2008 NFL Football Season: Quarterback Changes and Surprise Starters

I can’t remember a season where there were so many surprise starters at quarterback and permanent quarterback changes during the season. There have really only been a few, but it is still unusual to see such significant changes by multiple teams during the season. Here I talk about three of the more intriguing ones.

col620367Tennessee Titans: Kerry Collins Replaces Vince Young

The first game of the season for the Titans saw a very bizarre outing by Vince Young. Based on press accounts, Young was booed by Titans fans and sat on the sideline despondent and sulking. He was so despondent that when the Titans were back on offense Jeff Fisher had to force Young to go back into the game! Later he injured his knee running the ball, but it doesn’t sound like the injury was something that would keep him out the following week, but not much information was provided about the injury.

In an even more bizarre twist, the following evening Young disappeared from his home and the Titans sent police to look for him because he was supposedly emotionally downtrodden about Sunday’s events. It turns out he was at a friend’s house watching the Monday Night Football game. The Titans said the whole situation was blown out of proportion by the press, but you don’t send police to look for someone just because they aren’t at home unless something unusual prompted it. Something is clearly awry in the psyche of Vince Young. Just imagine if he played in New York or Philadelphia where the fans are even less forgiving.

Jeff Fisher made a very gutsy call at this point naming Kerry Collins as the starter and he has remained the starter since. Thus, the highly touted first round draft pick who is supposed to be the future of the franchise was replaced by a 15-year veteran. It was clearly the right call by Fisher as Kerry Collins has played extremely well and the Titans are sitting at 11-1 with the best record in the NFL.

Kerry Collins, now in his 15th season, is clearly not the future of the Titans franchise. But he certainly is the savior of this season, which could have unraveled quickly after such an unusual set of circumstances surrounding the starting quarterback. Collins has had his own demons during his up and down career but he is the steady hand at the wheel for the Titans in 2008.

Will Vince Young get another chance to redeem himself as a starter for the Titans? Undoubtedly he will. Jeff Fisher has already proclaimed that Young is the future of the franchise and he wants him to sit and learn this year. You can’t give up on a promising first round draft pick at quarterback so quickly who you have invested a lot of time and money in.

Will Vince Young ever be an elite quarterback in the NFL? He has all the physical attributes to be one. He is big, has a strong arm, and can run the ball well. What he doesn’t seem to have is the decision making ability and emotional make up it takes to be an elite quarterback. I’ve seen a lot of Vince Young the past few years and I have never been impressed with his play on the field and his decision making. My prediction is that Young, at best, will be an average quarterback in the NFL. I would not be surprised if he washes out in the next few years, and he definitely will if he doesn’t get his head in the right place.

 

fre682395Minnesota Vikings: Gus Frerotte Replaces Tarvaris Jackson

The only ingredient the Vikings are missing in having a Super Bowl contending team is a decent quarterback. That is why they tried to trade for Brett Favre when he came out of retirement, but there was no way the division rival Green Bay Packers were going to let that happen. Tarvaris Jackson was a terrible quarterback last year and he was even more abysmal at the start of this season. Every time I see Jackson play I wonder why he is even in an NFL uniform. He is a terrible decision maker in the pocket and I have seen absolutely nothing to make me believe he is a viable starter in the NFL. Thus, after a few awful performances by Jackson, Brad Childress called on another old quarterback, Gus Frerotte, now in his 16th season. Childress made the move after talking with Jackson, who reportedly said he was playing not to lose.

I have a soft spot for Gus Frerotte. I saw a lot of him his first few years in the league when he started for the Washington Redskins replacing the bust of a first round draft pick Heath Shuler. Here is a late round draft pick that has had a solid, if somewhat unspectacular professional career. After starting for the Redskins for a few years he has bounced around the league as a backup except for a stint as a starter for the woeful Dolphins in 2005.

A lot of people questioned the move to name Gus Frerotte the starter but it was clearly the right decision for this year. With Jackson playing there is no way the Vikings win a shootout with the Saints, or any other team where the game is tight. And in any game where there is a lot of scoring Frerotte gives the Vikings a much better chance to win with his calm demeanor and strong arm. His interceptions this year have been a problem but one the Vikings can live with given what he has been able to do with the offense.

