Saturday, September 25, 2010

Quarterback and Forth

Much has been made of the fact that in the first two weeks of the NFL season, 10 teams have already made in-game quarterback changes. Much, much more has been made of the fact that Eagles coach Andy Reid named Michael Vick his starting quarterback one week after saying that come what may, Kevin Kolb would be the team's QB when Kolb recovered from a concussion.

That does seem like an awful lot of wobbling by Reid, more fit for a Democratic member of Congress than a manly leader of NFL men. Actually, Reid merely is suffering from seller's remorse. Trading Donovan McNabb so as to make Kolb his starter back in April was a risky, not mention bat-brained, decision, and when the risks became apparent, Reid couldn't backpedal fast enough. When, and it's a when, not an if, Vick comes out for Philly and has one of his patently unproductive games, it will be fascinating to see what Reid does -- I mean before he gets fired for these shenanigans

Reid's extreme behavior is so uncoachly as to be shocking. Coaches HATE changing quarterbacks, and they should. Offense is precision and repetition. Therefore, stability at the most important position on offense is kind of a plus. It took Tom Landry, a Hall of Fame coach, more than half a season to act on what was obvious to anyone with eyes -- Roger Staubach was a way quarterback than Craig Morton. That's how strong the pull is to retain the signal-calling status quo.

As a rule, coaches prefer to change quarterbacks only when the incumbent is carted off the field. It is fashionable to say that Tom Brady would have replaced Drew Bledsoe some time during the 2001 season even if Bledsoe had remained healthy. It may even be true, if unknowable. But Brady was lucky. Bledsoe was on the shelf long enough for Bill Belichick to develop confidence in Brady's abilities, and for Brady and his teammates to do so as well. Brady had a couple of VERY bad games in his first few starts. He might have ended up as the Kevin Kolb of 2001.

Most of the quarterback changes of 2010 have not been injury related. They stem from the other reason coaches change quarterbacks -- they don't really have one. It doesn't make much difference which of their two or three stiffs runs the offense and piles up 150 yards passing on a good day, so the coaches flail about in an unending and futile search for the hot hand. Look at the Patriots' opponent tomorrow, the Bills. Does it really matter whether Ryan Fitzpatick or Trent Edwards is their starting quarterback? The scoreboards of 2009-2010 answer "no."

It's simple arithmetic, the law of supply and demand that made Brady a richer man earlier this month. There are 32 NFL teams, and about 25 NFL quarterbacks who on balance make positive contributions to their teams when they're on the field. There are maybe 10 who are good enough to help make their teams consistent winners if the rest of the team is any good. There are a handful who are usually the REASON their team wins when it does (Peyton Manning, Brady, Brees, Rivers, Rodgers, and now I'm running out of names.).

Which brings us to a week of spurious Patriot commentary, to the effect that Brady is no longer one of that handful because his performances in the fourth quarter of close games has been revealed as subpar by that most fraudulent of sports statistics, the NFL passer ratings. In the tendentious morality play that is so much of football analysis (bold talk from men and women safely away from all those collisions), Brady is either hopelessly stuck on that miscreant Randy Moss or has gone soft due to a Hollywood lifestyle, just like in the boxing movies of the 1930s and 40s.

Brady stunk in the second half against the Jets last Sunday. So did almost every other Patriot. He hasn't been as good in 2009 and so far in 2010 as he was before his MAJOR KNEE INJURY. Neither have the Patriots themselves been as good a team. That's the point. Quarterbacks are the most important players on a team, but they have a plurality of importance, not a majority. A good team can overcome an indifferent performance by its QB far more easily than a superb quarterback can overcome an indifferent performance by his 44 teammates. That's why Trent Dilfer has a Super Bowl ring.

If there's one thing about football I learned from Bill Belichick, it's this: It's all one. Every part of a team's performance impacts all the other parts and vice versa. Even the greatest quarterbacks can't reverse a team stuck in a doom loop out on the field. Yes, Brady is not quite the quarterback he was in 2001-2007. We see that more easily because the Patriots are much more not quite the team they were back, then either. The stat much bandied about after the Jets game was that Brady was 0-3 passing when the Jets' rallied to take the lead. To me, anyway, the key number in that line is the three. It shrieks that New England just didn't have the ball long enough to hold off the Jets. If three and outs become fatal, your team is very ill on defense, not offense.

Football is both simple and complex. Thinking about Brady is very simple. For any Patriot fan or my former peers in sports commentary who's unhappy with him, I'd like to drop a few names. Derek Anderson, David Garrard, Kyle Orton, Matt Moore... I could go on, but you get the idea. Don't worry about Brady, gang. Worry about the day he's no longer around.


Post a Comment

<< Home