Do you still need a franchise quarterback?
YES. End of story.
However, this question keeps coming up after a Divisional Round weekend that saw teams led by Nick Foles, Blake Bortles, and Case Keenum reach the Conference Championship games. At least one, and possibly two of those quarterbacks will be starting under center in Minneapolis for the Super Bowl
With the possibility of a quarterback who doesn’t fit the superstar “frachise” idea winning Super Bowl 52, people like to point to the 2000 and 2002 seasons, when the Ravens and the Buccaneers won Super Bowls with dominating defenses and Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson, respectively, under center. Even the Ravens’ second Super Bowl win, with Joe Flacco leading the way, is another example of winning without that kind of quarterback.
But generally speaking, franchise quarterbacks win championships, names like Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, Peyton Manning, and so on. Look at the recent history of AFC quarterbacks to play in the Super Bowl. Since the 2001 season, Brady has played in seven, Manning four, and Ben Roethlisberger three.
Why does a franchise quarterback still matter?
The NFL game is geared towards offense. You can’t put a finger on the quarterbacks, can’t touch receivers five yards past the line of scrimmage, or viciously hit them coming over the middle. Less practice time equals less practice tackling, allowing for more broken tackles and leading to bigger plays. The game is designed for the offense to have maximum success. More points get more eyeballs on the broadcasts, including those playing fantasy sports.
Meanwhile, defenses have gotten better, more exotic. They constantly move, switch personnel groups, and bring blitzes trying to throw off the offense. It’s possible defenses have made the move to being more multiple because quarterback play is better. More than ever, teams need a quarterback in who can properly diagnose coverage, put the lineman in the right protection, and pick apart a defense.
Considering those factors, there are three main reasons a franchise quarterback is a must.
A franchise quarterback can lead you to the promised land without an excellent defense.
Having an excellent defense will often get a quarterback over the top, e.g. Aaron Rodgers in 2010, Drew Brees in 2009, and so on. The best defenses those quarterbacks have had in their careers helped them win the big one.
Defense alone — without a franchise quarterback — isn’t a recipe for sustained success. Without a franchise quarterback, the defense has to be perfect. They can’t make mistakes.
Entering the game on Sunday, the Jaguars were 2-6 when allowing more than 10 points. That’s amazing. If an opponent scored over 10 points, Jacksonville wasn’t likely to beat them. That’s a lot pressure on the defense to be perfect.
You can lose the turnover battle and still win the game with a franchise QB.
Along with the defense being perfect, the offense must do the same. You typically design a more conservative game plan, hoping not to give the ball away. Run, play-action passing, and simple quick throws.
This season when Jacksonville lost the turnover battle, they were 3-4, and they were 0-1 when it was even. Minnesota (and this is including Sam Bradford’s two starts) was 2-3 when losing the turnover battle and 3-0 when it was even.
On the flip side, look at the teams with true franchise quarterbacks. New Orleans was 2-2 when the turnover battle was even. They were even better when they lost the turnover battle, a 5-2 record.
New England was a perfect 6-0 when the turnover battle was even, and they went 1-0 when they had more turnovers then their opponent.
This is a small sample size, but I think it shows that when you have a franchise quarterback, you’re able to overcome mistakes. You don’t have to be perfect on offense or force turnovers on defense to win.
Experience still matters when the game is on the line.
Lastly, I can show you or you can find all the numbers, but down the stretch in the two-minute drill, you want experience. You want seasoned quarterbacks. The two-minute drill is what makes legends. It’s easy to see when a quarterback is calm, cool, and collected, and when one isn’t.
Let’s look at Sunday afternoon. At the end of the game, or even in the second half, when plays needed to be made, Drew Brees made them. The end of the Saints-Vikings game will take away from the praise that was coming to Brees for his poise and play-making ability in the second half. You need a franchise quarterback for those moments at the end of the game, when it matters the most.
What’s the slogan? “Offense wins games; defense wins championships.” This is true. However, without a franchise quarterback, the chances of winning go way way down. When Brady (probably) wins his sixth Super Bowl at the end of this season, this conversation won’t even have mattered.