4th and Long 10.25.07: The Quarterback Cunundrum

October 25, 2007 | Posted by Matt McEwen

Who’s better? Tom Brady or Peyton Manning?

I’m a big fan of Mike & Mike in the morning on ESPN radio/TV, and the last two days they’ve been discussing which of these two great quarterbacks is greater, and why no one else is in their league right now.

This morning (Wednesday), Phil Simms was their guest, and joined fellow former QB’s Ron Jaworski and Steve Young in not wanting to answer the question as to which one was better. Unlike the other two, Simms offered a bit of a philosophical answer – does it matter? – to the big question, then went on to discuss why there is so much else at work than just pure talent of the player in question.

Let’s take a look at the second half of the question in regards to why no one else is in Brady or Manning’s league right now. Personally, I’d go as far as to add Brett Favre and make it a triumvirate of greatness right now, but I’m actually going to use Favre – just as Simms did – to make a point about the quality of QB play in the league.

Simms had the notion – and I agree with it totally – that QB’s on bad teams never have great years. Conversely – and this is my addition – rarely do you see a QB on a good team have an awful season. So, since Brady has never really played on an outright bad team, and Manning hasn’t in several years, neither have had particularly bad years in their careers. The same can’t be said for just about every other QB who’s been the league any length of time.

Mike & Mike liked to use the example of Casron Palmer seemingly not taking the next step in his development this year and joining the ranks of Brady and Manning. I’d slightly alter that statement and say that it is the Bengals as a whole who haven’t taken the next step to help Palmer reach that level. With a weak defense that would probably not be able to stop my grandma from running for a couple of scores and not much of a running game of their own, Palmer has been forced into situations where he:

1. Has to throw the ball. He’s usually playing from behind, and needs to score on almost every drive just to stay in games. The Jets – yes, THE JETS – put up 31 points this past Sunday. Palmer had to put up 38 to beat one of the worst teams in the league right now. And while Kenny Watson put up a good stat sheet Sunday, Palmer hasn’t been able to rely on a decent running game to grind out games even when they do manage to get a lead.

2. He has to take chances. When you’re behind nearly all the time, and the opposing defense knows you don’t have a running game of note, you’re going to get picked off because, just to even have a chance to win, you have to try and thread the ball into spots you wouldn’t if you knew you had other options. And like I said above, with no consistent running game to grind out time when they do have the lead, Palmer is putting up more throws than he probably should be.

I think you could call this the Brett Favre disease. The past few years, all the talk was about how Favre was past his prime and had lost it, thus leading to the massive amount of interceptions he was throwing. Now, this year is his big “comeback” year where he has “recaptured” his youth.

No, he’s still in his late 30’s.

What he has recaptured is a decent team around him. The past few years, Favre was nearly always playing from behind, and had to take chances later in games to try and win. This would invariably lead to INT’s, but you can’t win if you don’t try. Now that his defense is good enough to keep the offense in games, Favre has been able to cut down on the INT’s and look like the all time great that he is once again. Of course, he doesn’t have a running game anymore, so in close games – such as against the Redskins two weeks ago – you still see him look a bit erratic and put up a few throws that could be picked off.

There’s other examples of these situations all around the league, with a combination of weak receiving corps (Philip Rivers), no running game (Rex Grossman/Brian Griese), bad O-lines (Matt Schaub) and bad defenses (Dolphins, Bengals) conspiring to make QB’s look awful.

Of course, there a few examples of the opposite. In New York, Eli Manning is quietly having his best season as the team around has improved throughout the season. While the defense looked awful the first two games, they have become one of the top units in the league since, and Manning has been able to calmly connect with is strong receiving corps and lead the Giants to a 5-2 record. I’ve dumped on Manning before, but it looks like he’s been as much a victim of inconsistent play around him as much as his own inconsistencies.

I’m not saying that natural talent and hard work don’t play a big factor here, or that some QB’s aren’t better than others, but to say it all comes down to the QB alone is a complete misnomer.

So, does it matter who’s better? No, not really. But it’s still a fun question.

Seeing them Live

Now, when it comes down to the original question I asked – Who’s better between Brady and Manning? – I might be a bit biased after Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Dolphins.

I actually got to watch my first live NFL game and the Patriots make it looks SO easy it’s scary. Brady had all the time the world sitting in the pocket and had so many options open to him on nearly every play that I almost felt bad for the Dolphins. Almost.

Randy Moss is the best receiver in the league right now, and the two ridiculous TD catches he had against Miami demonstrated that. While the Dolphins secondary may be among the worst in the league, they are still NFL players, and Moss made them look like elementary school kids playing against the high school varsity. It was embarrassing to watch Moss make them look as bad as he did.

And when they actually covered Moss, the Dolphins D was being destroyed by Might Mite Wes Welker, who is probably one of my favourite players in the league. He is the best slot receiver in the NFL right now, and is a big reason that Moss is having the year that he is. Without Welker eating up opposing D’s by turning 5-10 yard catches into 15-20 yard gains, Moss would be having a harder time dominating like he is.

As for the live experience, I know I don’t have a lot to compare it too, but Dolphins Stadium was a great place to watch the game. Not a bad seat in the house from what I could tell, and a great group of fans who love their team, but know how to have fun at the same time.


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Matt McEwen
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