Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Save the Quarterbacks! The travesty of wasted QB talent

The Carson Palmer situation in Cincinnati made me decide to write up an article that has been in the back of my head since the 2004 season.  I'll explain what happened back then a little later.

In the years I have been following the NFL I have heard many statements concerning the value of Quarterbacks.  There have been many rule changes in the last twenty years that have been made simply to increase scoring and better protect the QB.  This is not out of any humanitarian trait of the NFL hierarchy, but a simple business decision.  

Better QB play equals more scoring.  More scoring equals more fan interest.  And that means more money for everyone to play with.  That's good for everybody.

So, we have all these rules now about QBs.  You can't smash them in the head; fine.  Helmet to the knee is a no no; seems reasonable.  They now can throw the ball away with impunity; getting a little wimpy, but I get it.  You get your starter hurt and your season could be over.  Sucks for you.

You see that unintended consequence of the increasing dominance of the passing game in the last thirty years is that the owners have put a lot of eggs in the QB basket.  The QB was not near as important before all these rule changes (this is going back a ways): 

  • In 1965 running back Tom Matte filled in at quarterback and nearly led the Baltimore Colts to a NFL championship.
  • The 1968 Baltimore Colts won the NFL championship with Earl Morrall at QB for an injured John Unitas. 
  • The 1972 Dolphins navigated a season undefeated after losing Bob Greise early in the year.  Morrall happened to be involved here also.
  • From 1971 through 1974 the Dallas Cowboys were championship contenders while flip-flopping between Craig Morton and Roger Staubach.
  • The 1979 Rams made the Super bowl with journeyman Vince Ferragamo after losing starter Pat Haden during the regular season.
  • The 1987 Washington Redskins (who have a fine tradition of shared QB play) won the Super Bowl with afterthought Doug Williams after starter Jay Schroeder was deemed too inconsistent.
That most recent example is the weakest, after taking a 10-0 lead in that game it looked like the Broncos went to sleep.

So you have these examples (and I'm sure I missed a bunch more from earlier days) where teams continued on championship courses despite what would now be considered a season-ending problem.  This was possible because the running game was so much more of the offense prior to the QB-friendly rule changes of recent times.

During the 1972 Dolphins perfect regular season, Bob Greise and Earl Morrall combined for only 247 pass attempts (note that this was in a 14 game season).  In 2010 the team with the most rushing yards was Buffalo (Buffalo?  Really?), and their Quarterbacks attempted 493 passes in sixteen games.

This is how much the NFL has changed over the years.

Here are some recent examples of more recent teams who lost their starting quarterback during the season:
  • In 1991 the Dallas Cowboys lost Troy Aikman near the end of the season and ended up losing in the playoffs to the Lions.  Virtually the same team in 1992 dominates for the full season and wins the Super Bowl with a healthy Aikman.
  • Also in 1991 the Philadelphia Eagles lost Randall Cunningham in the first game of a season that many thought would be their year to win it.  They stuggled to a 10-6 season with a creaky Jim MacMahon at the helm, but despite a dominating defense they failed to reach the playoffs.
  • The 1992 Miami Dolphins streaked to a 9-2 start before losing Dan Marino for the season.  They missed the playoffs.
  • Michael Vick is injured in the 2003 preseason and is out for most of the year.  The team struggled to a 5-11 record.
  • Need I even mention the 2008 Patriots?

Of course there have been a few exceptions, Trent Dilfer won a Superbowl after being a backup behind one of the most fearsome defenses ever.  There's Tom Brady, but he is clearly better than the guy he replaced.  The same with Kurt Warner in St. Louis (and Arizona).  These last two will be in the Hall of Fame, not exactly a "next man up" situation.

I think everyone is in agreement on the fact that QBs are important.  Fans say so, teams say so, the league says so.  

