The NFL’s Thanksgiving-Black Friday combo was a mess.
Every single game featured at least one vastly underperforming quarterback. One of them was Tim Boyle, so that was expected. In the cases of Jared Goff, Geno Smith and Sam Howell, it was not.
Each wound up on the wrong side of big deficits. Only Goff was able to climb back to respectability as the New York Jets, Washington Commanders and Seattle Seahawks combined to lose by 74 total points. So if you skipped holiday football to do some turkey prep or brave the crowds at the outlet shops or merely focus on the Division III playoffs instead (Mount Union, woof), you made the right choice.
That trend continued on Sunday. Derek Carr and Desmond Ridder traded off poorly thought out passes in an NFC South rivalry game between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. Kenny Pickett’s inability to find open receivers helped make Joe Burrow understudy Jake Browning look great by comparison. Mac Jones and Tommy DeVito were the starters in a game people actually paid money to see.
But which quarterbacks were truly the most disappointing? Fortunately, we’ve got tools to better understand just how damaging each underwhelming performances was. Using the advanced stat expected points added (EPA) can gauge how much a quarterback brings to the table compared to a typical player.
By comparing each passer’s Week 12 EPA against their 2023 adjusted average, we get a better picture of just how frustrating their days were. And we can find both of those thanks to The Athletic’s Ben Baldwin and his incredibly useful stats sites RBSDM.com and HabitatRing.com. So let’s take a look at who disappointed the most in the 12th Sunday of the 2023 season.
Mac Jones, New England Patriots
2023 expected points added (EPA) per game: -2.9
Week 12 EPA: -9.9 (in one half before getting benched)
Difference: Seven points worse
Jones, on average, contributes the net loss of a field goal each game he starts for the 2023 New England Patriots. Do you realize how bad he has to be to fail to clear that modest bar?
Roughly this bad:
55-YARD INT RETURN 😤
📺: FOX pic.twitter.com/KmQ0ahyh1S
— New York Giants (@Giants) November 26, 2023
That was one of three Jones turnovers … in the first half alone. Tommy DeVito was averaging nearly -0.25 EPA/play and the Giants led early because Mac was twice as bad.
He didn’t have any turnovers in the second half. Because he didn’t play. Jones was benched for Bailey Zappe, who promptly led a touchdown drive in his first possession before losing to the 2023 New York Giants, a team once in consideration to be the least competitive team in NFL history.
Sam Howell, Washington Commanders
2023 expected points added (EPA) per game: 1.9
Week 12 EPA: -9.6
Difference: 11.5 points worse
There were always going to be growing pains for a second-year quarterback who’d only made one start the year before — and who’d only been a fifth-round draft pick. But Howell had exceeded expectations for a Washington roster in rough shape, clearing a path to a starting job next season in what will be the first full year under new team owner Josh Harris.
His Thanksgiving performance against the Dallas Cowboys may throw those plans into flux. Howell threw for at least 300 yards for the fifth time this season but prospered in large part thanks to his targets’ run-after-catch abilities. A quick look at his passing chart shows a ton of work near the line of scrimmage, some useful strikes in the intermediate range and zero completions more than 18 yards downfield.
That’s kinda been the read on Howell all season. Per SIS, he’s completed 61.5 percent of his intermediate throws (10-19 yards downfield) and his 56 completions in that range are third-most in the NFL. But he’s completed just 16 of 48 deep throws (33.3 percent), one of the lowest rates among starters this fall.
That’s not all on Howell. A rebuilding offensive line has done him few favors and his 55 sacks are the most in the NFL. If he keeps this pace he’ll finish with 78 sacks taken, which would break David Carr’s league record of 76. Opponents know he’ll be throwing the ball often because the Commanders are typically losing and they also know they can crumble his pocket with minimal effort.
The Dallas Cowboys rode that strategy to a blowout win. That won’t be enough to close the book on Howell’s career as a starting quarterback, but it’s certainly the blueprint on how to make him look bad.
