Quarterback is, without a doubt, the most important position on the football field. Of this there is no doubt.
Quarterbacks are the only player to touch the ball every offensive possession. An elite quarterback can cover multiple warts on a flawed team (ask Aaron Rodgers and the Packers). And over the course of the last 5-10 years (as rule changes have made quarterbacks' jobs easier), the NFL has become labeled as a league of quarterbacks.
Think about it. How often have you heard match-ups described in terms of QB vs. QB. "Manning vs. Brady," or "Kaepernick vs. Wilson." It's become quite common that any and all analysis on a game starts and ends with "Quarterback A is better, so his team will win."
On Sunday evening, the Seattle Seahawks took that over-simplified and over-hyped sound bite and choked the life out of it. Not satisfied with that, they then took the dead body of the Quarterback Myth and shot it into the sun. I cannot state this strongly enough...
The idea that an NFL game is all about the quarterback is a stupid, wrongheaded meme that has caused the quarterback position, a desperately important spot, to somehow be overrated.
Don't get me wrong, what happened Sunday was likely a bit of an aberration. If the Broncos and Seahawks played a hundred times, I don't see the Broncos losing THAT badly more than once. Everything fell apart for Denver out there (excuse me while I skip in circles for a few minutes). The game itself felt pre-ordained. So I'm definitely not saying the Seahawks showed that a great defense will always absolutely destroy a great quarterback / offense.
But it has to be noted that a quarterback playing at the highest level anyone has ever seen found himself helpless when facing a team that TOP TO BOTTOM was superior to his own. To channel my inner supermodel / wife, Peyton Manning can't create mismatches in the secondary. Peyton Manning can't block for himself. Peyton Manning doesn't play defense (a fairly important part of the game, no?).
When Team A > Team B, Team A is going to win the majority of the time, regardless of who Team B has at quarterback.
It's time to move away from lazy analysis based on one position when it comes to the most team-oriented sport in existence. This isn't basketball. There is no LeBron James in football, capable of single-handedly lifting a team on his shoulders for entire games at a time. It doesn't work like that in a sport where every part is interdependent, and no one plays both sides of the ball.
Rather, the truth is that the annoyingly high-horsed maxims our junior high coaches yelled at us are as in force today as they were all those years ago. It really IS about the team.
But what about those rule changes?
The NFL is different now than it was 20 years ago. Receivers can now go across the middle without worry (well, not against the Seahawks). Corners can't press beyond five yards. Quarterbacks can step into throws knowing they're protected from crushing hits. Pass interference is called for the smallest of infractions.
All of these changes have combined to create a much more friendly environment for passing attacks. As a result, teams were throwing more this year than any other in NFL history. So that makes an elite quarterback all the more impactful, right? And that means with an elite quarterback you've got a guaranteed shot to beat anyone, right?
Well, sort of. But it means a lot of other stuff too. Most importantly, it means that young quarterbacks (and average quarterbacks) can perform more efficiently than ever before.
Russell Wilson is not an average quarterback. On the flip side, he's not an elite quarterback either. Yet he was able to play a remarkably efficient game, did nothing to hurt his team, and made a few plays when needed (which was rare, really, while the game was in question). All while costing roughly 1/30th or so what Peyton Manning was costing the Broncos to throw ducks while being too immobile to avoid the Seahawks rush (I can't stop smiling. How odd).
That's the thing about passing the ball becoming easier in the NFL ... it becomes easier for EVERYONE, not just elite quarterbacks. Which means that a "decent" quarterback can now perform at a high level, whereas 10-15 years ago you needed to be very good or elite to perform at a high level consistently.
An AP member (who, I'm sure, would like to remain nameless out of humility) made a suggestion about what the next trend at quarterback would be in the NFL, and I believe there's some merit to it. It goes as follows...
With a new rookie wage scale and a game that's drastically easier for young quarterbacks to pick up, it makes a great deal of sense to ride a young, cheap quarterback who can perform very nearly as well as a veteran quarterback who costs 20 times as much. In other words, these mammoth contracts being doled out to the Joe Flaccos, Tony Romos and Jay Cutlers of the world might (in a few years) be looked at the same way as massive contracts for running backs are now looked at.
Seattle (and San Francisco, while we're on the subject) are able to afford stacked rosters in part because their quarterbacks are incredibly cheap. This can't be underestimated as the next trend in the NFL. Would you rather have Joe Flacco or Ryan Tannehill? In a vacuum, probably Flacco. But at 10 times the cost? I'll go with the young gun.
What does this have to do with the death of the Elite Quarterback Myth? Basically, it's just another nail in the coffin. A great team with a solid QB is superior to a meh team with a great quarterback. And in today's NFL, it's easier than ever to find a solid quarterback on the cheap (if you don't blow it in the draft, at least).
Defense wins championships
When we were kids, it was considered a staple of football talk. No one ever, ever questioned the wisdom of coaches who said offense wins games while defense wins championships. Until a few years ago, at least.
As the NFL more and more resembled flag football, offenses started putting up more and more points during the regular season. Titans of offense (like the Patriots, Saints, and more recently the Broncos) score at rates we all marvel at, and the new theme of the all-important quarterback replaced "defense wins championships."
On Sunday, traditionalists and more "modern" NFL minds were reminded in violent fashion that even though many things have changed about football, one simple truth remains: a great defense will usually beat a great offense. A corollary truth to that: physical beats finesse in the glorious combat that is football.
I hadn't even realized it until yesterday, but I was starting to buy into the new age myth that quarterback was the only thing that mattered. Years of watching Aaron Rodgers carry a very "meh" Packers squad (seriously, I just think they're not that good), along with years of watching awful quarterback play haunt my favorite team, led to a mindset that quarterback is the determinative factor in the success or failure of a team. I was so close to being brainwashed by the new wave of NFL thought that I figured the Broncos/Seahawks game would be the last nail in the coffin of "defense wins championships."
Uh ... whoops.
I've never been happier to be wrong. I got swept away in a trend, but I can promise you that won't happen again. Seattle showed the world what a physical defense does to a modern-day, finesse-built offense. Hopefully John Dorsey was paying attention as the Seahawks demonstrated that football isn't THAT different from how it was 20 years ago.
Offense wins games, defense wins championships. Let's get to work on that defense, John.
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