Job One for Cleveland's Mike Holmgren: Upgrade Browns' Quarterback Play

Steve TaterCorrespondent IDecember 23, 2009

CLEVELAND - DECEMBER 10: Quarterback Brady Quinn #10 of the Cleveland Browns throws a pass against the Pittsburgh Steelersat Cleveland Browns Stadium on December 10, 2009 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Greg Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Brady Quinn’s season is over for the second time in two years because of injury.

A new president of football operations is in place and has to evaluate the talent on hand to decide what direction to take the team.

One of the most pressing things on Mike Holmgren’s plate will be, “What do the Cleveland Browns do at quarterback?”

President Holmgren is not exactly being greeted with an embarrassment of riches at the position. And Quinn’s injury will not help in the evaluation process.

If game tape is all Holmgren has to make a decision, Brady is in some big trouble.

After two straight wins despite minimal contributions from the quarterback, the Quinn apologists have come out with a new theory: “The Cleveland Browns can win with a 'game manager' like Brady Quinn.”

“Game manager” is code in the NFL for “you cannot really win us a game, so please try not to lose it.”

Let’s not kid ourselves here, the Browns cannot continue to bank on eight-sack performances, multiple kickoff return touchdowns, and 286-yard rushing games if they are to be successful.

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While it is true that the hard-nosed AFC North requires a solid running attack and top-notch defense, quarterback play separates contenders from pretenders.

The Cleveland Browns' defense is not going to turn into the Steel Curtain or the brutal Ray Lewis-led Super Bowl Ravens in the next year or two. And I do not see Clay Matthews, Hanford Dixon, or Frank Minnifield anywhere on the roster.

Cleveland currently has the fourth-best quarterback of the four teams in the AFC North (unless you count backups). Quinn ranks miles below Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer, and Joe Flacco, no matter which standard you use.

If you look at all of the potential playoff teams this season, there are very few teams who do not have a strong-armed/playmaking QB (AFC: Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger; NFC: Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Kurt Warner).

The only team that might make the playoffs with a "game manager" is Denver (which has gotten some big games through the air due to its ridiculous number of playmaking receivers). And Denver looks like a team on borrowed time anyway.

NFL football teams do not want game managers at quarterback, they settle for them when nothing else is available.

Statistically, Brady Quinn is the 26th-rated starting quarterback in the NFL. If you take out his monstrous game against the lowly Detroit Lions, his numbers look even worse.

Let’s get one thing perfectly straight—those bombs against the Lions do not disprove the notion that Quinn lacks arm strength!

There are 119 Division I FBS programs in college football, and there are 238 quarterbacks (or more) that can throw a football 50 yards or more.

In fact, I would be surprised if you did not have one playing at your local high school right now.

This past Sunday, I watched the Packers' Aaron Rodgers running the two-minute drill before the half. His receiver ran a deep crossing pattern and he threw a rocket near the sidelines that did not get seven feet off the ground for a 22-yard completion.

That pass enabled his team to stop the clock and continue the drive. That, my friends, is arm strength!

That is also something we have not seen Quinn do on a regular basis, if ever.

There will be three-to-four plays per game during which a quarterback has to fire a bullet between defenders or near the sideline. Those three-to-four plays will be worth three-to-10 points per ball game.

I do not have the statistics to prove it, but it is likely those three to 10 points a game will be the difference between a 10-6 record or a 6-10 record.

Many want to blame current offensive coordinator Brian Daboll for Quinn’s struggles. While Daboll will not be confused with Don Coryell any time soon, he cannot shoulder the entire blame for Quinn’s failures.

It is quite possible, even probable, that many of Daboll’s play-calling decisions have been the result of Quinn’s deficiencies and not the other way around.

Some people are of the belief that Mike Holmgren’s West Coast Offense is going to save the day for Brady Quinn’s career.

Bill Walsh once described the West Coast Offense as a long handoff, which would probably hide some of Quinn’s shortcomings.

But the game has changed immensely from the days of Joe Montana. Linebackers, defensive backs, and even defensive linemen are much quicker to the ball.

Because the league is now more familiar with the offense, defensive coordinators have found ways to scheme against it.

The West Coast Offense spawned the Tampa-Two defense (actually reincarnated from the 1970s Steelers). It was designed to combat the Jerry Rice's of the world from turning a six-yard catch into a 60-yard scamper.

As a result, teams that run the West Coast successfully now have rifle-armed quarterbacks who can force a ball into tight quarters (see Favre, McNabb, Rodgers). And those same quarterbacks keep defenses honest by throwing the ball over the top.

Quinn possesses neither of those skills-sets.

The hope has been that, despite Quinn not having an Uzi for an arm, he would more than make up for it with his accuracy. But that has not been the case.

Some of the blame can be laid at the hands, or lack thereof, of his receiving corps. But he has been wildly erratic on even short throws.

Quinn has the lowest completion percentage (53.1) and worst yards per passing attempt average (5.23) in the entire league (sans JaMarcus Russell). Those statistics are alarming.

A 53 percent completion percentage is usually reserved for mad bombers who take their chances down the field, not for quarterbacks who see the field from 10 yards and in.

We can no longer just excuse Quinn because of his youth. He is now in his third season in the league, and younger quarterbacks have shown more potential.

While I leave the decision on how to rectify the lack of productivity at the position on the new man in charge, one thing is clear: The Cleveland Browns need an upgrade.