Quarterback stability the key to victory in today's NFL



(Trevor Siemian photo courtesy of Denver Broncos)

By Ron Borges

Talk of Fame Network

If numbers have meaning -- and that is often debatable in today’s stats-driven sports landscape -- then the Patriots, Broncos, 49ers, Eagles, Browns, Texans, Cowboys, Vikings and Rams are starting this season on the wrong foot. Or, more than likely, the wrong arm.

The Boston Herald, for whom I write a sports column, did a fascinating study this week on quarterback stability in the wake of the Patriots’ upcoming lack of same, now that Tom Brady has begun his four-game suspension. What it found is that during the 15 years since Brady took over New England’s offense, seven of the 10 teams with the fewest number of starting quarterbacks during that span were also among the 10 winningest teams.

Conversely, six of the 10 teams that started the highest number of quarterbacks were also among the 10 teams with the fewest wins over those 15 years. The latter may not shock you, but the depth of the problem for teams that can’t keep one quarterback under center is worse than you might have thought.

Quarterback is the place where stability is needed the most for team success and consistently is the reason why teams like the Cleveland Browns, which had the most starters at quarterback, struggled. The outliers on the negative end are the Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars, whose management operations must have been more poorly run than we thought.

Detroit ranked 12th in fewest different starting quarterbacks with 10, yet had the fewest wins, 78, among the 32 teams during the Brady Era. The Jaguars ranked 13th with 11 quarterbacks, yet were fourth on the failure list with only 94 victories. As bad as they may feel in Jacksonville about their past, that’s still 16 wins better than the Lions -- which is the equivalent of a full season of victories better.

During the Brady Era it hasn’t been just the auto industry that collapsed in Detroit. It’s been the toothless Lions.

When Jimmy Garoppolo takes the snap Sunday night on the Patriots’ first offensive series against the Arizona Cardinals, he will become only the third quarterback to start a game for New England since Brady first started for the injured Drew Bledsoe on Sept. 30, 2001. Second is the Chargers with three starters. Although its playoff record doesn’t reflect it, San Diego has the ninth most wins with 128, as well. What the study also found was that 12 of the 15 Super Bowls played during Brady’s time of dominance have been won by teams among the top 10 in fewest quarterback starts.

None of that bodes well for teams like the Broncos, who are the defending Super Bowl champions yet will be led offensively by a guy who hasn’t taken a snap in an NFL game. That might not be as ominous as it sounds if Trevor Siemian was a former No. 1 pick thrust into his moment. But he is a former seventh-round choice who, as a rookie last year, ran more times (once) than he threw (zero).

Maybe this will all work out for John Elway and Gary Kubiak, but don’t bet on it.

Some teams, like Minnesota, New England and Dallas, had a change at quarterback thrust unexpectedly upon them due to injury or suspension, so if they get off to a troubling start fans can blame the fates. But in a place like Philadelphia, which chose to trade its presumptive starter in Sam Bradford for future draft picks only days before the season begins, one wonders if they might have done otherwise had they read the Herald’s study?

The other team on this list that jumps out at you are the lowly Browns. Once the picture of stability when Otto Graham quarterbacked them to seven world championhips and 10 championship-game appearances in his 10 seasons as the starter, the Browns have been abject failures at finding a quarterback during the Brady Era.

Cleveland has used 21 different starting quarterbacks in the past 15 years and is about to make it 22 on Sunday. Somehow the Browns managed to win more games than the Lions (81) but not by much. Now they must hope new head coach Hue Jackson is the quarterback whisperer as he prepares Robert Griffin III to find inside him the quarterback he was in Washington before a devastating knee injury led to a fall from grace.

While quarterback is known to be the place where stability is key, it is even more difficult to create than you might think. During Brady’s Era, NFL teams used an average of 11 starting quarterbacks, but 22 of the 32 teams used at least 10. No surprise that most of the 10 who didn’t were among the most often victorious.

So if you’re looking at a new starter this Sunday that may not be grounds for as much excitement as you think. When it comes to quarterback, a familiar face, like a comfortable old slipper, is really what you want to see.


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