NFL QB shuffle

The Year of the Quarterback? Are you kidding? While the numbers that Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are putting up are on pace to both break Dan Marino’s single season passing record, 2011 has been the Year of the Quarterback Shuffle. It started back in September when the Jaguars decided to cut veteran starter David Garrard for rookie QB Blane Gabbart. The results have not been a surprise: Jacksonville has had the worst offense/passing offense in the league all season.

That shows the important of the position, but what has really cropped up all season is the important of reliable depth at the position. The Colts are the frontrunner for the Andrew Luck sweepstakes because of the disastrous results of their quarterback depth. QB Peyton Manning (neck) hasn’t throw a pass, veteran QB Kerry Collins (2 TDs, 1 INTs) is battling a concussion, so QB Curtis Painter is running what is left of the offense, with more interceptions than touchdowns. During a game against Jacksonville the Colts offense was so inept that Painter threw 2 picks in one series! Indy’s swapped bad luck for Andrew Luck.

The Arizona Cardinals had a woeful offense last season, so they did what they had to do: traded their top defensive back to the Eagles for QB Kevin Kolb. That missing piece has been missing in action much of the season, as Kolb has been benched with as many TDs as picks. They’ve decided to go back to QB Jon Skelton, who was part of an ineffective QB troika a year ago.

The results have been mixed, but mostly weak. Skelton threw a 5-yard TD pass to Early Doucet with 1:53 left and the Cardinals rallied for a 21-17 victory over the Eagles as a +14 dog last month. Skelton completed 21 of 40 for 315 yards, three TDs and two picks. But the Skelton experiment blew up in a 23-7 loss at San Francisco, throwing 3 picks as the offense turned it over 5 times. They then had a win at St. Louis, but Skelton threw 2 picks and no TDs.

QBs Tony Romo and Mike Vick have had rib injuries. Romo is back and healthy now, but Vick has not been, forcing the fading Eagles to go with Vince Young off the scrap heap. It’s hard to believe that just over a year ago the Eagles were loaded at the position with Donovan McNabb, Vick and Kolb. McNabb started the year at Minnesota but is now on the bench watching rookie QB Christian Ponder.

In addition, the QB has to be a team leader and even change the plays at the line of scrimmage when the situation dictates. Experience under pressure is key, as well, as you don’t see quarterbacks starting as rookies and doing very well. It usually takes several years. It took New Orleans QB Drew Brees several poor seasons of play before he busted out in 2004. Peyton Manning started 16 games as a rookie, which is unusual. You may not recall, but while Manning threw 26 TDs as a rookie, he also threw 28 interceptions! Learning to play quarterback well takes time.

Depth in football is an essential ingredient to success. Players get hurt all the time because the game is so violent and physical. Good coaches and general managers actually anticipate injuries, stockpiling depth. The most unusual situation is in Denver, where a new regime came in preferring Kyle Orton over former first round pick Tim Tebow. After a poor start, Tebow was thrown to the wolves – and started producing victories with his arm (an outstanding TD to interception ratio) and his feet, with Denver the top rushing team since he took over.

No team has had more of a QB carousel than Houston. QB Matt Schaub (15 TD, 6 INTs) is out for the year and his replacement, QB Matt Leinart (1 TDs, 0 INTs) made his first start, a 20-13 win at Jacksonville, but hurt his throwing shoulder. He is out for the season with a broken left collarbone. Rookie QB T.J. Yates is the new starter, and newly signed Kellen Clemens is the backup. Incredibly, this team is in first place and has a great shot to make the playoffs with a third string quarterback (if Yates can stay healthy, that is).

Miami and Oakland played each other over the weekend in a battle of backup QBs. Chad Henne was lost for the year in September and Oakland lost QB Jason Campbell, forcing them to sign Carson Palmer. The Raiders have responded, showcasing the importance of having a reliable backup signal caller when injuries crop up.

Written by Jim Feist for

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