Breaking the Mold

In the NFL…like all Professional sports…winning alone dictates if you are REALLY successful. In order to win.. and win big.. in the NFL, you must have a highly skilled QB. The QB’s required skills to “win” are a lengthy list. But…in no order whatsoever…you must win the big games (at least some of them), Arm talent (strength), ability to assess quickly defenses & def coverage, Pocket presence, escape ability, Quick decision making, exude confidence, Poise, High performances in late, critical game winning drives. That being said, each QB is unique. There doesn’t seem to be one mold of a winning QB. …Any discussion of current NFL QB’s has to begin with Tom Brady. He typlifies exactly what the successful NFL QB has been for a couple decades now. Pre-snap read of defense, drop back, assess if primary receiver is open…if not, go to the next best option after deciding the type of coverage that you are facing on that down. That next best option has often become the Tight End. That TE’s are bigger, taller physically, who are easier to see in the middle of the field. TE’s must be clever enough to get themselves into an open straight line between he and the QB…and do it quickly. The 2 best TE prototypes currently are Rob Gronkowski &Travis Kelce. ….But Brady wasn’t immediately crowned as the King of the QB’s. Brady was drafted in the 6th round by the NE Patriots after a sub-par pre-draft performance. In the 6th round, he was the 199th draft choice of the 2000 draft. EVERY NFL team had at least 5 chances to draft the Univ of Michigan QB-Tom Brady. In fact, there were 6 QB chosen prior to Brady in that draft. Those 6 quarterbacks, chosen prior to Brady, COMBINED started 191 NFL games, with 258 TD passes and zero playoff games. Brady has started 225 NFL games, 31 playoff games, 6 Super Bowls and 581 TD passes! No one could ever have expected Tom Brady to be so far beyond the normal mold of an NFL QB. ….The NFL has become very popular for many reasons. One reason is that a high percentage of the games have close scores, within 1 TD. In the last 2 minutes of many NFL games each week, the winner/loser is determined. QB are measured by their ability to lead game-winning drives. Brady has 48 game-winning drives- the most EVER in the NFL. For 2020, the leaders in game-winning drives are Ryan Tannehill (Tenn)-6, Derek Carr (Vegas)-5 and 4 each for Matt Stafford (Det) & Kyler Murray (Az). …..but the cool, analytical, surgeon-like, mold is only 1 approached in the NFL currently. For years, NFL coaches liked having QB with some escape ability. Those QB could “buy” time as they scrambled around keeping their eyes downfield as they were being hunted down by the d-lineman. The 1st of this mold was over 50 years ago–Fran Tarkington (1961-78). The coaches concern was that these “scramblers” would not be able to stay healthy. Tarkington broke that mold– he missed only 1 game in his first 11 years in the NFL. But still …. most general managers & coaches felt that scramblers were a gamble. ….so scramblers have been around for almost 60 years now. The newest QB mold that is sweeping across the NFL is the Athletic bold. A QB who can throw and run– not just to elude d-lineman while looking to pass but running to gain yards…sometimes even using plays purposefully designed for the QB alone to run the ball. Currenlty the QB who fits this mold best is Patrick Mahomes (KC). He posseses a cannon for an arm (his Father was an MLB pitcher so it isn’t hard to figure where he got that arm). He also runs to elude pass rushers but runs to gain yards…especially 1st downs. Further, his athleticism allows him to pass the ball accurately from all differenty passing angles like no other QB to this point. His crafty, veteran Coach Andy Reid continues to design new plays using the multiple skills of Mahomes. …there is still another mold developing in the NFL for QB. This mold uses the QB as a running back (like they did 100 years ago in the single wing). Plays are designed for the QB to run…and only run. Currenlty Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens) is at the top of this new …or should I say, dusted off and brought back from 80 years ago…QB. Jackson finished with over 1000 yards rushing while leading his team to the player. Kyler Murray is of the same ilk. He piled up 819 yards in this his 2nd year for Arizona. ….then there’s the unique mold of a QB who appears to really be having fun and he’s been doing it for a long, long time– Drew Brees-New Orleans. He’s 41 years old now and has been living out his dream for 19 years of NFL play. He talks, smiles, pats guys on the back, barks if necessary but he’s living his dream as is his Head Coach-Sean Payton, who seems to hold a similar feeling. But… this enthusiasim may have been carried a bit too far. On a 4th down & 2 from a TD, Brees, dove over the off-lineman, arms extended forward holding the football to score a TD. It exposed him to all kinds of hard hits…at 41 years of age! He didn’t make it..he was short but it was clear that he wanted to do it…despite the odds of injury… because it was fun. …then there is this brand new mold. A QB who has reached the NFL by way of the slo-boat around China! It’s taken him a long, long time. Taylor Heinicke played his college ball at a small-time football school, Old Dominion. There, he set an NCAA record for passing in a game-730 yards. After college he bounced around from one NFL practice squad to another (Vikings, Texans). He never got in a game! Once he was named to be the starter but cut his hand the day prior to the game. Heinicke then “made” the StL Battlehawk roster. However, he was the back-up with very, very minimal snaps. This year, he was signed by the Washington Football Team as a backup. When the starter was injured for the final game against Tampa Bay, he got his chance….FINALLY! He was unbelievable! He passed 12/19 for 137 yards(rather modest) but all kinds of running plays were installed for him. He ran QB draw plays, QB sweeps, QB counters, QB bootlegs. On several occasions, he dove to get 1st downs! His exuberance, determination, and skills resonated with the team. You could seen the team gaining confidence in this QB with a very unique skill set. Tampa Bay (Brady led) won the game 31-23 but Tom Brady got hold of Heinicke after the game and said,”he’d played a helluva game & showed a lot of grit out there and to just keep working” …finally, the most unique mold in StL Football history finishes this blog up. Kurt Warner, going from stocking shelves to winning a Super Bowl in 2001! A total Dream Come True! His 4830 yards passing not only led the entire NFL but was a full 700 yards more than the 2nd QB in that category of most passing….oh…you might have heard of that guy—Payton Manning. Warner’s mold was, and I think always will be, a one of a kind. We were lucky to have the chance to enjoy his incredible success story. …This blog broke the mold for me…a totally NFL blog. It’s taken most StL fans….or maybe just me….about 5 years to inch away from the sting & hurt of losing our 2nd…and probably, LAST….NFL team. I invite YOUR thoughts…on Facebook (Bob Ryan), on his site or email to me & I’ls publish them on FB– Thanks for the read!