NFL's quarterback protection debate rages
By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
|Historically poor at protecting himself, despite Eagles quarterback Michael Vick's ability on the run, the big crash was sure to come this season playing behind as bad an offensive line as you will see in pro football. (SEAN GARDNER/Reuters file photo)
For a game that requires a degree of violence on every play, it has felt for some time now that the NFL does too much to protect its quarterbacks.
Rewind to the pre-season comments of one Vince Wilfork, a big, sometimes bruising defensive tackle for the New England Patriots, who probably captures the prevailing sentiment of those inside the sport. We don’t subscribe to every word, but the concept in principle, is integral to the game.
“I can do without them,” Wilfork told the Boston Herald back in the summer, railing about the rules designed to protect quarterbacks. “You have a guy that’s making $30 million a year, but you can’t touch him. C’mon, let’s be for real now.
“Being able to hit a quarterback good, we need that. But you hurt the franchise of your team if you’re allowed to tee off on the quarterback. ‘Cause you know, quarterbacks are wimpy.”
Given the events that transpired Sunday and Monday, it turns out that even if those rules are “wimpy” they are somewhat necessary in today’s NFL.
Four starting quarterbacks took it on the chin, head and shoulder in games played Sunday and Monday night and all four are doubtful for at least next week and perhaps beyond.
And given the startling ineptitude of their backups — shouldn’t teams be more prepared for when that $30-million man goes down? — three teams that looked to be serious titles contenders now have equally dire concerns.
Starting with the one quarterback that isn’t in that post-season category, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Michael Vick, the concussion he suffered Sunday vs. the Cowboys has been coming on for years, really. Historically poor at protecting himself, despite his ability on the run, the big crash was sure to come this season playing behind as bad an offensive line as you will see in pro football.
With that in mind, by the way, all the rules to protect a quarterback can’t make up for such ineptitude. Add the fact that Vick often leads head-first into a scrum or tackle, it was only a matter of time before he suffered a serious injury.
The two other Sunday concussions could have serious implications to the NFC playoff race, however, even though the teams involved are more renowned for their defence than their offence.
First to Chicago where the Bears lost Jay Cutler late in the first half of their home loss to the Houston Texans. Cutler is oft-maligned in the Windy City — and not without reason — but the offence was showing signs of at least complementing the defence this season. When Jason Campbell came on in relief, the awful conditions, his lack of preparation and the very stout Texans defence were too much to handle.
How concerned are the Bears about the loss of Cutler and the play of Campbell? On Tuesday, they re-signed Josh McCown who was cut out of training camp. Campbell is expected to start in the interim, but he hardly inspires confidence and depending on how closely the Bears’ adhere to the vague NFL concussion protocol, it could be weeks before Cutler returns.
The Bears’ opponent next Monday night, the San Francisco 49ers, is in the same injury ward with their quarterback, Alex Smith. Again, a player who seemed to hold the ‘Niners back last season, was making positive strides before the injury. If Smith isn’t ready (or rushed back in the lineup), second-year backup Colin Kaepernick will get the call against the Bears.
The fourth, but certainly not the least of the crumbling QBs, didn’t suffer a concussion but is a potentially huge blow to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ run for the AFC North.
Ben Roethlisberger’s shoulder injury in Monday night’s underwhelming overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs couldn’t have come at a worse possible time given the Steelers play the Ravens, who they are chasing for the divisional title, twice in the next three weeks. Not only did his replacement, Byron Leftwich, struggle, but it was almost as if the rest of the offence saw its confidence plummet after the injury.
And how about this nugget making the rounds on Tuesday: The Steelers have played the Ravens 18 times since Big Ben has been starting for the team and are 9-5 with him behind centre and 0-4 when he’s either hurt or suspended.
But back to the concussed QBs and the head games that are sure to follow. The NFL can talk about its concussion policy all it wants, but both Smith and Cutler stayed in the game after enduring big hits that likely caused their head trauma.
And as crude as it sounds, Wilfork’s attitude towards getting to the quarterback and inflicting damage is the prevailing sentiment in virtually all of football. Is it time and is there a willingness to see it change?
NO EXCUSES FOR BIG BEN
What is more questionable about banged-up Steelers quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger: His health or his coach’s attempt to seem indifferent about it?
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin did his best to shrug off the status of Big Ben, who sustained a right-shoulder sprain in Monday’s narrow 16-13 overtime win over the dismal Kansas City Chiefs. Tomlin acknowledged that Roethlisberger’s status is questionable and that Byron Leftwich, with Charlie Batch as backup, will likely get the start next week.
“We just focus on the healthy guys,” Tomlin told reporters in Pittsburgh. “The injuries are what they are.
“We’re not looking to make excuses. Excuses are the tools of the incompetent. I believe we have a competent football team.”
At 6-3, the Steelers have certainly rebounded nicely from a slow start, but trail the Baltimore Ravens (7-2) who they face twice in the next three games, including Sunday.
“I don’t care about the opponent,” Tomlin said. “They’re nameless, gray faces to me.”