Tom Brady and 7 NFL QBs Who Can't Overcome Shoddy Defenses
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At first blush, my answer to the question, “How many NFL quarterbacks can’t overcome a substandard defense?” is—32.
However, that’s not a very entertaining point of view. So, let’s consider the question in terms of degree.
I don’t honestly believe that any quarterback can rise to the championship level without a better than average D. Much less the marginal signal callers.
So let’s not waste more than a byte of cyberspace pointing out that Kolb, McCoy, Gabbert, Cassel, Ponder, Newton, Smith, Jackson/Whitehurst, Bradford (and whoever the heck suits up in DC, Denver, Miami, Oakland, Tennessee or Indy) don’t have a prayer of a winning season without a top five defense. And, to be brutally honest, probably not with one.
Then there are the good quarterbacks who might break .500 but won’t go anywhere in the postseason unless their defense can shoulder at least 50 percent of the load: Fitzpatrick, Flacco (maybe), Sanchez, Dalton, Schaub, Romo, Stafford and Cutler. Although we can debate the point in another article, most of these passers are franchise QBs. But they don’t have the tools or the protection to overcome even a suspect defense, much less a “shoddy” one.
But how about those quarterbacks that we all like to label as “elite?” Out of 32 teams, even the best signal callers aren’t prepared to prevail in a “defense optional” environment.
And, yes, No. 12 is one of them.
Tom Brady: “My Kingdom for a Go-Route!”
Can we try for more than 10?
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The good news is that the Patriots' inability to go vertical (most of the time) has helped them to control the clock and keep the game out of the hands of their disjointed defense. The bad news is that playing from behind is requiring actions truly worthy of a superhero from No. 12.
Most analysts think that Brady is a better quarterback than he was in the early 2000s. I agree. He has to be.
In building the Brady myth, people often forget that two of those Super Bowls were ultimately won by Adam Vinatieri and that the final score in the 2001 Super Bowl was 20-17. Brady’s offense achieved 15 first downs and 267 total yards.
The awesome feat there was that the D held the Greatest Show on Turf to 17 points. New England gave up 427 yards—but 17 points! Is that even possible? It is if you also end up +3 on turnovers.
But that was before Bruschi, Vrabel and almost that entire defense road off into private life. In two losses this year, the current defense was pushed around like the small kid at recess: 448 total yards given up to Buffalo and the Steelers kept the football for almost 40 minutes.
Tom Brady has a QB rating of 104.4 and has thrown for almost 2,400 yards with 18 TDs and eight INTs. Despite their pitiful showing against he Cowboys, the Dallas D is good and Brady’s last-minute winning drive was flawless.
He is in peak form and is pulling every single ounce of production out of an offense that had virtually one completion over 20 yards in that game (which was, incidentally, Branch’s longest reception of the season at 45 yards).
Brady is trying to make a soufflé out of stuff left over in the cupboard. And he’s succeeding. But he can’t win a championship (or maybe even a division title) when the defense gives up over 400 yards and 39 minutes to Ben Roethlisberger.
Final note: I don’t want to alarm Foxborough fans, but your new starting safeties are Antwaun Molden (year four, zero starts) and sophomore DB, Phillip Adams (who has been cut and re-signed more than once). Never mind: you actually should be alarmed by that.
Eli Manning: Yes, He Is Too an Elite QB
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Before you judge, did you actually hear the interview? He was asked if he thought he was in the same elite class as the top QBs. He didn’t answer at all for a beat and then answered in a very humble tone that he did think he was in their league. Besides, what do you want your quarterback to say? “Gee, no, I stink?”
I know some people don’t find stats convincing but Eli is completing almost 65 percent of his passes, has thrown 13 TDs and five picks and has a season-long rating of 102.1 (which is third in the NFL). What else do you call that besides “elite?”
Now that I’ve stuck up for little brother, let’s get real. It took Strahan to get a ring. When Big Blue won the Super Bowl, the defense gave up 274 yards total —to a 'Pats team that had just broken seemingly every offensive record in the National Football League! Then Michael Strahan retired.
New York had Jacobs/Bradshaw, Plaxico Burress and a great O-line. Does anyone honestly think that the Giants are going to win the NFC with Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham and a rebuilt line? (By the way, both of those WRs and some more O-linemen are now hurt.)
Well, if Justin and Osi can stay healthy and grow up—maybe. The D does have 26 sacks and a +5 turnover ratio while allowing 18 TDs in eight weeks. Of course, Umenyiora is now questionable—again.
Stay tuned this weekend to see how they fare against Brady. Hint: if Tom isn’t on his backside, they won’t be faring well.