But I feel that the league is falling well short of its responsibilities when it comes to doing something about it:

  • Why is Carson Palmer sitting at home playing tiddlywinks while the 49ers are playing the bum of the week at QB and trolling the waiver wire?
  • Why is Tim Tebow stuck with an organization that no longer wants him, playing a system that does not fit his unique talents when he could be in Buffalo playing for the kind of coach in Chan Gailey who would love to have him?
  • Why is it that Green Bay's Matt Flynn is not the starter in Washington or with the NY Jets where he would be a perfect fit?
  • Why is Mark Sanchez trapped in NY where they run a downfield passing offense instead of the Bill Walsh type system he needs to be in?
These are just current examples.  I said before that I have had this idea since 2004.  That would be the Jeff Garcia travesty.  Garcia was the prized free agent signing of the Cleveland Browns in 2004.  Garcia had been a regular pro-bowler with San Francisco, so why not by the dirty lake?

I'll tell you why.  Jeff Garcia was a system QB.  The Bill Walsh system to be exact. He was a short, weak armed quarterback who excelled at only two things: Throwing the ball to short distance targets with precise timing and scrambling for his life.  With Cleveland only the latter skill was employed.

You see, Cleveland ran a downfield passing offense.  The whole passing offense was predicated on the threat to the deep outside and deep middle.  Bruce Arians was the offensive coordinator there at the time (he is now the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh) and he brought the Indianapolis Colts offense with him (where he was Manning's first QB coach).  In the prior year under Arians, Kelly Holcomb (who was a former backup to Peyton Manning) started multiple games and had credible (but not fantastic stats) with virtually the same team.

When I heard about Cleveland signing Jeff Garcia I was dumbfounded.  I told multiple people that it was going to be a disaster.  But no one in the media ever mentioned that there might be a mismatch between the system and talent.  I'm sure there were some eyebrows raised among league insiders, but I never heard a discouraging word at the time.

Well, anyone who remembers that season knows that it was a total train wreck. The Browns actually cut the face of their franchise loose before the season had ended.  It does not get much worse than that.

Garcia went on to play for a horrific Detroit team, but his fortunes followed the team and he was cut loose again.  He was eventually signed by the Eagles and went on to play remarkably well backing up McNabb and then again played well as the starter for Tampa Bay.  Both of these teams ran variations of Bill Walsh's offense.

The best current example of this kind of situation is with the NY Jets where they have Mark Sanchez mismatched with Brian Schottenheimer's complex downfield passing offense.  While Sanchez is certainly doing better in Schottenheimer's offense than Garcia was with Arians, I feel he will only be able to reach his potential in a Bill Walsh style short passing offense.  I feel the Jets and Sanchez will struggle until the player and coordinator are separated.  Don't get me wrong, I think Schottenheimer is a good coordinator, maybe one of the best.  This is just not a good match.  You put Matt Flynn with the Jets and you would see that offense take off.

If the quality quarterback is to be considered a vital resource, then the league should be taking a more active role in ensuring that their resources are allocated in a reasonable manner.  Even if it has to be behind the scenes.

This is not unprecedented.  Rumors surfaced recently that the league was involved with Michael Vick choosing Philadelphia over Buffalo and Cincinnati.  I also believe the league encouraged the Packers to trade Brett Farve to the Jets after they showed no sign of blinking during that stand-off.

In Cincinnati, the only thing that Bengals owner Mike Brown understands is money.  I think that the NFL should fine him some massive amount and/or take away some draft picks for the damage he is doing to both Carson Palmer's career and indirectly to the league in denying his services to another team that would like to have him.   

I believe that Palmer would be on a direct track for the Hall of Fame had he not had the misfortune of getting drafted by the Bengals.

Additionally, Tim Tebow should be liberated from a sour situation in Denver and be allowed to go to a team that is willing to reconfigure their offense to fit his skill set.  How many more tickets would they sell in Buffalo with Tebow starting there? They have the perfect head coach in Chan Gailey to work with him.

The NFL owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell need to get behind the idea of moving their employees out of bad situations and putting them where they may be best used.  Maybe there would be a fewer 1-15 and 2-14 records; and less of the half-empty stadiums that come with them.

Just sayin'

You might also want to check out: 
What Peyton Manning is doing (and how to beat him)


The hidden story of rookie salaries (why they got so crazy)

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Colts already know that Manning will be ready for the regular season.

A lot of Colts fans out their are wringing their hands about the idea of Peyton Manning not being ready for the first game of the season.

The Colts are doing everything they can to reassure you without actually saying the words, all you have to do is look at what they are doing on offense.

