NFL 2011 Playoff Report: Ranking the 12 Quarterbacks Left Standing

David RushCorrespondent IJanuary 6, 2011

NFL 2011 Playoff Report: Ranking the 12 Quarterbacks Left Standing

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    Before the term quarterback guru was ever popularized, there lived a very clever man named Sidney, (or as he was more readily known), "Sid" Gilman.

    He was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1911, paced his environs to the ripe age of 92 and in a near century of spirited existence impacted the game of professional football as few others have ever contemplated.

    He once said,  “The competition...the type of football. Wide open, putting it in the air. That’s the fascination. In college football, the big play is not the pass. In pro football, it is. The talent in the pros is so outstanding—the wide receivers, the quarterbacks. That’s the fun, when you take the ball and move it down the field with talented people."  

    Gilman was the head coach of the NFL's Los Angeles Rams from 1955 to 1959. He had only middling success there, in 1960 made the switch to the AFL's San Diego Chargers and it was in this swingin', So Cal environment that Sid the Kid eventually found a mobile, strong armed quarterback named John Hadl and a legendary wide out borne of extraordinary speed and grace named Lance Alworth.

    Those three men, Hadl, Alworth and Gilman, would ultimately come to change the game of professional football forever.   

    It wasn't so much that they invented the the big strike, but more so prevailed upon its frequency. Gilman was the first to fully incorporate the motion game into his attacking schemes, creating endless mismatches with stay-at-home defenses, and in San Diego his teams won in the kind of thrilling fashion that prompted the rest of the AFL to prop up their own systems similarly.  

    From there the league's fast growing, fan-friendly reputation for playing a brand of football not seen in the more conventional NFL was born and this as much as anything came to prompt the merger between the two professional leagues.  

    Of course that piece of now almost ancient history notwithstanding it's defense that wins championships! 

    At least that's what many a purist will say, and when you look back on endless examples extending from Lombardi's Packers through the ultra impressive vagaries of Miami's "No Name D," Pittsburgh's "Steel Curtain," the Raiders' "Black Hole," Cowboy defensive sides led by both Tom Landry and Jimmie Johnson, Ronnie Lott's 49ers, the Lawrence Taylor led Giants, the '86 Bears, the 2001 Ravens, numerous versions of Belichick's Patriots—well, of course the point is well made. 

    Rarely has a championship been won by simply outscoring the opposition in all encompassing offensive affair, but by the same token, with the possible exception of the Ditka/Ryan '86 Bears, you don't win with 21 players on the field either.

    Whether the man over center is an all-time great—a Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana or Tom Brady—or just a chucker who gets hot at that quintessential time—a Doug Williams, Trent Dilfer or Eli Manning, for example—championship teams require a pilot, and that pilot generally speaking plays the quarterback position.

    This year's NFL playoffs bring us a particular list of impressive players at the all important helm position.

    So without further adieu we begin at the bottom of that 12-man pile.    

Matt Hasselbeck

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    There's nothing quite so annoying as finding a 7-9 team in the NFL's postseason tourney, even more so the case of the horrible Seahawks, who finished the year having scored nearly 100 points fewer than their base of opponents.

    Every bit the contributor to this mess is starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Once one of the league's consistently productive passers, his last really notable season was in 2007 when he threw for 28 touchdown and was intercepted only 12 times before the playoff massacre in Lambeau that year at the hand of the Green Bay Packers.

    In 2010, he's thrown for 3,000 yards at a clip close to 60 percent. That's the good news. The bad news is he's only thrown for 12 TDs, has been intercepted 17 times and has a passer rating of 73.2.

    Once one of the league's more mobile QBs, the frequently concussed Hasselbeck is better suited to the pocket these days, especially in lieu of the fact that his backup, Charlie Whitehurst (who signed for long, hopefully non guaranteed dollars this offseason after rarely playing a regular season down for the Chargers), has proved himself to be as inept as a professional quarterback can in the two starts he was able to ascertain when the prematurely balding No. 1 was out with injuries earlier this year.    

