Take 5: Minshew, Murray, Minnesota


Gary Lloyd McCullough/For The Florida Times-Union

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew (15) walks off the field after defeating the Tennessee Titans in an NFL football game at TIAA Bank Field, Thursday, Sept. 19 in Jacksonville, Florida. Jaguars won 20-7.

By TPN Staff

The Pitt News Sports staff discusses a couple young quarterbacks proving their chops in the NFL — as well as a seasoned veteran making a serious case for league MVP — in this week’s Take 5 column.

The legend of “Mustache Man” Gardner Minshew is here to stay

Gardner Flint Minshew II, the original backup quarterback to Nick Foles, has taken the NFL by storm. After the Jacksonville Jaguars lost Foles to a broken clavicle in Week 1, 2019 sixth-round pick Minshew was promoted to the starting job.

Minshew made an immediate impact after entering for the injured Foles, tossing two touchdowns and finishing with an impressive 88% completion rate in his first NFL action.

Showing his performance to finish out the game for Nick Foles wasn’t just a stroke of luck. Minshew has continued to put up impressive stat lines. Since he took over as starter, he has accounted for nine touchdowns and just one interception. His completion percentage so far sits at an admirable 66.7%, and he even threw for 374 yards in his most recent game. Minshew set an NFL record by passing for more than 200 yards and having a passer rating of more than 95.0 in each of his first five games.

Minshew has also become a social media star with his mustache and pregame jockstrap stretching routine. The fact that he resembles Uncle Rico from the movie “Napoleon Dynamite” has only further boosted his popularity.

The Jaguars have something special in Minshew thanks to his on-field skills and jovial attitude. Even with the small sample size, there should be no glaring reason to believe Minshew will drift off into the dreaded one-hit wonder quarterback conversation.

— Ben Mankowski, Staff Writer

The NFL’s concussion conundrum

The NFL has decided not to suspend Baltimore Ravens safety Earl Thomas for his concussive helmet-to-helmet hit on Mason Rudolph in the third quarter of last Sunday’s divisional tilt, less than a week after announcing that Vontaze Burfict would be banned for the rest of the season for a similar hit.

The rationale was that Burfict is a repeat offender — this will be his third suspension for on-field conduct — while Thomas has less of a track record. Burfict has been given chances time and again to show he has changed his style of play, and he has refused to do so. The only effect that suspending him has is to protect the other players for the games he misses — no lessons have been learned, or likely will be learned.

If the league had suspended Thomas, it would send a message that every single player is held accountable for his play on the field, not just the ones who have shown that they have a problem. It would show that the NFL takes the long-term ramifications of repeated blows to the head seriously.

Take, for example, the NFL’s reaction after Tom Brady tore his ACL in Week 1 of the 2008 NFL season. When the time came to review and update the rulebook, the owners outlawed low hits on quarterbacks.

The sad fact of the matter is that players ‘recover’ from concussions within a month. An ACL injury to a star player means a season lost, and ratings will suffer during that time as a result. On the flip side, a knee injury might mean arthritis in old age. Concussions can ruin lives. The NFL has to show it cares about its players beyond the product on the field, but its track record to this point gives no hint that it will do so.

— Griffin Floyd, Staff Writer

The case for Russell Wilson, MVP

Since entering the league as a third-round pick in 2013, quarterback Russell Wilson has been absolutely dynamic for the Seattle Seahawks — and this may finally be the season he wins the prestigious Most Valuable Player award.

One could argue that Wilson should’ve been the MVP for just about the last five seasons. There aren’t many other players in the league who do as much as Wilson has been doing for the Seahawks offense.

In their dominant 2013 season, the Seahawks leaned on a strong, Marshawn Lynch-led running game and one of the greatest defenses of all time. They only needed Russell Wilson to play decently, and it worked — they won the Super Bowl, demolishing Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos 43-8.

But since then, the Seahawks have asked Wilson to do more and more each year as the running game and defense have regressed. And he has proven more than capable time and time again.

Wilson is a rare breed of quarterback in that he seems to be more accurate throwing on the run than in the pocket. This is because his offensive line has never been very good, and he’s constantly running for his life out there. But he always seems to bail his linemen out by making a miraculous play. He’ll run around avoiding defenders on what looks to be a broken play, and then suddenly throw a dart to a man near the sideline for a first down.

Wilson is consistently talked about in the upper echelon of quarterbacks in the league, but he always finishes just short of the MVP award. It’s usually because another quarterback breaks out with some absurd statistical season like Patrick Mahomes last year or Matt Ryan in 2016. But if we’re going by the definition of the word “valuable,” no player is worth more to any one team than Russell Wilson for the Seahawks.

— Jack Clay, Staff Writer

Gophers digging their way to Big Ten West title

It’s safe to say that nearly no one at the beginning of the season expected the Minnesota Golden Gophers to finish atop the Big Ten West football standings, yet there they stand through six weeks. They’ll continue to be fueled by those who doubt them and shock the college football nation by winning the division.

The Gophers boast an undefeated record (5-0 overall, 2-0 Big Ten), though it won’t be easy to continue their current form. Fortunately for them, they play their toughest games this season at home.

Nebraska, No. 10 Penn State and No. 8 Wisconsin will travel to the electric environment that resides in TCF Bank Stadium. No. 17 Iowa is Minnesota’s toughest road test and that’s a very winnable game for the Gophers.

The performance from sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan is the primary reason why Minnesota has started off hot. He has thrown for 13 touchdowns compared to three interceptions and his 73.1 QBR ranks No. 27 in the nation.

Senior running back Rodney Smith and sophomore wide receiver Rashod Bateman pair with Morgan as the main playmakers on the Gophers’ dynamic offense. The team will have success as long as this trio continues to perform the way they have.

Wisconsin will eventually slip up in conference play and allow the Gophers to capitalize on their failure. With a lone loss to Penn State, Minnesota will appear in its first Big Ten Championship in program history.

— Tyler Moran, Staff Writer

Murray Madness in the making

The Arizona Cardinals are struggling so far this season with a 1-3-1 record. But one bright spot has been the much-anticipated rookie, Kyler Murray. Since Arizona’s first game resulted in an overtime tie, head coach Kliff Kingsbury has molded the offense around Murray. That approach finally paid off with the team’s first win last Sunday — evidence that we’re seeing an improving offense and play caller.

The numbers support this. Murray’s QBR and passing numbers have improved, with a 77.6 rating last week compared to a 26.7 QBR in Week 1 against the Lions. Murray has also seen an uptick in rushing yards, running 10 times for 93 yards against the Bengals compared to 113 total yards in the four previous games combined.

Kingsbury made strides with Murray’s development by utilizing designed runs. These play calls give Murray the option to run or pass and have led to the rookie quarterback getting smarter and knowing when and when not to run.

That said, the young star still needs to work out some kinks, like locking onto his first read and overthrowing receivers. Like all things, practice makes perfect, and with more experience in the league, Murray should become more comfortable in the pocket.

To be clear, the Cardinals won’t win a lot of games this year. That was never expected out of a rookie coach and quarterback who are only beginning their budding relationship. But from a long-term view, we may be witnessing another star in the making. Just don’t forget to draft him in your fantasy league next year.

— John Riskis, Staff Writer