Remember that badass Monday Night Football showdown between the Chiefs and Broncos sometime in 1994? Montana vs. Elway, as marquee a matchup as anyone could conjure, a fantastic game where one matched the other throw for throw, down to the wire. That game invoked goosebumps. Last night's Monday Night Football game between the Bears' Kyle Orton and the Vikings' Tarvaris Jackson invoked those feelings... only the exact opposite.
We've also borne witness this year to such scintilating matchups such as Kellen Clemens and the Jets vs. Trent Edwards and the Bills, Brodie Croyle and the Chiefs vs. Josh McCown and the Raiders, and Troy Smith of the Ravens vs. Cleo Lemon of the Dolphins. Many would say we'd be better off dusting off Elway and Montana and sticking them back out there.
You know what though? It's not entirely the young guys' fault. They're talented, some of them very much so, but they're put in such terrible positions to help their teams win, given so little to work with, that I didn't feel it was fair for them to shoulder the blame. Allow me to break down three different reasons why I think QB play has suffered greatly over the past few years:
Not enough time
Fans have adapted such a vastly unrealistic "WIN NOW" mentality that folks seem to forget that rookie sensation QBs are the exception, not the rule. For every Dan Marino, there are 50 Todd Blackledges. For every Ben Roethlisberger, there are 50 Cade McNowns. One of the biggest stories of the 2006 was the emergence of Tony Romo out of nowhere. You wanna know why he showed up looking as polished and confident as he did? He was able to sit back and learn for 4 years before getting a chance. I don't believe the effect of that could be understated. We even had a more recent example, when Brett Favre went down a few weeks ago against Dallas, and Aaron Rodgers stepped right in without missing a beat, and looked pretty dang good. Now, take a look at a QB picked in the same draft as Rodgers, Alex Smith. He's been HORRIBLE in San Francisco, and one of the biggest reasons is because he hasn't had a chance to learn while sitting on the bench. Both Smith and Rodgers have been in the league just as long, but who's the better QB right now? Based on the evidence available, don't you have to say Aaron Rodgers? And why would that be? Because he wasn't rushed into anything.
Endless Coaching Changes
The best example of the detrimental effects the nonstop coaching haulovers and system makeovers can have on a QB is Daunte Culpepper. Now, I've watched Culpepper his entire tenure in Minnesota, and I can tell you just by watching him that he doesn't appear to be the brightest bulb on the tree. He has a "deer-in-the-headlights" look of which all other "deer-in-the-headlights" looks are compared to. Keep that in mind while I mention that he's worked under five offensive coordinators: two at Minnesota, two at Miami, and one at Oakland. You're to tell me that you're going to trust Culpepper to quickly learn and implement these systems within weeks, only to throw everything he's learned out the window after one season and start all over again someplace else? Ah, NO. But this is commonplace now in the NFL. Look at Phil Rivers this year; he looked like a perfectly capable quarterback last year, because he sat back and learned the system for a couple seasons as a backup. Suddenly there's a coaching overhaul, and he's gotta start over, he's playing like a rookie again, and he's getting roasted for it. Not exactly fair.
The Last Generation of QBs
The previous generation of quarterbacks not only had the benefit of having some bonafide legends, but seemingly even the middle-of-the-road guys were capable of throwing up a Pro Bowl type year every once in a while. I'm talking about guys like Phil Simms, Jim McMahon, Bernie Kosar, Boomer Esiason, Warren Moon, Tommy Kramer, Ken O'Brien... these guys weren't superstars, but they were perfectly capable quarterbacks. To make a pro wrestling reference, these guys would be considered the mid-card. Where's today's midcard? Where are the guys that are supposed to be in their 7th, 8th and 9th years of starting, waiting to pass the torch to the younger guys while they wait, watch and learn on the sidelines? That's how it used to be done, right? Don't blame the young guys for sucking, blame the generation before them for completely dropping the ball and putting the onus on younger QBs WAY before they're ready. I'm talking about guys that either just plain sucked like Culpepper, Aaron Brooks, Tim Couch, Chad Pennington, Brian Griese, David Carr, Drew Henson, Quincy Carter, Chris Weinke, Chris Redman, or guys that just decided to retire early, like Jake Plummer and Drew Bledsoe (or get thrown in prison like Michael Vick). Those guys should ALL be "the man" for their respective team, SOMEwhere, at least to be capable starters while their teams draft late round rookies and teach him their system over the course of a few years. Regarding the guys that plain sucked, an appropriate amount of time was invested in each guy, they all stayed in one place for at least 2-3 years, and they all were decidedly subpar.
(I need a breath after all that incessant name-dropping.)
So, while I believe there's hope for Tarvaris yet, I'd feel a lot better if he were holding a clipboard for at least another year, while Daunte Culpepper handles things within Scott Linehan's offensive system the next few years. Oh wait, you mean Linehan's gone? Culpepper's gone too? Well, maybe the current NFL culture dictates that developing a quarterback is a lost art, and only the obsenely talented and those lucky enough to fall into perfect situations will succeed, while everybody else jumps on the carousel, jumping from city to city, trying to tune out the cries of slightly irrational and misguided anguish directed toward them.