    The Saints will rough up Seattle this weekend and Hasselbeck could find himself quite literally running for his life against an aggressive New Orleans rush that has been known to lay out a quarterback or two.

    It'll more than likely be ugly for the 35-year-old, and might very well be his last game in a Seahawk uniform.  

Mark Sanchez

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    If there's an X factor amongst these 12 quarterbacks, it's Sanchez. 

    That is, when No. 6 is on his game he can play in spectacular fashion and lift his team to superior heights.

    When he's off his game, though—which is about half the time—he'll drag the Jets down with him as they become mired in deficits that they have frequently not been able to overcome in the second half of the season.

    He's got a gun, he's got legs and Sanchez has an abundance of weapons in Santonio Holmes, Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards, Dustin Keller and LaDainian Tomlinson coming out of the backfield, where he continues to be very effective.

    If he can put the ball on the money with regularity this weekend in Indianapolis, the Jets have a good chance of upsetting the Colts.  

    If not, it'll be another in a long line of unhappy endings for Jet fans.  

Jay Cutler

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    The Bears quarterback was so bad last year people outside of Chicago still refuse to believe this season's second half rebound is anything other than a mirage. 

    Cutler threw a career-high 27 TDs in 2009 to go with a career-high 26 interceptions. This year, after a similarly slow start, he's settled down and hit 60 percent of his passes, 23 for touchdowns, with 16 misthrows landing in opposing hands. 

    He continues to have good mobility, and he needs it playing behind a Bears line that has allowed what must be a league-high 52 sacks.

    The Bears won 11 games this year, will get home-field in Round 2, but won't get anywhere without an effective Cutler. He didn't look great last week in Green Bay, and in truth we don't expect much out of him this postseason.

    But like the Bears themselves, he might continue to surprise us. He'll need to against the likes of Drew Brees, Michael Vick, Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan, at least one of whom he'll be meeting somewhere down the playoff road. 

Joe Flacco

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    It's not that Flacco doesn't have the goods. He's big and strong, has a huge arm, can get out of the pocket and gain positive yards with relative ease.

    It's more that the Baltimore offense sometimes appears to be as ample in its scheme as a strait jacket with Flacco becoming a hand-off machine who's given the occasional lee-way to make a sideline throw or lay the ball out into the flat, and not much more.

    Still, he's managed to put up excellent if not entirely identical numbers these past couple of seasons. Throwing for 3,600-plus yards in 2009 and 2010, he's completed right about 63 percent of his passes, and this year he's thrown 25 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions. 

    In the Baltimore scheme, his job is to manage the field, not turn the ball over and let the defense carry the rest of the day. That might get the Ravens to New England in this year's postseason.

    But it won't get them out of that particular Dodge alive.  

Matt Cassel

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    Another guy who might have spent a career carrying a clipboard, Cassel got his break in 2008 when New England's Tom Brady went down in Week 1 with a season-ending injury.

    He threw for more than 3,600 yards, 21 TDs and 11 INTs in what was a pretty brilliant performance under the circumstances—those being the guy hadn't started a football game since high school and nobody on the Patriot sidelines had the slightest idea what to expect from him.

    Much more was expected in K.C. last year as Cassel arrived with a gargantuan contract, but he disappointed with a flat 1-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio, 16 of each, hitting only 55 percent of his passes.

    But 2010 has been a different story altogether and Cassel has lit the up league with 27 TDs as compared to only 7 INTs. This, combined with a souped-up running game, appeared to put the Chiefs in position to make some headway in the coming postseason, but a 31-10 loss to Oakland at home last weekend has brought some of those old question marks back to bare.

    We'll get some answers this weekend when the tough Raven D comes to town.    

Matt Ryan

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    Matty Ice has really never skipped a beat since stepping in as Atlanta's starting QB his rookie year, and over three seasons he's hit 60 percent of his passes for more than 10,000 yards, with 66 TDs and only 34 INTs.