Gus Frerotte is clearly not the future of the Minnesota Vikings at the quarterback position. He is an average NFL starter, at best, who is inconsistent week to week. He can play great on some days, while on others he stinks the joint up. The advantage the Vikings have with Frerotte is twofold. First, he can throw the deep ball very well and as mentioned above, in an offensive shootout he gives the Vikings the best chance to win. Second, and probably more importantly, when the chips are down he has a very even keel and still fights to win. He almost single handedly lost a game against the Green Bay Packers with some really dumb interceptions. But he kept going back into the game and doing his best and not getting down on himself, even when it looked like his teammates were starting to get down on him. Jackson is just the opposite. A few bad plays and he clearly would sulk and start playing even worse. You have to love Gus’s guts. Young and Jackson don’t have any.

Will Tarvaris Jackson get another shot at starting for the Vikings? I suspect he will. But as I said before, I think he will never be a decent starting quarterback in the NFL. He doesn’t seem to have the confidence, the leadership qualities, or the ability to make quick decision on the field, all of which are necessary to be a decent starting quarterback in the NFL. The Vikings really need to find a solution at the quarterback position in the future if they want to move one step closer to contending for a championship.

 

war492511Arizona Cardinals: Kurt Warner Named Starter Over Matt Leinart

Before the season even started Cardinals’ head coach Ken Whisenhunt named Kurt Warner the starting quarterback over Matt Leinart. So we have another older, veteran quarterback taking over a team loaded on the offensive side of the ball for an immature, underperforming, young quarterback.

At this point in the season it is definitely clear that this was the right move. Warner is playing extremely well this year. He has the fourth highest quarterback rating in the league and is a front runner for the NFL MVP award. While Warner has days when he turns the ball over too many times, for most of the season he was played exceptionally well. With Warner at the helm the Cardinals have put themselves in position to make the playoffs and possibly, dare we say, get to the Super Bowl? Probably not given they can’t win on the road, but this year has brought a lot of positive attention to the Cardinals and turned a moribund franchise into one that is interesting, entertaining, and competitive.

Like Collins and Frerotte, Warner is not the long term solution at quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals. Of the three discussed in this article, if he doesn’t retire, Warner has the better chance to remain a starter for a few more seasons before hanging up the cleats, but that’s about it. Matt Leinart is the future and he will undoubtedly be given a chance to prove that eventually.

Leinart seems to be on the immature side and from what I have read, he has not had the work ethic necessary to improve and become a solid starter in the NFL. It would probably do him good to sit and learn a few years behind a possible Hall of Famer like Kurt Warner.

Will Leinart ever develop into an elite quarterback in the league? I think the jury is out on Leinart but if he puts the work in I think he could be a top tier starter in the NFL. I don’t think he’ll ever be an exceptional quarterback, but I do think he can be good enough to lead a playoff caliber team.

2008 NFL Football Season: Week 5

New England Patriots over San Francisco 49’ers, 30-21

GO RANDY GO!!! Thank goodness our poor performance against Miami appears to be just a bad day at the office. While New England’s defense still needs to be stouter, and Matt Cassel is still making some mistakes, we hit the deep ball to Randy Moss and had a solid running game to chew up the clock. Hats off to Kevin Faulk for his two touchdowns. As I said last year in the playoffs, when you need a first down or key play, he’s always money.

GAMES I WATCHED

Tennessee Titans over Baltimore Ravens, 13-10

This is the second game in a row the Ravens lost when they should have won. They basically outplayed the Titans for the most part and got robbed on a terrible roughing the passer call on Terrell Suggs near the end of the game that gave Tennessee the opportunity to kick the winning field goal. That awful call and a missed field goal by Matt Stover at the end of the first half basically were the difference in the game. Joe Flacco did make a few rookie mistakes and tossed up a couple of interceptions, but I really, really like what I see from this rookie quarterback. He has a tremendous arm and doesn’t seem to let bad plays get him in a funk, which often just leads to more bad plays. And I like how the Ravens give him an opportunity to throw the ball and don’t just use him to “manage” the game. Of course with their banged up running backs they don’t have much of a choice. I see Flacco has having the potential to be an elite quarterback in this league. The Ravens offensive line also did a good job of not letting the stellar defensive line of the Titans dominate the game. In fact, the Titans defensive ends were mostly a non-factor. Ray Lewis is playing like he did a few years ago. He seems to have found a fountain of youth somewhere. The Ravens defense is tremendous. While this team may be 2-2, I think they will improve over the year. Their biggest weakness is their banged up running backs, no true number one receiver, a banged up Todd Heap, and a rookie quarterback. Their defense will have to make up for their offensive weakness the rest of the year.

