by Jim Feist
2015…The Year of the Quarterback...Are you kidding? While the numbers that Tom Brady, Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers are putting up are sizzling, the last four NFL seasons have been the Year of the Quarterback Shuffle, too.
The number of NFL quarterbacks teams have been forced to throw in has been astounding. Dallas has used Tony Romo, Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassell and now back to Romo. The Redskins have rotated Kirk Cousins and RG3, the Bills Tyron Taylor and EJ Manuel, the Titans Zack Mettenberger and Marcus Mariota, the Texans Bryan Hoyer and Ryan Mallett (since released) and the Browns everyone but Otto Graham.
The 49ers were getting so little out of Colin Kaepernick, whom they signed to a big extension, they went to retread Blaine Gabbert. Last season the Cardinals made the playoffs despite being forced to use four signal callers because of injuries. That's quite a list of attrition emphasizing the violent world of pro football. It also emphasizes the importance of QB depth, though it's tough enough to find one competent field general.
The Steelers always seem to stockpile good backup quarterbacks and have needed to again with all the injuries to Ben Roethlisberger. Alas, they haven't had much luck in 2015. And even longtime star Peyton Manning is on the shelf in Denver, opening up the way for 25-year old Brock Osweiler, now 2-0 in two starts.
Big Ben missed time early in the season and the team had to use veteran Mike Vick and inexperienced Landry Jones. Jones and Vick combined to win two of four games in place of Roethlisberger when Ben missed four games with a knee sprain. Big Ben came back only to be hurt again against the Raiders, a 38-35 OT wins. Roethlisberger left the game after throwing for 334 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
The Steelers held a 35-28 lead when Roethlisberger left. Those numbers would be even better if not for four drops and a few missed throws early before he really got dialed in. This was another cruel twist for the Steelers as their fans have seen what this offense is capable of last season and this one, even without star RB Le'Veon Bell, who has also been banged up. The Steelers racked up more than 300 yards in the first half against Oakland.
Nobody really has had strong backup QB play in 2015 despite the fact that many appeared to on paper back in August. This is nothing new, unfortunately. Two years ago
starters Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Vick, Sam Bradford and Jake Locker all missed time. Buffalo opened the season with then-rookie E.J. Manuel, but he didn’t last long, quickly giving way to Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel. Hmmm...I wonder why you don't see those backups getting any playing time now?
That was the same season the Jets lost starting QB Mark Sanchez in preseason -- gone for the year in a preseason game! QB Geno Smith was forced to step in and started the year with 8 TDs and 16 picks. This season Ryan Fitzpatrick is the starter but Smith has also been forced to play again.
Can’t tell the NFL quarterbacks without a scorecard? No. Not this season...or the last few. Back in 2012 Seattle decided to pass on high priced free agent Matt Flynn and decided to go with rookie Russell Wilson in preseason. Arizona decided to be a QB carousel with Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley before being so desperate they gambled on fragile Carson Palmer, who has been very good -- when healthy.
That shows the important of the position, but what has really cropped up the last five seasons is the importance of reliable depth at the position. When Peyton Manning got injured with the Colts, Indy was forced to go with veteran QB Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter. During a game against Jacksonville the Colts offense was so inept that Painter threw 2 picks in one series! That resulted in an anemic offense, with more interceptions than touchdowns, and a 2-14 campaign that delivered Andrew Luck.
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.
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 good ones also pay close attention to stockpiling deep offensive lines. What good is having a star QB if he's running for his life or getting killed? The Vikings got a scare this month when QB Tedy Bridgewater got a concussion. Might that derail any postseason plans? The Minnesota back QBs: Shaun Hill and Taylor Heinicke.