Baker Mayfield, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2023 expected points added (EPA) per game: 6.3
Week 12 EPA: -6.7
Difference: 13 points worse
Mayfield has been solid in a resurgent 2023. After spending 2022 as the league’s worst quarterback, he’s been quietly above average for a Buccaneers team many expected to float to the top of the 2024 NFL Draft order.
This wasn’t the case in Week 12. After tweaking his knee midway through the first quarter on a quarterback scramble, the veteran’s lack of mobility became a significant issue. He was sacked six times, a season high. His final one, a Samson Ebukam strip, ended any hope of a Tampa comeback.
Samson rips it out, Dayo scoops it up.
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) November 26, 2023
Pressure wasn’t the only thing to get to Mayfield Sunday. Consider this interception, where his move out of play-action is … to zip a pass to a triple-covered Mike Evans.
On the practice squad Monday.
On the highlight reel Sunday.
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) November 26, 2023
That’s the kind of terrible decision making that made it easy to chase him out of Cleveland, then Carolina. Mayfield has created an opportunity to stick around in Tampa Bay by defaulting to the smartest option whenever possible That’s meant spamming the ball to Evans, who is on pace for 140 targets — his highest total since 2016. That obviously has value, but tends to button hole this offense.
With the game on the line, the Colts drove down on Evans and dialed up the pressure against a not-totally-mobile Mayfield. That resulted in three sacks over his final five dropbacks, snuffing out a potential touchdown drive and then ending the game entirely. With limited ability to scramble and quick routes to Evans taken off the table, Mayfield had no counter. This was the difference between a road win and a second straight loss for the Bucs.
Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks
2023 expected points added (EPA) per game: 0.6
Week 12 EPA: -12.6
Difference: 13.2 points worse
Smith gets a minor pass here because he was dealing with a triceps injury that had taken him off the field in last week’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams. But his forgettable Thanksgiving performance was another frustrating game in a season that’s been low-key full of them.
The veteran has had a passer rating of 85.0 or lower five times this season — a number he’d only failed to hit four times in all of 2022. Unsurprisingly, Seattle is 1-4 in those games. He’d played 10 games with at least a 103.0 rating last season and has only surpassed that number thrice in 2023.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) November 24, 2023
Smith isn’t bad, but he’s done enough to suggest 2022 was a pleasant outlier rather than his baseline as a Seahawk. He’s good enough to get Seattle to the postseason, but the team’s fortunes from there may rely heavily on its defense. There’s a reason Pete Carroll was happy to pay up and add Leonard Williams to the pass rush at the trade deadline. Smith isn’t the guy he was last season, and there’s mounting evidence to suggest he won’t be this year.
Jared Goff, Detroit Lions
2023 expected points added (EPA) per game: 7.1
Week 12 EPA: -7.7
Difference: 14.8 points worse
Goff was terrible early in Week 11, but recovered in time to rally the Lions to a win over a division rival. He was terrible again in Week 12, but this time wound up snapping a three-game winning streak by letting down a raucous stadium of Lions fans (and also Jack Harlow) with an awful performance against the Green Bay Packers.
Statistically, Goff looked great. He threw for 332 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But two of his first three drives ended with fumbles inside his own 30-yard line, leading to one return touchdown and one mostly hilarious fourth-and-one mishap from the Packers. By the time halftime came Detroit trailed 23-6 and was borderline lucky it was only a 17-point deficit.
📺: FOX pic.twitter.com/zPTCGcH7rH
— Green Bay Packers (@packers) November 23, 2023
Goff threw for a ton of yards because he had no other choice. His early mistakes left the Lions playing from behind and forced to turn away from a run game that averaged nearly five yards per handoff. A lineup of obvious passing downs kept Green Bay’s pressure coming and contributed to a 20 percent success rate on fourth down.
Goff eventually dropped into gear, but it was too late to undo all the problems he’d caused. He’s got time to figure out what’s gone wrong the last two weeks (three interceptions, three fumbles lost), but it’s getting tougher and tougher to buy these Lions as a Super Bowl team.