Matt Ryan: I Rest My Case
Here ya go, Michael.
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Ryan is kind of Peyton Manning lite. Except that he hasn’t put it all together yet and isn’t even quite where Peyton was at this stage of his career. And Matt has a running game!
Ryan has led 10 fourth quarter comebacks and 15 game-winning drives. That’s not bad for a three-and-a-half-year career. He completes over 61 percent of his passes. But he has nine TDs and eight INTs—probably because the defense usually can’t stop anyone and he’s having to scramble to score.
Add in the fact that your team did not draft anyone on defense because they wanted to give you Julio Jones (who is constantly hurt), and it’s no wonder that Matty Ice can’t get the offense over the hump, especially when he is playing from behind.
Returning to Michael Turner for a boatload of carries has helped, since it keeps the ball away from the other team’s offense. But this year has a patchwork, haphazard feel to it that isn’t going to be improved as Turner gets older.
Philip Rivers: Anywhere Except San Diego, Please
I need to score how many points?
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A year ago, Rivers led the No. 1 offense and enjoyed playing with the No. 1 defense. And they still couldn’t get it done. This year the offense has put up 161 points and the defense has given up 159. No wonder they are 4-3.
I’d say don’t get me started on Norv Turner, but he is the primary reason that Phillip can’t even hope to succeed without a really good D.
Turner has such a misplaced sense of when and how to be aggressive in a football game that the opponents often don’t even need to work at a win. Add in an apparent lack of a team gestalt and horrendous clock management and you see what I mean.
I still believe in Rivers, but he’s playing poorly because he feels like the team’s entire fortune rests with him. And it might. But that isn’t going to get them to the Super Bowl that the Chargers have the talent to achieve. It’s sad.
Michael Vick: Please
Two weapons in one. And it's still not enough.
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This is short and sweet:
1) The defense was a bunch of All-Stars who couldn’t remember each other’s names for the first month of the year.
2) The linebacking corps looked like a game of 52-card pickup
3) The secondary seemed unable to execute in any scheme other than man-on-man
Consequently, Juan Castillo’s head was on the block and the team was a mess.
Given time to gel and Juan's time to find some linebackers and explain life to his DBs, the defense came storming out of the bye and Andy Reid is back to being a genius. If you say so. Let’s not forget that:
1) The O-line is a shambles
2) Vick is completing a surprising 63 percent of passes, but for only 1,852 yards. Of course, he has rushed for a mile or two worth of field.
I personally cannot get too excited about a QB with 11 TDs and eight INTs, but people insist that No. 7 is in the top five. Really? He couldn’t win even regular season games until the defense rallied.
Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers: We May Never Know
How about 34 points today, boys?
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Poor Warren Sapp. You make one derogatory (and cleverly brutal) remark about the Steelers’ D and the wrath of the Steel Curtain falls on your head. Come on, now, be honest. We all thought that Pittsburgh’s D looked “old, slow and over” in Week 1.
Then Harrison got hurt and it looked bad for the Steel City D. But there is a lot to be said for experience and heart. Not to mention a group of infuriated and embarrassed athletes rallying together.
Let’s face it: both Ben and Aaron lucked into great situations. Ben didn’t have to do much except one shoe-string (literally) tackle to get to his first Super Bowl, and he hasn’t played well in either of his appearances at the Big Dance.
But as long as the Rooneys keep building their franchise through the draft and Dick LeBeau is on the sidelines, Ben looks like a superstar. Okay, I’ll be fair and admit that he is playing lights out this season, but how much longer is Dick going to be there holding together what is, no matter what fans say, an aging D?
Aaron Rodgers is apparently the second-coming of Johnny Unitas if you listen to analysts this year. He is, to be sure, passing the football with preternatural accuracy. But he’s also playing with house money. He has, what, 25 guys who can make circus catches?
Yes, the defense hasn’t really done their part thus far this season, but with the anticipated return of Mike Neal at DE, Zombo at LB and Sam Shields in the secondary, things will be looking up. The passing D has suffered some, giving up 289 yards per game through the air. But the group as a whole has still kept opponents to 20.1 points per contest.
Maybe it’s just me, but I expect the D to be ready to do their part by Thanksgiving and any unit anchored by Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson (do not even try to quote his age to me) cannot possibly be called “shoddy.”
Peyton Manning: Give Me Just 1 More Bob Sanders
They scored again?
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Peyton Manning may not be considered in the Joe Montana/Tom Brady clutch class, but there has never been a quarterback like him. As Jon Gruden said on Monday Night Football last year, “The best offensive coordinator in the NFL is Peyton Manning.”