The "first team" offense has only scored one field goal in two games.  Some of this lack of scoring is due to mistakes, but only some.  Does it look to anybody that the Colts are really trying to score points?

In past preseasons for whatever reason the offensive line has been a shamble when Manning leaves the game.  No run push at all and allowing free rushers to the QB on most pass plays.  You could not blame them for not having an aggressive downfield offense - you don't want to get you QB killed after all.

This preseason has been completely different.  The offensive line has been the best unit on the team, both 1st and 2nd strings.  While not every pocket is a totally clean pocket, there has been plenty of time to pass the ball downfield.

So why are they choosing not to?

This last game I think I counted eight of the first nine passing plays were either a screen, swing pass or dump off.  And most of them looked like that was the called play - not that every downfield reciever was covered. 

There are several reasons this might be going on.  It could be because of the revolving door at WR.  It could be simple incompetence by the non-Manning QBs in the game.  It could be that they are just trying to stay as vanilla as possible.

Or it could be that they know that Manning will be in there week one and they are not even practicing a non-Manning offense in camp. 

This is what I think is going on.  Painter comes to the line and he is not even calling any audibles.  They are about 95% running the play that is called in the huddle.  Huddle.  That's right, they are huddling on every play.

Say what you will, but if the Colts truly thought that there was a chance that Manning was not going to be ready week one, they would be putting a hell of a lot more effort into running a viable NFL offense.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Redskins at Colts Preseason: 2nd Look

I was a bit surprised that the offense looked as bad as it did Friday night.  You never expect things to go well when Manning is not in there, but they really took a step back from the Rams game.  In past preseasons it was easy to point towards horrid offensive line play, but this year the offensive line (both the starters and the subs) look great.

The passing game was clearly affected by the absence of Wayne.

We had pretty much all of the likely starters on defense in there early in the game, but their performance was spotty.  They gave up a long run to pedestrian running back Tim Hightower on the 2nd play from scrimmage (Gary Brackett took the wrong gap) which looked worse than it was. Bethea pulled his hamstring running him down.  Expect a few long runs given up in our first couple of regular season games as the guys get organized.

Firstly lets focus on the performance of the draft picks:

Anthony Castanzo (LT):
Castanzo started and played really well both in the run and pass game.  He may turn out to be a serviceable run blocker, but he will never be a road grater type like you see with the Ravens or Jets.  Brian Orakbo got by him to the inside a couple of times to pressure the QB, but that is no sin.

Ben Ijalana (RT):
Ben came in midway through the 3rd quarter at right tackle.  His destiny is to play right tackle for us, the only question is when.   No one got by him that I could see.  He is quite large and it is a long trip around him.

Drake Nevis (DT):
Nevis did not start but he played a lot and he played well.  He was not quite as active as he was against the Rams.  He got a lot of penetration.  I would not be surprised if he passed Molala in the DT rotation.

Delone Carter (RB):
With the Colts behind the whole game, Delone did not get too many run opportunities.  I did see him make a couple of nice pass blocks - and you know that the eye in the sky will not miss that.  He had one nice run on a draw that he broke outside.  People need to understand that this guy is not a power back, despite his size.  He has quick feet and does not run to contact like a power back would.

Chris Rucker (DB):
The stats say he had two tackles, but I can't say I noticed him.

Notes on other offensive lineman of note:

Jeff Linkenbach (LT):
Linkenbach replaced Diem at right tackle on the third series.  Last week it was Ijalana and Jeff was at left tackle.  Jeff did slide over to left tackle midway through the 3rd quarter.  He is really not large enough to be a good all around tackle on the right size as that is where you want your best run blocker.  But since he is a better than average pass protector and the Colts are a passing team - we can get by with him there if he has to play for Diem.  Of course if we look to have sufficient tackle depth, I would not be surprised if Diem got cut.

Joe Reitz (LG):
Joe started tonight and looked solid but not spectacular.

Mike Pollak (RG & C):
Pollak was not challenged much at right guard (where he started and played the first two series).  He then moved to center to replace Saturday.  Right now they are grooming him to replace Saturday, which is good for him as his lack of raw strength is a lot less of a problem there.

Jacques McClendon (LG): 
McClendon came in at left guard midway through the 3rd quarter to replace Reitz.  He looked fine and I did not see him miss any obvious assignments.  He had some nice run blocks.