I have not seen as much of Tennessee this year, and while they have a good defense their offense seems unimaginative, blah, yuck, despite their solid running game and Kerry Collins mostly playing well. I don’t think the Titans are as good as their record, but like Bill Parcell’s used to say, you are what your record says you are, so I guess I should give the Titans their due.

MVP: Keith Bulluck, LB, Tennessee Titans

Denver Broncos over Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 16-13

Tampa Bay is another one of those teams with a great defense and a lousy offense, or at least one that can’t score any points. Denver’s offense seems to have run into a road block in this game, but suddenly they seemed to have a defense. I think the real story is Tampa Bay has a solid defense that slowed down a solid offense, and a weak defense stopped a weak offense. Elvis Dumervile, DE, Denver, played in the Buccaneers backfield most of the game. His statistics don’t tell the whole story of how he dominated the game.

MVP: Elvis Dumervile, DE, Denver Broncos

Pittsburgh Steelers over Jacksonville Jaguars, 26-21

I was impressed with the grittiness of both of these teams. Ben Roethlisberger, sore shoulder and all, hung in through big hits to move the ball and score just enough to win the game. Hines Ward constantly kept coming up with big catches at the most crucial moments. But the real story of the game, again, was Pittsburgh’s defense. Take away a Rashean Mathis interception return for a touchdown off of Big Ben and this game isn’t that close. James Harrison is one of the best outside linebackers in the league, and LaMarr Woodley is not too far behind him. Add in the disruptive Troy Polamalu and you have yourself a stout defense.

The Jaguars played a solid game but simply could not get the running or passing game going and rarely made a third down conversion. Both of these teams are solid defensively but the Jaguars receivers are a joke. If they had one halfway decent receiver they may be able to take some pressure off the running game.

MVP: James Harrison, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Minnesota Vikings over New Orleans Saints, 30-27

This is one of the craziest games I have ever seen. You had a blocked field goal ran back for a touchdown by the Vikings, a half back option pass for a touchdown, two punt returns for touchdowns by Reggie Bush (one of which included not one but two hellacious blocks), fumbles and interceptions, a gazillion penalties, huge highlight reel hits by the defenses, a missed game winning field goal, a quarterback getting nearly knockout and coming back and throwing a huge bomb to his speedy but inconsistent receiver, and a defensive pass interference call that set up a game winning field goal. What more could you ask for?

For the Saints they could have asked for a win. They outplayed the Vikings but lost a heartbreaker, despite two touchdowns on special teams. The Saints did get a bad no call on a clear face mask on Reggie Bush on a play he also lost a fumble, but the real reason the Saints lost were themselves, They had turnovers, penalties galore, a blocked field goal ran back for a touchdown and a missed field goal.

Antoine Winfield of the Vikings turned in one of the most dominating performances I have ever seen by a cornerback. Not only is he a tremendous pass defender, he’s a great tackler with a nose for the ball and always seems to be in the right place and the right time. His sack and stealing the ball from Drew Brees was one of many game breaking plays.

And what about Reggie Bush? Not one but two punt returns for touchdowns, and he almost broke off a third. When Bush is in space he’s scary fast and shifty. A quote from my wife: “Don’t you wish Reggie Bush played for New England? He’s got potential, that one. He’s a joy to watch. And he’s dating Kim Kardashian.” What relevance that last bit of news as to football I’m not sure.

And what about Gus Frerotte? Here’s a 15 year journeyman quarterback starting the year as a backup keeping his head in the game despite offensive ineptness, receivers dropping balls and running bad routes, and no running game. Then he gets blasted and nearly knocked out but comes back to lead the Vikings to a touchdown late in the game.

Other than the Saints constantly getting penalties (and the Vikings had their fair share too) the most frustrating part of the game was watching receivers drop balls. Bernard Berrian of the Vikings is very fast but seems to run wrong or poor routes and drops a ton of balls. Then he’ll come back and make unbelievable catches. If this guy were more consistent he’d potentially be one of the top five receivers in the league and the Vikings a better team. Then you have the Saints receivers dropping balls, including one that should have been caught but was tipped for a Vikings interception.

All this certainly made for an entertaining game.

