y. Giants (6-4) : The Jaguars have won three straight — with a bit of luck — while the Giants have dropped two in a row. Still, a Jacksonville win would have to be considered an upset.

Kansas City (6-4) at Seattle (5-5): Both are division leaders who look precarious yet the winner could emerge, with help elsewhere, with a two-game lead in their group.