Other players:

Jerry Hughes looked lost tonight.  I did not see any of his speed and athleticism, because his lack of awareness is crippling.  You can't teach athleticism, but you can train the mind.  Lets hope this happens.  He lost contain on the long run the Redskins had starting the second quarter and I saw him fall for run fakes all night and recover slowly.  At times he did not seem to compete.  Not good.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Redskins at Colts Preseason: First Thoughts

Notes and observations from the first viewing of the game.  Later in the week I will will post more detailed stuff after I get a chance to go through the tape a few times.

  • Joe Lefeged came in for Bethea at safety and played well.  He looks like a good bet to make the team as a reserve.
  • Jacob Lacey and Jerraud Powers look to be in mid season form already.  I think we will be set at corner if everyone stays healthy.
  • Eric Foster looks even smaller this year when you see the big new guys at DT.  He might be a long-shot to make the team this year.
  • Drake Nevis continues to get a lot of playing time with the starters.  It doesn't look like he will need a few years to develop like some other DTs we have had lately.
  • We look to have some DTs who can actually get some push up the middle.  As amazing as Freeney has looked in his career, he has done it all without help from the inside guys.  It would be nice if there wasn't always somewhere for the opposing QBs to step up to avoid Freeney's speed rush.
  • The starting offense was ridiculous.  They looked like they came in with a gameplan where the main goal was to just go through the motions.  Lots of swing passes, screens, and dump offs.  It did not look like Painter's fault; he was just executing what was called.
  • Someone might be asking Pat McAfee to pee in a cup.  He has seriously transformed his body this year.
  • The run defense looked pretty bad, but that was just because of all the players being moved around.  The first game of the season we will be vulnerable also.  I always see lots of run fit errors in the first couple of games of the year. 
  • Curtis Painter stands in the pocket well even though he is only 6'2" or so.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Colts at Rams preseason: 2nd look

Saturdays game had a pretty predictable outcome; basically when Peyton Manning is not playing the offense struggles to move the ball consistently.  That said, some aspects of the offense looked better than it has in the past in that situation.  You could tell that Painter had been getting a lot more snaps and the offense more closely resembled a run of the mill offense in the NFL instead of looking like a chimp trying to land a airplane in a blizzard.

The defense looked bad, but there were a few nice plays from the young guys.

Firstly lets focus on the performance of the draft picks:

Anthony Costanzo (LT):
Costanzo did not come in until the 2nd quarter (but who knows, he looks a bit like Linkenbach).  He showed good mobility, but then that was what he was known for in college.

Ben Ijalana (RT):
This is a big dude.  I expected him to be a guard for the Colts, but it looks like they are grooming him for the RT position.  He showed good power and movement in the run game and seemed to do fine in pass protection.  

Drake Nevis (DT):
This guy is really active for big guy.  He started and from the first snap he was getting penetration (of course he was blindsided by a trap on that play).  He chased down plays away from him from sideline to sideline.  Of course it is early and it is only preseason, but Nevis is the guy to watch from this draft class so far.  

Delone Carter (RB):
Carter did not get any real opportunities to shine.  He will continue to get chances with the second unit throughout the preseason.

Chris Rucker (DB):
The stats say he had two tackles, but I can't say I noticed him.

The Colts starting offensive line featured three regulars from last season, Jeff Saturday, Mike Pollak, and Ryan Diem.  We know a lot about Saturday and Diem; how did the young guys do?

Jeff Linkenbach (LT):
While last year he proved that he cannot play guard, Linkenbach always surprises when he comes in at either tackle spot with his solid play.  He never seems to outright screw up and he is where he is supposed to be at all times.  This helps offset the fact that by any measure he has marginal at best athleticism.  He remains a valuable backup at tackle.  He made some nice blocks on both the run and pass.

Joe Reitz (LG):
He looks a lot like Mike Pollak out there on the field, but he looks stronger and faster.

Mike Pollak (RG & C):
Pollak continues to look weak and undersized whenever he is in the game.  He started at RG for the first series but then moved to center to relieve Saturday for the second series.  He also does not play with the kind of quickness that might compensate for his lack of physicality.  When he was in at center and DeVan was playing right guard, the interior of the line was extremely weak and allowed penetration on multiple occasions.

