I hope everybody had a good weekend. With the Giants on bye, I was admittedly less engaged with the NFL action this weekend than I usually am. The Knicks continue to show the how important continuity and chemistry are for a basketball team, getting off to one of the best starts in franchise history after years of player turnover yielded undesirable results.
The focus of today’s article is the importance of chemistry between a QB and his WRs. First let us focus on some success stories. Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, and Drew Brees have all had at least one consistent target each of the last 5 years (Welker, Nicks, White, and Colston). Each of these teams has also recently added another stud receiving option (Gronk, Cruz, Jones, Graham). The combination of good OL play, great QB skills, and great receiving options have led to a lot of success for these clubs in recent years.
However, this is not a fool-proof formula. I want to focus on what happens to good offenses when their star QB goes down. Let us consider Byron Leftwich. The guy still has a cannon for an arm and can barrel over defenders running the ball, yet he is not an elite QB despite good OL play and solid receiving options. His unfamiliarity with the offense was evident on Sunday; he was reluctant to make passes downfield, and when he did they were often off target (and one was picked). I expect to see more of the same from Jason Campbell tonight. The guy is physically gifted, possessing a great arm and good mobility for a QB, yet we will not see a highlight reel performance from him tonight despite having one of the most dangerous targets in the NFL—Brandon Marshall. These two QBs do not have the confidence in their knowledge of their offenses / receivers to make big plays down-field. Good defenses will react to this, blitzing more and jumping short passing routes. It certainly doesn’t help that each of these backup QBs are going up against top NFL defenses in Baltimore and San Francisco.
Chemistry can develop quickly in the NFL, but not over one week of practice. Campbell has to try to stretch the 49ers defense early and often tonight if the Bears hope to win tonight’s game. It will be interesting to see how two backup QBs (Campbell and Kaepernick), who are physically gifted and have many good receiving options, fare against two of the NFL’s top defenses. With points being hard to come by, it may well come down to which team decides to take the most risks despite having backups at the helm. Both of these teams have elite RBs, but without the threat of a down-field attack Gore and Forte will not get far on the ground.
Obviously there is also the issue that backup QBs are not as talented as the guys they are backing up. I do not think that this divide is as wide as people believe, in order to be a backup NFL QB you have to possess the tools to be a good QB. What separates the good QBs from decent QBs (or backups), other than skill, is the system they work in and the reps they take with the first team offense in practice. Look at what happened to Drew Brees when he was traded from SD to NO. There are lots of backup QBs in the NFL that have starter “stuff”. Fostering talent, surrounding talent with other talent (synergy, or picking the rights guys) and giving that talent time to develop is the stuff that championships are made of. This is true not only on the offensive side of the ball, but also when building a championship caliber defense as well.
This should also be a lesson for NYJ management. Keep Sanchez out there and get him some better skill players. If you put Sanchez on another “bad” team, the Jaguars or Chiefs for instance, and gave him a full pre-season to develop chemistry with his new teammates, and he would be an above-average NFL QB at worst. The two-QB scheme does nothing for the Jets but disrupt any momentum they have, while signaling to opposing defenses what type of play may be called. For the Jets, Sanchez is not the problem and Tebow is not the solution. Get some good skill players through the draft or FA, and watch Sanchez develop into an upper tier QB next year.