Sometimes it’s not the quarterback who has fallen apart, it’s the quarterbacking situation that has gone wrong.
Fans and “experts” can scream all they want about Eli Manning , Blake Bortles and Derek Carr . The truth is, Manning likely isn’t washed up, Bortles should never be counted on as the go-to guy on offense, and Carr doesn’t seem to have the confidence of the old/new coach.
While the Patriots, Saints and Packers can relax knowing they have Hall of Fame-quality QBs, and the Steelers, Chargers and Seahawks have men behind center who could be in that company, a bunch of teams have predicaments at the key offensive position. And it’s not necessarily the players involved who should be the targets of all the criticism.
Take Buffalo, for example. Bills faithful were so thrilled to see their team break that ridiculously long playoff drought that they ignored or pushed aside the fact the Bills are not real talented. Well coached for sure, but not brimming with stars.
Then management messed up the backup QB configuration by acquiring, then getting rid of, AJ McCarron after having traded away Tyrod Taylor, who helped get them to the postseason for the first time since the turn of the century. Sure, going after Josh Allen in the first round of the draft made sense. Sticking him in behind a depleted and under-skilled line and with no true No. 1 receivers does not.
What’s going on in Jacksonville is another example of much of the blame being misplaced. No, Bortles has not earned his keep this season, but he’s been inconsistent throughout his five-year pro career, and there was no reason to believe he’d become an All-Pro.
That’s not what the Jaguars were looking for, anyway — though they would have taken it. They want to pound the ball with Leonard Fournette, but he’s been injured almost as often as he’s been healthy. And they wanted to rely on their defense, which has sprung leaks.
Bortles’ strength is as a complementary piece. When he has to be a focal point, he tends to flop.
Then there’s Manning, whose two Super Bowl rings should have earned him a lot more respect and leeway than the New York fans or tabloids are willing to dole out. Manning hasn’t lost his grit, his intelligence or his arm strength. What he’s lost is a semblance of protection from an offensive line weaker than any other than perhaps Buffalo’s.
Manning also is in a new offensive system for the third time in four years. If that’s a problem for a veteran quarterback — and it is — imagine how challenging it is for the relative kids.
Rich Gannon, the 2002 NFL MVP who spent much of his career mastering difference schemes and now dissects them as one of the most insightful NFL TV analysts, points directly to system change as a culprit for poor quarterback play in some cities.
“Different systems are the most dysfunctional situation you can have,” Gannon says. “A guy like Alex Smith, look at what he went through with all the coordinators in his first seven years in the league (in San Francisco). It’s crazy, and the player is never able to grow in a system. I think you see it with Mariota; Marcus is not able to grow with a system because of all those changes, and you are stunting their growth when you do it.
“Suppose I say to you in the first year, we are going to learn German together. Then I come to you the next year, we are going to learn Spanish. The next year it’s French, then Polish. You have nothing to fall back on and that is what is happening with a lot of these situations. They draft a guy and in his first year they put him through that?
“You can’t let the system change around the quarterback. One of the biggest reasons that Mike McCarthy and Aaron, Sean Payton and Drew, or Tom and the Patriots have had so much success is (continuity). When Charlie Weis was getting ready to leave, the Patriots didn’t look outside, they stayed in the building and hired someone you didn’t know, Josh McDaniels. When Josh left (for Denver), they promoted Bill O’Brien. Then Josh returned.”
Gannon also notes that putting novice quarterbacks on the field so early is a recipe for failure because of the practice limitations in the offseason and regular season. You can cram all kinds of stuff into their heads, and some playbooks stack high enough to use as Olympic diving boards.
“It’s all about reps, right? Repetition is the mother of learning,” he says.
“These rookies aren’t getting the reps. We have the rules where when they are in college and it’s not until they graduate can you get them in to the program. Then they took away quarterback school and some of the learning in the spring (through the CBA).
“Most of them are not getting the reps initially — Allen and (Jets rookie Sam) Darnold weren’t getting a ton, even (Cleveland’s top overall draftee) Baker Mayfield wasn’t because they were going with Tyrod Taylor. Then Tyrod gets hurt and they go, ‘Now we’ll give you all the reps.’ That’s on Sept. 10. Can’t work like that.
“More important is the thorough understanding of the system and how much they can retain and process. The coaches call these plays and the quarterback is walking to the line thinking about what he’s supposed to be doing, who is his No. 1 progression, what’s the personnel? They don’t even get a chance to look at the defensive side of the ball.
“With Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady and Drew Brees, they hear that play and the whole play comes to life in a split-second for them. Their eyes are always set on the defense, what are the coverages and alignment, where is the pressure? Because they know everything instantly about the play. For the rookie, it is several stages down the road before reaching that.”