The most intriguing answer of this week was Amani Toomer's reply when asked if he'd prefer Tony Romo or Eli Manning as his QB, and he said unequivocally that Romo was the better.
We'll get to that one in a moment, but it's important to put the quarterback into context, as we did last week in this column in answer to a question about the MVP. The position remains the single most important one in team sports—no single position can have such influence game in and game out. It used to be fashionable to say that QBs were no longer what they used to call 'field generals', guys who led their troops over the trenches from the front, as it were—the Bobby Laynes and Johnny Unitases of their day. But it was equally wrong to think of QBs as passing robots, although that is what some coaches would aspire to have. The reality is that a quarterback still needs more than a rifle arm: he has to be able to read a defense, react to what he sees, release the ball quickly, and rifle it in with accuracy, if not cannon-like power. And paradoxically, today's multiple defenses faces shotgun spread offenses mean that quarterbacks are more and more returning to the days of signal-calling themselves. But they have never lost their position as generals—a quarterback's confidence and determination can be contagious in a huddle, and his blockers' faith in his ability can be a powerful motivator. So giving them a little more credit within the context of a team game is not unjustified. But before we get to Eli vs Romo, let's start with a more basic question about QB stats.
Where do quarterback or wide receiver yards accumulate from, the line of scrimmage or where the QB drops back?
Passing, receiving, and rushing yards are all counted from the line of scrimmage, because they are measuring the gain (or loss) from scrimmage, and the key to football remains gaining first downs to continue moving closer to points. Punts are also measured from the line of scrimmage, though field goals are credited from (and, if missed, the ball is then placed back at) the spot of the kick.
Who do you think is the best QB in NFC East after Toomer's recent comments about Romo being better than Eli?
It's like the promos for week one's matchup between Dallas and the Giants have started already! Toomer's comments took people by surprise, but he did say he was basing them on stats, so I went and compared them, and Romo does have a big advantage there. Eli moved into the starter's job in his rookie year, so he's got 7 ½ seasons, while Romo spent two years on the bench, and was injured, so he's only got 5 ½, but here are the numbers, Romo's first: completion percentage 64.5 to 58.4, yards per attempt 8.0 to 7.0, touchdown pct/interception pct: 5.7/2.8 to 4.7/3.3 NFL passer rating: 96.9/82.1. If you put those numbers on a piece of paper and said which QB would you prefer, I don't think anyone who choose number two. You might argue Eli's stats look worse because of the windy winter conditions at Giants' Stadiums, or that his career stats look worse because of his rookie year and one really bad season, but the numbers are glaring.
The difference, of course, is that Eli has two Super Bowl wins, and in both of them he has made the big play of the game—even if in the 2007 Super Bowl he needed Asante Samuel to drop a sure interception on the play before David Tyree made the most unlikely Super Bowl catch of all time. Eli's career playoff record stands at 8-3: but that's two seasons of 4-0 and three of one game and out, 0-3 (which is a lot like Romo's career 1-3 playoff mark). While you have to take QB wins with a huge grain of salt, Romo has the disadvantage of being remembered for some outright chokes, like the extra point hold he dropped against Seattle, and for a couple of regular season melt-downs: like Darrell Revis' interception on Sunday Night Football, or the failure to connect last year with Miles Austin on a first-down that would have put the Giants out of the playoffs.
Scott Kacsmar's compilation of fourth quarter comebacks has Manning ahead 21-13, which tends to reinforce the point, although as Kacsmar has point out, such counts don't include failed comebacks (I've always said I'd prefer the quarterback who's led you to an unassailable lead in the fourth quarter, unless he's Warren Moon against the Bills) and just as with QB wins, football is a team game. But I don't think the Giants would agree to trading Eli one-for-one with Romo, and I don't think I would either.