His offenses are off the charts, without anything resembling a credible rushing attack—ever. Marcellus Wiley said recently on ESPN Radio that when you played Tom Brady you “knew you’d been in a fight.” But when you were beaten by Peyton Manning you had been thrown on a table and surgically dissected.
Kirk Morrison (former Jags LB) told NFL Live’s Trey Wingo that he had watched Peyton Manning “single-handedly take his team to the playoffs” in 2010. Well, he had a front row seat from Jacksonville so I believe him.
With all of that undoubtedly true, No. 18 has one Super Bowl win. The team has always had a good pass rush with Freeney and Mathis and excellent cornerbacks (until they got hurt this year). But without Bob Sanders refusing to allow an opposing running back out of the box, even Manning couldn’t get past Brady.
The year that Indy won it all, Sanders had been hurt most of the season (of course). Every analyst had written the Colts off as “one and done”. Then this hard-hitting safety came back for the playoffs and Indianapolis mounted an historic AFC Championship comeback win and sailed through the Super Bowl.
What else is there to say?
Drew Brees: Close To Pulling It Off
Another TD at the office.
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I have to say that of any quarterback in recent history, Drew Brees over the past four years has played so well and so consistently and with such outrageous production that he can almost overcome his D.
Not that the Saints’ defense is exactly shoddy. They aren’t. But they haven’t replicated that perfect storm of the Super Bowl year. Sharper anchored the secondary so that Harper and Porter could intercept anything within a 10-foot radius and Jonathan Vilma transformed the spirit of not only a linebacking corps, but of an entire defensive unit.
There is a reason that Sean Payton demanded Vilma be brought up to the Super Bowl platform to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
Vilma has been hurt, Sharper had to retire and they just haven’t been the same. I thought that a Gregg Williams’ D would always be a ferocious force of nature. But the last two years, not so much. I keep trying to figure it out. And I keep coming back to Sharper.It wasn’t so much his playing ability at the end of his career. It must have been largely leadership.
For whatever reason, they are not as good as they were. And yet, Brees keeps winning games.
What? I can hear you now. Didn’t you see the Rams’ debacle on Sunday? Yes, and I think the weirdness of the past two weeks has a lot to do with Sean Payton’s injury. Things aren’t right at the top and it’s rattled the team.
But you certainly can’t blame it on Drew Brees. Brees has “thrown a touchdown pass in 35 consecutive games and needs one more to tie Brett Favre for the second-longest such streak in league history. Johnny Unitas holds the NFL record with 47 in a row.”
And I might point out that with sweeping injuries and changes on the O-line, Brees has been sacked 19 times this year—by far his highest rate of butt-on-the-ground situations since his arrival in the Big Easy.
No. 9’s passer rating may be “only” 100.6, but his completion percentage is 70.6! Even without Colston available for a time, Drew has thrown almost twice as many TDs as INTs, and that is a very poor ratio for him. Did I mention that he has passed for 2,746 yards, averaging 327 per game through the air?
The team is 5-3. Well, that’s not as good as Green Bay’s record, you say. Brees has as many weapons as Rodgers, you say. And, yes, before you write to me—I know that the Saints have the No. 15 defense and the Packers’ unit is at No. 28.
But the Saints’ secondary (which won them both the NFC Championship and the Super Bowl), has only four INTs, and the defensive squad has allowed over 150 yards per game on the ground. See notes on the Colts above to grasp the magnitude of how bad that is.
And Brees just keeps setting records. I don’t really believe that Drew can single-handedly win a Super Bowl if the D (and the O-line) doesn't get their act together, but, darn, he could come close.
Simply the Best.
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All of this great QB talk got me thinking, how were the defenses that Joe Montana played with? Well, it turns out that they were awfully good.
The 1989 49ers led the league in offense that year, scoring almost 28 points every week. Ah, but the defense? Third in the NFL, allowing less than 16 points per game.
Remember Dan Fouts and Air Coryell? Well, neither do I actually, but for the sake of argument let’s pretend that we do. In 1979, the Chargers finished with a record of 12-4. They had the top passing offense and the second-rated overall offense in the NFL
They lost in the first playoff game to Houston. This was the Oilers team that featured Earl Campbell power-rushing and a D-line coached by Wade Phillips. Apparently Wade has always been good at this defense thing.
How about when John Elway “couldn’t win the big one?" On another team that led the league in passing, Elway himself was the third rusher on the Broncos with 303 yards on the ground. How’s that for a QB? They lost the Super Bowl to the Redskins after the defense allowed 602 total yards. No, that’s not a typo.
Kurt Warner threw for seven million yards in 2000 and won the Super Bowl on a tackle.
I think that about sums it up, don’t you?