    Those numbers speak volumes on Ryan's style of play. He's patient, has the arm to make any throw he needs to, the wherewithal to check down and survey the field, and most importantly has Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White, two of the most dangerous weapons in the game forever in his line of sight.

    Ryan won't make a major mistake, and while the Falcons aren't particularly explosive on either side of the ball they are exceedingly diligent in the way they go about their business.

    It's gotten them 13 wins this year. Whether or not that will get them two more and a date in Dallas remains to be seen.  

Michael Vick

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    Immediately, people will start screaming about why Vick is so far down this chart. He's been fantastic this year in Philly, is fourth in the league with a QB rating of 100.2, he's excelled in the past in the postseason with Atlanta and is a far better quarterback now under the tutelage of coach Andy Reid then he ever was with the Falcons.

    It's more so a tribute to the quality and accomplishments of those listed above him but there are still some questions about Vick's ability to throw quickly and accurately out of the pocket when under pressure.

    That's not necessarily a problem as in the blink of an eye this football playing wonder can take off 30, 40, 50 yards down the field. He looks quicker now than he did in his last years in Atlanta, when all the punishment seemed to be taking its toll.

    Against a defense like Green Bay's, though, Vick could have problems. They are disciplined in their lanes and still put on pressure. Their cover corners and the secondary as a whole is as good as any in the league.

    If Vick is not able to run wild on Green Bay, he will have to beat them on timing routes. He will not have all day to throw multiple balls 50 or 60 yards down the field to Jackson or Maclin running free.

    In the end, every quarterback from here on up has a very special skill set. You can make an argument for anyone's positioning, but until proved otherwise we think this is the right spot for Michael Vick.    

Ben Roethlisberger

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback is a winner, we know that, and cool as ice under pressure—we know that too.

    There's little Big Ben Roethlisberger can't do on a football field and he's been proving that since his rookie year in the league when he came right out of the box hitting 64 percent of his passes 17 for TDs with 11 INTs.

    After missing four games early this year due to making an ass of himself in a little town no one had ever heard of and most have since forgotten, including me, he came on to throw for 266 yards per game with 17 TDs and only five tosses ending up in the hands of guys wearing the wrong colored jerseys.

    And actually it's Milledgeville, Georgia, but I had to look it up.

    He can run and escape the pocket—not with the kind of polish and explosiveness of a Michael Vick, but well enough over his career to accumulate 884 yards, most of those as a result of breaking free of hapless defenders who only a split second before thought they were about to put the 6'5" 240-pounder squarely on his back.

    He's got a nice runner to hand the ball to in Rashard Mendenhall and explosive receivers Mike Wallace and the physical vet, Hines Ward, outside. The Steeler defense will rarely allow an opponent to run away and it's not often that Big Ben won't have a chance to bring it home for Steelers fanatics in the fourth quarter of a hotly contested game. 

    He's come through in a lot of big spots, so a trip to Dallas this postseason, even running through New England, is certainly not out of the question

Aaron Rodgers

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    Everyone will have their own idea about this, but for me Aaron Rodgers has the most physical talent of any QB in football.

    That doesn't make him better than Brees, Brady or Manning, but in any game and/or given opportunity Rodgers has the skill set to keep pace with or simply outplay any quarterback in the game, and that includes the aforementioned threesome.

    He is what we call a five-tool quarterback. Rodgers can run—aside from Vick he is easily the most mobile QB on this list. Better yet, he can escape the pocket, pump off defenders and then beat you with a long ball, medium ranger laser, or with a deft touch on the little dump off.

    He plays with adrenaline pumping, with a high degree of confidence and he has incredible tools to work with in Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones and young Jordy Nelson (and they're missing superb pass catching tight end missing Jermichael Finley!).

    I'm loving Green bay in the upcoming tourney. I think they have the best defense in the field, the best receiver set, and a quarterback who has the No. 1 career passer rating, 98.4, in the history of the NFL.

    Aaron Rodgers comes in at No. 4 on this list but he could just as easily have been penned in at No. 2. 

