It’s the Quarterbacks, Stupid

The NFL is currently in a slump. This is not debatable. TV ratings are on a multi-year slide, after enjoying a bull market rise for several years prior. The peak of the NFL’s TV hot-streak came sometime in the early teens.

It coincided with the Golden Age of QBs: Brady, Manning, Rodgers, Big Ben, Brees. Every one of those marquee QB’s punched their ticket as a SuperBowl Champ, certifying them as “must-see” TV going forward. Even Eli Manning got two rings of his own, although he was always considered a lower level “A-List” QB. Being of pedigree (a Manning) and playing in Market #1 (New York) was TV ratings gold.

Super Bowl after Super Bowl featured incredible QB vs. QB showdowns. Brees vs. Manning. Rodgers vs. Big Ben. Brady vs. Eli.

Even the QBs who did not win a ring – or even make it a Super Bowl, were exciting appointment TV. Tony Romo was always worth a watch with Dallas, while Kurt Warner had a spectacular desert resurrection. Brett Favre authored two impossibly great seasons in Minnesota.

Then you layered in exciting young talents like Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and RGIII and the NFL could do no wrong. It was hard to even put a bad game on national TV!

The league had become what I’ve said for a while now it is: “A television show, about quarterbacks.”

But then Warner, Favre, Manning and Romo retired. Big Ben is apparently on the doorstep. Eli now stinks. Kaepernick and Griffin are out of the league! Andrew Luck has been ruined. Rodgers is hurt. Cam is increasingly inconsistent and un-likeable. Even the unspectacular but competent QBs like Dalton, Flacco, and Rivers are now zero fun to watch.

My own Kirk Cousins, good as he may be, is nobody who gets you out of your seat on the couch. Ditto Alex Smith.

The league keeps planting the seeds of replacement QB flowers, but too many are just not taking hold. Winston and Mariotta are buried on small market deep south teams, and have not yet made the playoffs. Bortles is a bust. Denver is lost in the weeds of bad QB ideas. Bridgewater got snuffed out by a freak injury. DeShawn Watson is now on indefinite hold with the same.

Thank god for Wentz and Prescott, because otherwise the landscape for QB’s would look even more bleak. Imagine if Brady has something go “snap!” in the next 8 weeks, and Luck never returns to ever being fully healthy. Throw in Big Ben retiring and just one more “name” guy hanging it up in the next 2 years (Eli, Brees) and you’ll have full blown QB market collapse.

I’m old enough to remember when QB’s in the NFL didn’t matter nearly so much. They weren’t so long ago. There were decidedly below-average guys like Trent Dilfer, or mostly-average guys like Brad Johnson winning Super Bowls behind awesome defenses. Go further back, and there were transient QB talents that happened to land in just the right spot at just the right time – as my Redskins found with Doug Williams and Mark Rypien.

Now the NFL has become an unending unicorn search, a frantic quest for a do-it-all QB who is not only good, but has sizzle. And if you think the sizzle doesn’t matter to owners, Kirk Cousins still not being under a long-term contract is my “Exhibit A.”

Given the tightening rules on defensive which has made the game far less punishing, there are fewer aveneues to building a winning team. All roads, now lead through a true “franchise” QB.  I’m not sure the NFL can ever go back to 15 or 20 years ago, and I’m not sure they want to. But they need to start growing some more exciting QB’s for their “TV show” and they need to do it quickly. There’s really nothing the NFL can do to stop the current ratings slide. Yes, the anthem issue has hurt, but I still say it’s all about the quarterbacks.

 

About the Author

Steve Czaban is a 25 year sports radio veteran, who hosts an afternoon drive show in Washington D.C. He also appears on “Bob and Brian” in Milwaukee. “Czabe” also writes and edits his own commentaries for www.czabe.com and other on-line and print publications. He can be reached at czabe@yahoo.com.

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13 Comments

  1. QB flowers aren’t growing because O-Line suck. RG3, Cam And Kap should be ruling the league but injuries have ruined them. Add Luck, Bridgewater and Stamford to the list. No one wants to go pay for an elite O-Line. You end up with broken QB toys.

    BTW if you run 30+ times a game and not throw 50+ there is less chance of the franchise leaving the field on a cart.

  2. It’s no coincidence that the Golden Age of QBs came with the rules being completely tilted against the defense. Offense is fun, but a game becomes completely unwatchable when there is just bad defense. Guys like Ronnie Lott, the real LT, and Reggie White made the game so entertaining. There is not one defender right now that is worth tuning in for. I think Sean Taylor was the last defender that could keep you from changing the channel. He was like Bo Jackson playing defense. Now you just have a bunch of guys that can’t wrap up and take terrible angles.

  3. Favre only had 1 impossibly good season in Minnesota, 2009… when he scratched that itch one time too many in 2010, it was a complete disaster.. mediocre players, injuries, lack luster coach, and Jenn Sterger

  4. I agree. I also think the NFL needs to rethink the holding rules for offensive lineman. The holding standards have made running virtually impossible. Liberalizing how a O-Line can block would make the game more fun again. I think the NFL also needs to enforce defensive holding and interference. When you can hold a WR 10-15 Yds down field, that’s why you need a Ninja QB who can knife a ball into a 12 inch diameter circle to get a reception.

  5. IMO, defenses have become less punishing because they are not allowed to punish. The NFL rules are terribly slanted toward the offense. Breath on a receiver wrong, PI. Brush a QB helmet or hit him below the knee or god forbid the tackles helmet slides up his chest plate and makes contact with his head, 15 yards, automatic first down. Yet receivers push off with impunity and the refs (and league) turn a blind eye.

    I like watching a good QB as much as the next guy, but defense can be equally fun to watch. Reggie White, Howie Long, Bill Romanowski, these guys were forces to be reckoned with. They never had to worry about their hand brushing a helmet after swatting at a ball and getting flagged. After all, how many concussions come from an open hand hitting the side of a helmet in a downward, glancing angle?

    I’m all for better safety, but the rules protecting these marquee quarterbacks and receivers are just too far overboard.

    Defenses are rendered impotent, and that makes for a less balanced (predictable thus less exciting) product, and when your marquee quarterback gets hurt, your defense can’t make up the difference anymore.

    This from a Packer fan who knows that my team has benefited from all of the above rules that I am complaining about.

    Bring the defensive might back to the game. Seeing Brady face off against Ray Lewis and the Ravens was a real test. The league is slowly being reduced to an NBA-like flopfest.

    Rant over. Catch you on Bob and Brian tomorrow morning.

  6. Hat tip to Eagles GM Howie Roseman for surveying the landscape and realizing that a shortage of franchise-level QB’s coming up in the college ranks combined with the sundowning of the old guard NFL franchise QB’s would lead to a huge supply/demand issue that would leave a lot teams entrenched in mediocrity with subpar QB’s. He identified his target and went out there and got him. I was one of Roseman’s biggest critics, but the maneuvering that he did to obtain Wentz and replenish draft picks by trading Bradford will be talked about for years in NFL circles.

  7. I enjoy watching offenses moving crisply up and down the field by compiling strings of defensive penalties. Making the rules bizarre and unplayable (where do I put my head when I tackle?) has made the games (well, some games; eat it, Seattle!) as enjoyable as the Fed Ex Field game day experience.

  8. Not sure I agree with you Czabe. My own enjoyment has been immeasurably tempered by the explosion in the use of instant replay. Who can spontaneously celebrate when that great play you just saw in real-time is more likely than not to evaporate when examined at the pixel level?

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