The Case Against The Elite Passers

Seahawks fans are pretty high on Russell Wilson.  We think he’s already great, but that he also has room to be even BETTER.  We understand he gets knocked down a peg because of our offensive game plan (run-heavy) and our defense (best in the game), which just makes the hypothetical arguments that much more interesting:  how good could Russell Wilson be if the offense completely ran through him and he had to throw the ball 35-50 times per game?

My question today is:  would we even WANT him to be that quarterback?

Who are the best pure passers in the league today?  Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, and Andrew Luck.  Besides those guys, when you’re looking at teams who funnel the offense entirely through the quarterback position (because they’re not blessed with a top-notch running game, or at least don’t take advantage of the running game they’ve got), you can also tack on guys like Jay Cutler, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Andy Dalton, and Joe Flacco.  These 14 guys have combined for 9 championships, but let’s look at those figures a little closer.

For starters, the Tom Brady that won his three rings was WAY different than the Tom Brady he would become once the Pats picked up Welker and Moss.  From that point onward, that was a pass-first offense that relied almost exclusively on the arm of Brady to take them where they were going to go.  Young Tom Brady headed up a balanced offensive attack and won it all three out of four years.  Old Tom Brady breaks a bunch of passing records and loses Super Bowls (if he’s even able to make it at all).

I would also argue that Eli’s two rings were when the Giants had a capable rushing attack to balance out the load.  Eli wasn’t throwing the football around all day when he beat the Patriots twice!  He is now, because the team around him has fallen apart.

When you look at an offense as a whole, and you factor in how well they pass vs. how well they run, the number of success stories starts to dwindle.  The 2012 Ravens gave Flacco more responsibility and he rode an insanely hot streak to the promised land.  The 2009 Saints & 2010 Packers only went as far as their quarterbacks took them (not to mention, saw a big spike in defensive productivity in those years).  The 2006 Colts got Peyton Manning his only ring.  And, before that, you have to go all the way back to the 1999 Rams and their Greatest Show On Turf.

That’s five titles in the last 15 years.  Meanwhile, among the runners up, you’ve got last year’s Broncos, the 2007 & 2011 Patriots, the 2009 Colts, the 2008 Cardinals, the 2004 Eagles, the 2002 Raiders, and the 2001 Rams.  Most of these runners up lost to teams that were well balanced on offense (or, simply ran into buzz-saw defenses; either way, the fact that their offenses were so one-dimensional was detrimental to their ultimate goals).

The thinking seems to be:  if you’ve got an elite quarterback (or someone who you THINK is elite), then you might as well take advantage of that fact and tailor the offense to his talents.  Ultimately, that sees teams neglecting other aspects of their offense.  They de-emphasize the running game.  They fail to bring in quality wide receivers (New England), believing that their QB can make any guy off the streets into a producer.  They make it so the team is SO reliant upon this one guy, that if he gets hurt or has a bad game, you’re effectively guaranteeing a loss.

Who wants to put all that pressure on just one guy?  Why would you risk needing someone to be totally perfect each and every week, or else your team will fail?  I argue that you should spread out your talents, and your burdens.  Russell Wilson’s greatest asset isn’t the fact that he’s a leader, or that he’s a “running quarterback”, or that he’s got a strong arm.  His greatest asset is adaptability.  If something isn’t working, Russell Wilson and this offense can do other things to make up for it.  It’s like an ace pitcher in baseball.  Maybe his change up isn’t doing what he wants it to do on a particular day.  But, that doesn’t mean he just gets shelled for three innings.  He finds a way to use his other pitches to bear down and keep his team in the ballgame.

In an ideal world, the offensive line would create a protective force field, allowing Russell Wilson all day to stand in the pocket as he completes every pass on his first read.  But, rarely is the world ideal.  That’s where having someone like Russell Wilson is an advantage over having someone like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Drew Brees.  If you can prevent those quarterbacks from doing the one thing they do well – throw the ball from a clean pocket – you’re going to shut them down.  When they’re forced to move around, their effectiveness goes way down.  And, since they’re on teams that absolutely refuse to run the ball, they don’t have that to turn to when the chips are down.  Opposing defenses get to gear up and attack one guy.  Once he’s neutralized, the game is over.

Just because you have someone who can do it all, it doesn’t mean he SHOULD be doing it all.  I hope Russell Wilson and the Seahawks never change their philosophy.

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