    Expect great things from him in the playoffs and don't be surprised to find this wild card team still playing in Dallas on February 7.

Peyton Manning

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    Seniority only takes you so far. Drew Brees and Tom Brady have done a little more for us lately, but Peyton Manning is still one of the most dangerous weapons in all of football and maybe the only quarterback on this or any other list who can literally beat you all by himself. 

    That is, he can take an inferior team—a team that cannot keep the opposition from scoring—and still find a way to continually drive his own team to pay-dirt, somehow conjuring a last possession game where he has endlessly performed miracles from anywhere on the field in a minute or less.

    And in fairness Manning has done this without the support of a running game since Edge James left Indianapolis a good five or six years ago. Joseph Addai has not been terrible, but he is certainly not the type of back that draws a great deal of attention. Even knowing in cases that Manning will be throwing on virtually every down he is still, even with a little better than half-baked receiving crew, nearly impossible to stop.

    In the end, consider this: Brady in Indianapolis, Manning in Foxboro.

    Forget about in their respective primes, present day, and tell me if you think the results would be any different?

    Not in New England they wouldn't. Manning and Belichick would be as sweet as Brady and Belichick any day, but I wonder if Brady would be able to carry a team the way Manning has had to intermittently these last several years of his career. 

    But that's only something that can be discussed in theory. In actual terms, along with Joe Montana, these three are No. 1, 1A and 1B in pro football's modern era. 

Drew Brees

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    He's not quite as quick as Rodgers, but Drew Brees is another five-tool quarterback. What may distinguish him from any other QB in this group is how deft his touch is, what an incredibly catchable ball he actually throws, and in lieu of the last, an almost blinding ability to put the ball right between the numbers whether he's on his toes in the pocket or off and running for his life.  

    Brees has thrown for nearly 24,000 yards since signing with New Orleans five years ago. Try to contemplate that number, and while you're at it throw in 155 touchdowns and the undeniable statistical reality that in leading last year's Saints to their only Super Bowl victory he completed nearly 71 percent of his throws en route to a passer rating of 109.6! 

    He's tossed his fair share of interceptions this year as the Saints to the most part have failed to recapture last year's incredible offensive rhythm, but like Manning he's had to work with a mishmash of backs that have served the Saints moderately well at best. 

    That having been said, there can't be anyone who would be totally surprised to find Drew Brees and the team from The Big Easy playing in Dallas, February 7.

    He's that good, and only a quarterback with Tom Brady's incredible ability and undeniable end results could be rated ahead of him on this year's list of playoff QBs.  

Tom Brady

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    The undeniable king of QBs surpassed even his own incredible standards this year while overcoming the jettisoning of key target Randy Moss abd a return to an offensive scheme the Pats had largely abandoned these past several years en route to one of the greatest quarterbacking seasons the NFL has ever known.

    At the age of 33, Brady played in all 16 games for the Patriots, completed 66 percent of his passes for 3,900 yards and a mind-boggling 36 touchdown throws against only 4 interceptions.

    His instinct for the game, for recognizing coverages, for identifying the open receiver before the snap has even been executed may be unparalleled in the history of professional football.

    It seems he can make any receiver great. Aaron Hernandez, Ron Gronkowski, Deon Branch comes back from three years of doing absolutely nothing in Seattle and falls back in sync with Brady approximately 30 seconds after greeting each other on their first day of pitch and catch.

    Brady is a fierce competitor, utterly confident in his own ability. On draft day 11 years ago, he told owner Robert Kraft that the fifth round pick the team had just expended on him was the best move the franchise ever made and he guaranteed ample returns.

    And has he ever. The Patriots have won three Super Bowls with Tom Terrific at the helm and appear to be en route to No. 4 this year. Only that achievement, accomplished previously by Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana, keeps him from irrefutably being referred to as the greatest quarterback ever to play the game.

    He still just may be.

    That was one hell of a fifth round pick.


    That's it for today, hope you enjoyed it,