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How The Redskins Should Interpret Bortles, Foles And Keenum Being In The NFL’s Final Four

Galdi makes sense of three of the remaining four starting quarterbacks in the NFL Playoffs not exactly being marquee names

 

 

So we have Case Keenum, Nick Foles and Blake Bortles as three of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL’s final four.  The best nugget coming out of this weekend may well be that the other starting quarterback left, Tom Brady, has as many Super Bowl wins (five) as Keenum, Foles and Bortles have combined NFL playoff starts.

What, if anything, does us having the likes of Keenum, Foles and Bortles as three of the four NFL starting quarterbacks left standing mean?  Does this mean that having a great quarterback isn’t as important as we’ve thought?  Does this spit in the face of what people like me have been yelling for years in the Kirk Cousins #ChaChaCha – that the Redskins should pay him whatever is necessary to keep him, because having a very good starting quarterback matters more than anything?

 

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum (7) runs from New Orleans Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata (93) during the second half of an NFL divisional football playoff game in Minneapolis, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

 

Let’s first examine the history of quarterbacks in terms of Super Bowls.

For years the belief was that you didn’t need a truly great quarterback to make or even win a Super Bowl.  Not a single one of the Redskins’ four starting quarterbacks to play in Super Bowls – Billy Kilmer, Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien – is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or even has come close.  A seven-season stretch from 1985-91 featured five non-Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks – Jim McMahon, Phil Simms, Williams, Jeff Hostetler and Rypien – winning Super Bowls.  Trent Dilfer was Baltimore’s quarterback when the Ravens won Super Bowl 35.  Former Redskin Brad Johnson was Tampa Bay’s quarterback when the Bucs won Super Bowl 37.  You get the idea.

And then things changed.  Starting with Super Bowl 38 (New England over Carolina in Feb. 2004), 13 of the last 14 Super Bowls have been won by quarterbacks who most would agree are tracking toward being in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Tom Brady (four), Ben Roethlisberger (two), Peyton Manning (two), Eli Manning (two), Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson.  Now there is an asterisk on one of those, because Peyton was terrible during the 2015 season for which the Broncos won the Super Bowl.  But, again, you get the idea.  Joe Flacco.is the lone Super Bowl-winning quarterback since the start of the 2003 season who isn’t tracking toward being a Hall-of-Famer.

Why did things change?  Well, first of all, it’s not like being a high-level quarterback hadn’t mattered before; see Bart Starr, Roger Staubach, Terry Bradhsaw and Joe Montana.  But the NFL for a variety of reasons (including New England’s win over Indianapolis in the AFC Championship Game in Jan. 2004; that game sparked major change in passing-game officiating) became more of a passing league than ever before starting in the mid-2000s.  And not so coincidentally quarterbacking began mattering more than ever before.

So have things all of a sudden now gone back to how they were prior to the 2003 season?  Are we back to the 1970s and 1980s, when a good defense and running game seemingly were just as important as a good quarterback?

No.

Now, lemme make clear that a good defense and good running game are always important and welcome.  Certain things not mattering as much as the most important thing doesn’t mean that those certain things don’t matter at all.  Two of the Redskins’ biggest weaknesses during the Jay Gruden Era have been their defense and running game, and those weaknesses have repeatedly been the reasons for losses.  It would be great and it is very needed for the Redskins (and for Jay’s future) that they finally have a good defense and a good running game in 2018.

But you can’t convince me that, all of a sudden, quarterbacking just doesn’t matter as much.  There’s a reason that quarterbacks get paid far more than all other players in the NFL.  The league just hasn’t totally misjudged this.

And consider the specifics of the three “jabroni” quarterbacks who are part of the NFL’s final four:

  • Bortles – Yes, he is not that good.  I will concede to the let’s-build-up-the-defense-and-not-pay-Kirk crowd that Bortles is the best item of evidence for your case.  That his Jaguars put up 45 points at the Steelers despite him completing just 14 of his 26 pass attempts says a lot, though, in fairness, Bortles did make some key throws in averaging 8.23 yards per pass attempt and leading a Jags offense that went 8-for-14 on third downs.  But, no, he’s not great.
  • Foles – This is the most misleading situation.  Yes, the Eagles’ defense deserves a ton of credit for them making the NFC Championship Game.  But the biggest reason without question that the Eagles have made it this far is Carson Wentz, even though he has been done for the season since December due to the torn left ACL.  Saying that Foles has taken the Eagles to the NFC Championship Game is like saying that Woody Harrelson was the key to the success of Cheers – he did his part, but things were going quite well before the situation was such that he had to be brought on board (rest in peace, Coach).
  • Keenum – This is the situation that requires the most interpretation.  Is Case Keenum a household name?  Of course not.  But Case Keenum has had a Hall-of-Fame season.  And this is a key point that often gets overlooked.  There’s a difference between a Hall-of-Famer and a Hall-of-Fame season.  Theismann is not a Hall-of-Famer, but he had Hall-of-Fame seasons in 1982 and ’83.  Rypien is not a Hall-of-Famer, but he had a Hall-of-Fame season in 1991.  Keenum’s 2017 is a Hall-of-Fame season.  He finished second in the NFL in Total QBR at 69.5.  He finished second in the NFL in completion percentage at 67.6.  He was third among quarterbacks in the league in Total EPA at 85.3.  He had 22 touchdown passes versus seven picks.  You put up those kind of numbers over eight-10 seasons and you’re a Hall-of-Famer.  Will he?  Who knows.  But he certainly provided Hall-of-Fame production this season.

Additionally, take a look at the two quarterbacks who lost on Sunday.  No way is New Orleans playing on Divisional-Round Weekend without Drew Brees, who, remember, almost single-handedly was responsible for the Saints’ 31-26 win over Carolina during Wild-Card Weekend (threw for 376 yards and averaged 11.39 yards per pass attempt on 33 pass attempts as Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram combined for just 45 yards on 19 carries).  And no way is Pittsburgh hosting a game on Divisional-Round with Ben Roethlisberger, who became the first quarterback in NFL postseason history to lose a game in which he threw five touchdown passes.

Look, I want the Redskins to have a defense as punishing and impactful as the Eagles’, Vikings’ and Jags’ defenses (though, let’s be honest, it’s not like the Jags exactly stifled the Steelers in giving up 42 points and 545 total net yards of offense).  I want the Redskins to have a running game that can perform like the Jags’ rushing attack did on Sunday afternoon, during which Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon combined for 30 carries for 129 yards and four touchdowns.  But lasting success in the NFL starts with good quarterbacking.  And if you don’t have a good (i.e., top-12) quarterback, then you’re in trouble over the long haul.

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