Jacques McClendon (LG): 
McClendon does not really fit the profile of the standard Colts lineman - and that's a good thing.  He has a powerful squat body and is a power player.  He was not on very many team's radar when the Colts drafted him.  He had some solid run blocks and looked fine in pass protection.  I'm hoping he starts this season.

On to the Colts fans whipping boy:

Curtis Painter started the game and threw a pick on the third play of the game.  He moved up in the pocket and tried a little too hard to make something happen, attempting to throw a touch pass while he was running forward.  These things happen with inexperienced players and it did not bother me too much.  After that, he was decisive and accurate - leading the Colts on a long second drive for a field goal.  He seems to know what he is doing out there.

Jerry Hughes would be the second choice for Colts fan whipping boy.  He started tonight at Dwight Freeney's right defensive end spot.  This could have been called the "Irony Bowl" since he was matched up against IU product Roger Saffold who was starting at right tackle for the Rams.  The Colts chose not to draft Saffold despite need at tackle and instead picked Hughes.  While it is still early in both players career, Saffold has stepped right in and contributed whereas Hughes is behind Freeney and Mathis on the depth chart.  Saturday night he held up well against the run but I don't think he had any particularly good rushes as the Rams QBs were not holding the ball for very long.

Random notes:

  • Donald Brown looked really good, showing some nice burst and shiftiness when he received blocking.
  • The Rams ran some rather advanced and ingenious blitzes - interesting that they got that in with the limited practice time.
  • Watching the Rams offense in the first half I found myself thinking that they looked a bit like the Patriots - then I remembered that they had hired former Pats coordinator Josh McDaniels in the offseason.  So there you go.
  • Tommie Harris (10 year vet with the Bears) looked good in limited time.  We have a lot of bodies in that DT rotation.


Colts at Rams preseason: First thoughts

Notes and observations from the first viewing of the game.  Later in the week I will will post more detailed stuff after I get a chance to go through the tape a few times.

  • 3rd round pick Drake Nevis looked to be really active and mobile.  He is *really* wide.
  • Curtis Painter looked good to me on his 2nd drive.  With Manning hurt they are treating him like the starter - only playing to series.
  • Dan Orlovsky looked like a guy that has about two weeks of practice.  He yelled at Taj Smith for pulling up on a route - I like that.
  • I noticed Ollie Ogbu making a few nice plays at DT in the 2nd half.
  • First round pick Anthony Costanzo came in later in the first half and looked OK.  The line play will be what I'm focused on when I review the tape later.
  • Second round pick Ben Ijalana also came in later and looked OK.
  • Chad Spann looks to have some nice burst out of the backfield. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

The hidden story of rookie salaries

The reason NFL rookies got the money they did prior to the previous labor deal (1970-2008) was to discourage the formation of a competing league, and the obligatory anti-trust lawsuits that would follow.

Each time in pro football history when NFL rookie's pay went below a certain tipping point, the NFL became vulnerable to a new league and one would pop up and start competing for players.  This happened with the AAFC in the 1940’s, the AFL in the 1960’s, the World Football League in the 1970’s, and of course the USFL in the 1980’s.

The result of each competitive league has been the overall increase of player salaries, especially that of rookies.

The NFL has had many opportunities to push for a rookie pay scale in the last forty years and has declined to do so.  It is only with the recent rise of ridiculous rookie contracts in the last few years that they felt they had to do something.

But it is a balance – the lower the pay for 1st round picks (these are the most sought after players by a newly established league wanting to make a splash) the more likely that there are rich people out there who see creating a new league to be financially viable.    

See the history of players such as Joe Namath, Billy Cannon, and Ron Mix. 

Past history shows that most times the owners of teams in a rival league are guys that have been shut out of the process of being NFL owners for whatever reason and often their real goal is to force the NFL into a merger or settlement of some kind.

This happened with the AAFC and the AFL.

The point of all this is that I believe that the current deal with it's rookie pay scale will invite the formation of a competing league.  A league that will be able to easily outbid the NFL for 1st round draft picks since they will not be bound by a agreed upon scale.

You might also want to check out:

What Peyton Manning is doing (and how to beat him)