Recently, Ron Jaworski ranked all the QBs in the NFL, and the top of his list was remarkably similar to the one we did on the Channel Four SNF show. I felt there were four guys in the elite group: Rodgers, Brady, Brees, and Payton (based on 2010—I think we did it at the start of 2011). I'd rank Ben Roethligsberger and Eli just outside that group, as guys who rise to the occasion—they both can make big plays but lack the consistency of the top four, and I'd rank Philip Rivers as the guy just outside the big four. Oddly enough, of the guys in the next tier (Romo, Ryan, Cutler, Stafford, Newton, Schaub) Romo is the one who most resembles the Ben/Eli type player, only thus far he hasn't turned in those big game performances. In the NFL, the ability to perform consistency is usually better than the ability to make big plays, because it's a team game and big plays can't always be made on demand (hence Michael Vick being, for me, in the next tier down). That's why Amani made his comments, I think, and why Eli is special for being able to transcend them. But in answer to you question, I think Robert Griffin has a real shot at emerging as the division's best QB.
Could Matthew Stafford be a top 5 QB? And what are the Lions chance of a run at Super Bowl this year?
As you saw above, John, I have Stafford in that group just outside the top seven, and I think he has an excellent chance of cracking the elite four. He has all the tools, and just needs to stay healthy. But you also see how important it is to get your offense in synch with your QB. You might argue the top guys would play great in any offense, but you can't argue the way their offenses have always suited their talents. The Lions' offense needs a bit more balance; it's too Megatroncentric at the moment, and I think the O line is still a work in progress. But I suspect it's going to get better, and more importantly, the defense, which got all the attention last year, might start performing more to the level of its hype. If it does the Lions could make a move, but they've got the Packers to get past, and the Bears could be a challenging team if Cutler and Forte come back strong from injury and play as they did in that brief period after the London game and before they got hurt.
Did you learn your Xs and Os playing electric football?
Pay the man! Simon asks that question because Norman Sas, the man who invented electric football, died last week. For those of you who don't know what we're talking about, the game involved a field which vibrated, sending your players moving around in seemingly random patterns, and you hoping your ball carrier would be able to go straight for the goal. I don't think anyone could learn Xs and Os that way, although Mike Singletary's 49ers came close. I had one, but soon created my own simulation-style game, based on ABPA, I think, using charts, cards, and three-dice rolls. Sometime in the 1960s the NFL licensed the game, and for a while it was NFL Properties biggest money-maker. Then computer technology game along! But it still is sold, and has its devotees, and they play their own electric football super bowl which surely has as much relevance as, say, the Lingerie Bowl.
Keeping it topical, what are your thoughts on the loss of Matt Light for the Patriots and how Nate Solder will fair?
Lee T Sanders
Lee, the word is 'fare', unless you're prejudging Solder's performance at LT this season! Lee's question is topical because Solder, along with Steven Jackson (and Ray Lewis) was in town this week helping to promote the Wembley game between the Pats and the Rams. Matt Light is a huge loss—whenever you can get a long-term LT in the second round of the draft, you've done well (although interestingly, the big-name tackles haven't been getting to the Super Bowls lately, have they?). The Pats drafted Solder as an eventual replacement: he's a former tight end (reminds me a bit of Matt Lepsis, ex Barcelona and Denver) who's a great fit for what they like to do, and played very well on the right as a rookie. I think he could move to the left side, but Sebastian Vollmer has played there when Light was hurt, so they have options; and Marcus Cannon is probably the back-up who'd play RT if either guy were hurt, and the other would play the left. I think Solder, who can still get bigger and stronger, has a great future, on whichever side of the line.
Is Ryan Mallett the next starting QB for the Pats or trade bait for the Chiefs?
Staying with the topical Pats, watch them in preseason, Lloyd, because Mallett, who was a steal in round 3 last year, and Brian Hoyer, undrafted out of Michigan State, will be auditioning not only for the number two job behind Tom Brady, but also for other teams. Hoyer's in the last year of his contract, and obviously wants a chance to be a starter somewhere, so he'd be the more logical one to try to trade before the end of the season; Mallett's greater potential isn't going to net you a bigger haul until it has been more proven. Hoyer's looked good in preseason, but remember, the year Cassel played so well replacing the injured Brady, he'd looked the worst of the three backups in camp during preseason. It's a luxury that good drafting, and development, allows a team like New England. And there are worse fates than showing up in London with three QBs you can trust.