Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Priority #1: Keep QB Healthy

Chiefs Patriots FootballI am often asked who I read when it comes to football coverage. So, without even having to think about it, here are the guys I read every chance I get for my NFL stuff:

Peter King - Sports Illustrated
Michael Lombardi - National Football Post
Pat Kirwan,
Rick Gosselin, DMN

Obviously, I include others for Cowboys-specific reading, but mostly, those are the 5 sources of my daily football reading. They are all geniuses in their own way. I highly recommend them all, as in pretty much every case, I have been following their writing for years and years.

With that in mind, I wanted to draw your attention to a conversation Pat Kirwan was having yesterday on Sirius NFL Radio when I rolled by his show with Tim Ryan.

The discussion centered around QB health. A caller buzzed in to discuss the Cowboys improvements at back-up QB. Jon Kitna's upgrade over Brad Johnson is not really a source of debate around football. It is a given. As a back-up, Kitna is a tremendous player to fill that role. He is not an ideal starter, but as Kirwan (who has spent plenty of time in NFL Front Offices) was suggesting - you want your back-up QB to be able to finish a game without the benefit of any significant practice reps when an injury hits your starter, and then be able to go 2-2 in the next 4 weeks to keep your team alive. If you can do that, you have a reasonable back-up.

Johnson went 1-2 last year, with his 1 win being one of the most "offensively challenged" wins in Cowboys history. Kitna makes you feel better about the possibility that Tony Romo may miss time this season if an injury catches him.

But, is the more fundamental issue the following: With few exceptions, can any team really withstand an injury at QB? The numbers are staggering in 2008.

Here are the 12 NFL Playoff teams with the number of starts their opening day starter at QB made:

NY GiantsEli Manning16/16
IndianapolisP Manning16/16
San DiegoRivers16/16
TennesseeV Young1/16

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So, let that sink in. Of the 12 playoff teams, 10 of them had complete and total QB health with their opening day starter going every game all season long. How about the other 2?

Minnesota: Tavaris Jackson started the season and finished the year, with Gus Frerotte filling the gap in between. Basically, the Vikings played the year with 2 back-ups. Incidentally, this perhaps demonstrates why they think Brett Favre is worth the gamble. They were the only team in the NFC to make the playoffs with a QB. What could they do if they had reasonable QB play?

Tennessee: Vince Young started the first game and lasted about 3 Quarters. Then, Kerry Collins was under center for the final 15+ games. Surely, it didn't take the Titans long to see the veteran put them in a better position to win. This is the one situation where having a competent back-up paid off.

Other than that, every single playoff team had perfect health at QB. In fact, of the 32 teams in the NFL, 16 had a starter with 16 starts.

So, 16 teams with perfect health at QB? 10 made the playoffs.
16 teams with QB injuries and had to rely on backups? 2 made the playoffs.

And which teams had perfect QB health and missed the playoffs? New Orleans, Washington, Green Bay, Denver, Jacksonville, and the New York Jets. Brees, Campbell, Rodgers, Cutler, Garrard, and Favre.

This is a league where you need consistent play from your starting QB. As Kirwan's point suggested, you don't need great QB play to make the playoffs. You just need consistenly good. And for that, it is up to your starter. Your back-up QB is a nice story, but in reality, it only saved the bacon of 1 team last year.

So, while you - as a GM or Coach - can control your team's preparation for the year, one thing you cannot control is the element of luck required to make sure your QB is upright for 16 weeks. Around the league, teams know they are going to need some luck more than they need a solid back-up to survive.

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