VERO BEACH, FLORIDA – Howie Long, NFL analyst on Fox TV, said it best: The second weekend of this season’s playoffs will go down as a landmark in pro football history.
It will be remembered as the point in time when the pros were forced to recognize their 75-year old quarterbacking philosophy had run its course.
Since the post-World War II era, the specs for a QB’s size and physical abilities had always been the same: To be successful, they had to be at least 182 cm in height, preferably taller — to see over onrushing defensive lineman when passing, possess a strong arm and have quick feet to move around in the pocket, if necessary.
Athleticism was not a priority. Nor was fleetness afoot.
But on Jan. 12 and 13, San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick and Seattle’s Russell Wilson rendered those previously sacrosanct notions hopelessly antiquated.
With the pair’s astounding performances that weekend, added to their regular-season exploits and those of Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton, the duo proved once and for all that an NFL offense could indeed make full use of a quarterback who was equal parts outstanding passer AND runner.
And, in fact, that might be the best way to go. At the very least, classic drop-back passers would no longer be the only QB option.
On Saturday of the divisional round, Kaepernick ran for 181 yards (a record for an NFL QB) and two TDs and passed for 263 yards and another pair of scores in leading San Francisco over Green Bay, the favorite of many to win the NFC title.
The next day Wilson nearly rallied Seattle, down 20-0, to a record comeback win against Atlanta. He scampered for 60 yards, threw for 385 yards and accounted for three TDs, with many of his pass completions coming while on the run.
Oh, and Wilson is just 178 cm which blew the size requirement to smithereens.
All four of the new breed quarterbacks have benefited from NFL coaches who were smart enough to adjust their offensive systems to accommodate the quartet’s skill set — rather than make the youngsters conform entirely to traditional pro ways.
Those forward-thinking coaches blended in a lot of “read-option” — a series of option running plays from the “Pistol” formation that is all the craze now in college ball and which all four used as undergrads.
For the uninitiated, in the Pistol, the quarterback lines up five yards behind the center with the running back two yards behind him. On the read-option play, the back heads off tackle and the QB places the ball in his belly while reading the reaction of the defensive end.
If the defensive end closes down on the running back, the QB pulls the ball out and runs outside him; if the DE goes for the quarterback, the QB gives the ball to the running back.
A QB who can run as well as pass is nothing new in the NFL. Fran Tarkenton, the master scrambler, Steve Young and Donovan McNabb, among others, come to mind. But all those who have come before ran out of necessity, not by design.
The new-fangled read-option has NFL defensive coordinators scrambling for answers to it.
Said Atlanta D-coordinator Mike Nolan, charged with the task of containing Kaepernick in the NFC title game: “Usually the quarterback just hands the ball off to someone and you don’t have to account for him. Now, he can keep the ball and you could be in a lot of trouble because these young guys have great legs.”
In their loss to the 49ers, the Falcons made sure they “accounted” for Kaepernick’s outside runs off the read-option. They assigned a defensive end to Kaepernick every time San Fran ran the read-option.
This left a gaping hole off tackle that the 49ers exploited repeatedly for huge yardage. Three times the Niner running back scored a touchdown — almost untouched — on the read-option.
Hence, just the threat of Kaepernick’s running paid huge dividends for San Francisco.
The fly-in-the-ointment with this new quarterbacking style is the injury-risk factor. While on the run, these new-age QBs can’t — or don’t — always slide to avoid contact.
Several times MAS had to gasp as Seattle’s Wilson threw caution to the wind and opted to bull through bigger tacklers for critical first-down yardage vs. Atlanta.
Kaepernick did the same thing on a key second-half run vs. Green Bay.
Philadelphia’s Michael Vick was the prototype for the new QB breed. In his eight-year career, however, the oft-injured Vick has played all 16 games only once.
But for now at least, we can say that for just the second time in NFL history a ground-breaking quarterbacking event has transpired.
The long-standing myth of a black QB not having the goods to handle the NFL workload was unequivocally debunked the day Washington’s Doug Williams led the Redskins to a Super Bowl victory in 1988.
It took much longer, but on that second weekend in January 2013 the dual-threat pro quarterback officially arrived as well.
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