MVP: Antoine Winfield, CB, Minnesota Vikings

Observations Week 5

Week 5 was a wild, wild week with a few crazy games. Here are numerous observations after Week 5.

Defenses. I am finally seeing some great defensive performances this year. Too bad most of the teams with great defenses also have weak offenses. The Baltimore Ravens, with the seemingly ageless Ray Lewis, the Tennessee Titans, Pittsburgh Steelers, Chicago Bears, Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and usually the Minnesota Vikings all have very solid defenses. I’ve been extremely impress with Ray Lewis this year. He seems to have found a fountain of youth and is all over the field making plays every week. Also impressive have been Antoine Winfield, CB, Minnesota Vikings, James Harrison, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Troy Polamalu, SS, Pittsburgh Steelers. I haven’t seen the Tennessee Titans except once this year but I’ll have to add Albert Haynesworth, DT, Tennessee Titans to this list as well.

Buffalo Bills. I never thought the Bills were as good as their 4-0 record, which is unfair because a win is a win, and their loss to Arizona could partially be attributed to Trent Edwards being hurt. Nevertheless, I think they are one of the more exciting and interesting teams in the NFL, if somewhat slightly above average. Being a Patriots fan I hope the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins lose the rest of their games this season, and tie with each other, but I do hope Trent Edwards recovers quickly from his concussion. I like what I see in this young quarterback and think he has the potential to be one of the few upper tier (read, better than mediocre) quarterbacks in the league. With an offensive core of Trent Edward, Marshawn Lynch, and Lee Evans they have some offensive firepower and an improving defense.

Miami Dolphins. After two impressive wins in a row the Dolphins have proven that they can’t be chalked up as an automatic win anymore! No more feeling sorry for the Fins from this Patriots fan!

Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers had an impressive win thanks to their defense Sunday night. They are lucky to be 4-1 given they were outplayed by the Ravens last week and won and Ben Roethlisberger is taking a beating every game. If Big Ben keeps getting hit like this all year they’ll be lucky to have him still standing in the late stretch of the season and he’ll likely be less effective. They have to find a way to keep him from taking such a beating every week.

Tennessee Titans. They might be 5-0 but I am not that impressed. They may have a great defense and good running backs but they look blah to me on the field. They should have lost to the Ravens. This team will likely make the playoffs, and with the AFC weak this year who knows what will happen there, but I don’t see the Titans as a championship caliber team.

Indianapolis Colts. The Colts must be the luckiest team this year, while the Baltimore Ravens are the unluckiest. They should be 0-4 instead of 2-2 with gift wins against the Vikings and Texans. Sage Rosenfels was able to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory last week basically handing the Colts the game. This doesn’t bode well for the rest of the AFC because I suspect before long the offense will start clicking and piling up the points while the defense improves.

AFC West. Denver is not as good as they look because of their weak defense, and San Diego not as bad. Kansas City and Oakland are as bad as they look.

New York Giants. Brandon Jacobs is a beast and the defensive line stellar. This team has picked up right where they left off last year.

Terrell Owens, is a jerk.

Washington Redskins. It’s amazing to see the turnaround in this team since the first game of the season. They are playing as well as I have seen them play in years on both sides of the ball. Jason Campbell seems to have really taken to Jim Zorn’s offense and Clinton Portis is looking like the stud running back he was a few years ago.

Philadelphia Eagles. With all the injuries and a losing record in the toughest division in the NFL this team may be in big trouble. After the Dallas game I thought they were back to their winning ways. What a difference a few weeks (and injuries make).

NFC North. This could turn out to be a competitive division. Chicago’s defense is stellar and Kyle Orton is playing very well. Green Bay I expect to rebound from their recent losses. Minnesota likely will end up with a losing or 8-8 record but they have the potential to do better if they can score some points. Detroit, well, let’s not pick on them.

Carolina Panthers. Are they really as good as people say they are? I have a hard time believing it.

NFC West. The Cardinals should win this division if they keep playing like they did last week and get some road wins. They are solid on both sides of the ball. Kurt Warner just needs to avoid the turnovers.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Brandon Jacobs, RB, New York Giants

Defensive Player: Antoine Winfield, CB, Minnesota Vikings

Offensive Lineman: Adam Terry, T, Baltimore Ravens

Special Teams: Reggie Bush, RB/KR, New Orleans Saints

Rookie of the Week:  Felix Jones, RB, Dallas Cowboys