Rant: Quarterback Insanity
OK, I’ve had it.
The media and fans of the NFL have a skewed perspective of the quarterback position. No, that’s not news to anybody. The quarterback often gets more than his share of credit and blame. That’s always been true and, to an extent, it makes sense. The quarterback touches the ball on every play and is in charge of running an entire half of the team. But this year has been too much. I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!
For the record, my issues on this subject go much deeper than the Vikings situation. The Redskins start 3-1, then bench Rex Grossman after one bad game. Seriously? We live in a sports world where quarterbacks are treated in the strangest ways. When there is a “quarterback competition,” whichever guy is chosen usually gets the benefit of the doubt for the rest of the season. “This is our guy.” Yet, with a winning record, Washington is switching guys. Tony Romo gets hours and hours of TV time and countless inches of print and web space devoted to him, but…there’s actually nothing interesting about Romo except that he is on the Cowboys. He has a lot of bad games and sometimes he does OK. Not a lot to talk about there. Nobody seems to notice that when the Cowboys do well it’s usually in games where they run the ball well. Good Romo, bad Romo…it’s the same guy, just packed differently by the networks from week to week.
Now let’s shift to Christian Ponder. With rookies that were drafted high there’s the inevitable “is he ready?,” “is it time to try the rookie, see what he’s got?,” and/or “do they have confidence in him?” Kevin Seifert wrote the other day that if the Vikings held Ponder back simply because they were playing the Packers, it would “send an alarming message.” Does anybody know what that message would be? Forgive me, but that doesn’t make any sense. If Leslie Frazier truly thought that Ponder was the Vikings best quarterback, I think it is fair to say that Ponder would have been starting by now. Also, the Vikings have a bye coming up, followed by a game against the Carolina Panthers, a team with a bad pass defense. I don’t think anybody would argue that giving a rookie two weeks to prepare for Carolina for his first start would be “alarming.”
As Dan pointed out earlier today, Frazier says there will be no quarterback controversy, and that Christian Ponder is the man for the rest of 2011. Why would you do that? I think this a fair question. Why is it that an NFL coach feels compelled to lock himself in to one guy for the next 10 games? What if Ponder throws seven interceptions in his first two starts? Better yet: What if Ponder is so bad in the first half against Green Bay that Frazier has to bench him; for the sake of argument, imagine Ponder is sacked nine times, throws three interceptions, only completes two passes. Let’s go a step further: let’s say Donovan McNabb or Joe Webb comes in in the second half and leads a comeback. You’re telling me that Frazier will go back to Ponder after the bye week? Brad Childress really suffered from this disease: Tarvaris Jackson is our guy…until we start 0-2…now Gus Frerotte is really our guy…until he suffers a minor injury, and now Jackson is our guy for sure, trust me…no really, it’s Jackson.
I’m not endorsing McNabb and I’m certainly not making any predictions about Ponder. All I’m saying is, NFL head coaches should stop with the “This is our guy” routine. It’s meaningless and, as far as I can tell, doesn’t do anybody a whole lot of good. How about Frazier rises above the media and fan noise, and just coaches week by week? How refreshing would that be? How refreshing would it be to see a real quarterback competition, one where both (or all three) guys get a chance to show what they’ve got? If your team is out of it, why not? I’m secretly hoping that Miami, a team that now has only throw-away veterans Matt Moore and Sage Rosenfels, will totally buy into this idea. Switch them every sereies, every quarter, every play. What would it hurt? Neither is your future quarterback, and you aren’t winning more than a couple games in 2011, so why not find out which one can perform any way possible?
And what’s with all this speculation about “how McNabb will handle being benched”? I don’t mean to sound completely harsh, but, who cares? What could he possibly do? Sit on the 50-yard line, cross his arms, and refuse to move until Frazier calls him the starter again? Is McNabb going to sabotage the rookie, whisper lies and ill-advice in Ponder’s ear? No. He is going to stand on the sideline with his stupid hat on and an ear-bud in one ear and watch the game. He’ll probably clap when things go well, stare blankly when the offense sputters.
A note on Donovan McNabb. He hasn’t played that well, but, in truth, the problem is that he has been a non-factor more than anything. It’s been a little strange to watch; usually a quarterback is either great or pretty good or bad or really bad or even wildly inconsistent. It’s the kind of position where there’s usually something going on. McNabb hasn’t had turnover problems, which is a pretty good way to measure quarterbacks, but he also has made almost zero plays. When you pick up a veteran quarterback who has proved that he can make a difference, it’s weird when he is just sort of…there.
Again, none of that is an endorsement of McNabb (actually, that last paragraph would make a decent argument for benching a guy). I point all this out because the Minnesota fan base has treated McNabb as if he were playing like Spergon Wynn. Some folks don’t just want McNabb benched (which finally happened), they want him cut. And that is what irks me. Donovan McNabb does not deserve to be cut simply because he is the quarterback of a bad team. That doesn’t make sense. And, let’s be realistic: NFL teams don’t really cut starters mid-season. Guys like Brad Childress might cut somebody mid-season, but look where he is today (if you can find him). Brett Favre had turned the ball over 14 times through six games last season. 14, folks. Now, granted there was nobody behind him for us to “take a look at.” But it was fairly obvious that Favre’s body was shot, and even though he still had good moments, they were few and far between. But the 2010 Vikings still had a chance to win. I’d be willing to debate this, but in my estimation the 2011 team is not even close to the 2010 team in terms of talent and potential to win. How come we weren’t mad at Favre? The guy who hi-jacked our locker room (for better at first, for worse later), refused to leave after a great season, then played absolutely terrible…and somehow he was still one of the more popular players. I digress.
This is what McNabb’s season comes down to: he was the quarterback of one of the league’s worst teams for six games. He was unable to make enough plays to elevate that bad team to a respectable record. I’ve been frustrated with him. I certainly expected him to at least be competent. The main reasons I was OK with picking up McNabb were: a) We’ve already sold our souls by signing our mortal enemy, Favre, so how bad could this be?; and b) I figured McNabb would at least be better than Tarvaris Jackson, mostly by actually being able to complete passes that weren’t either bombs (not that Jackson completed a lot of bombs, but it was one of his better plays) or check downs. I figured McNabb, veteran that he is, could convert 3rd and 5s. That alone would have been an upgrade over Jackson.
None of those speculations have really mattered though, because: Our defense got too old during the offseason; Our offensive line got too old during the offseason; It turns out that our WRs are maybe the worst in the NFL.
The biggest mistake McNabb made was the biggest mistake Frazier made: signing off/signing up for on the trade that brought McNabb to Minnesota. If Donovan had looked at our roster more closely, he might have seen this coming. Plus, he put himself in this unenviable position: Unless he led the Vikings to a 4-2 or better record, everybody was going to be calling for Ponder. The only quarterbacks who could get this Vikings team to a winning record through six games are Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees. My secret hope is that McNabb signs somewhere next year and has a huge season, that Carson Palmer leads the Raiders to a couple playoff wins, and that Rex Grossman gets reinserted and leads the Redskins to a division title. Maybe it would quiet some of the quarterback-trash talking. Probably not.
Oh, one more wish: Christian Ponder turns out to be the next Fran Tarkenton.