Saturday Selection: The Era of the Quarterback
I’m sitting in the bar watching the Giants game on Thursday night (wishing Spogo had been launched so I could be schooling my friends in live trivia), when my buddy Eric says “I hate 3rd and 1, I’d much rather have a 3rd and 4 or 5.” At first, I thought this sounded quite idiotic. Who would want to have to go 3 extra yards, there is nothing easier than gaining one? Then, my mind shifted viewpoints and began to understand his illogical logic. Cramped quarters, 8 men on the line, blasting into each other with the offense hoping they get the necessary push. While the offensive line will always have the size advantage, it doesn’t always work out. Moreover, it is hard to watch. I followed this train of thought and arrived at a truth about this era of football. Smash-mouth, hard-nose football is dead. Teams are finding, and have been for a few years now, that the spread offense is supremely effective; replacing fullbacks with an extra wide receiver, and getting faster, lighter, and better receiving tight ends.
The Bill Belichick New England Patriots come to mind (regrettably) as the first team to implore this style of offense at it’s highest potential. Once Brady had the reigns of the offense, we saw a lot more 3 and 4 wide receiver sets, forcing the defense to change defenses from 4-3’s to 3-4’s and nickel coverage schemes. They exposed the difficulty of the cornerback position, assuming their third WR (Welker at the beginning) was going to be able to get open against the third corner. It worked; possibly better than anyone could have anticipated.
This offense creates one requirement: an efficient quarterback. If this condition is met, you have a leader who can make
changes on the fly, push tempo, and connect with his receivers on any type of route. Think Rodgers, Brady, Manning (both of them), Brees, or Stafford. These guys are respected and trusted for being able to game manage, reading defenses on the fly, and making all the throws. We talk about the second tier of QBs, the Schaub, Flacco, Roethlisberger, Rivers, and Ryan group. These guys show flashes, some with more regularity than others, of being able to do these things well. However, they also show the signs of poor decision making or being off-page with receivers.
With increasing regularity it is the top-tier of QB’s teams that are consistent winning teams. The second tier quarterbacks are the challengers, the “on a given day I could out-duel a top-tier QB” group. Then you have your strugglers, the guys just trying to make a play or two to keep their job (Cassel, Kolb, or Ponder’s of the world). These guys are just clinging to their starting roles, trying to get by week-to-week, and not really challenging for titles.
This creates a time of unprecedented passing yards: three people breaking the record for most passing yards in a season last year. A decreased importance on defense: the Patriots and Packers had, statistically, the worst defenses in NFL history last year and still had to amazing records and a Pats Superbowl appearance. New positions: the aforementioned dynamic tight end (Gronkowski, Graham, and Gates) or more capably receiving running backs (Bush, McFadden or Rice). Even new routes: the “back-shoulder” fade has burst onto the scene and is the hardest to defend.
These advancements in the game constantly put a premium on quarterback play. I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions… think Trent Dilfer’s Ravens team. He was strictly a game managing, make a few plays type quarterback who had one of the most talented defenses in history. Also, any team can win on any given Sunday and that’s what makes this league great (and gut wrenching). But following trends, and predicting the future, it’s clear that the more elite the QB, the better the team.
While these trends sound simple, it’s hard to realize our father’s football is dead, and the game is ever-evolving. Who knows what’s next?