NFL Nation: Kelly Holcomb

There are few secrets about Bruce Arians as a coach.

He likes to throw long and deep, and he likes to put up a lot of points. And here’s another thing we know about Arians: He’s had some great quarterbacks.

With the draft less than a week away and speculation increasing that the Arizona Cardinals will take a quarterback with one of their six picks, what kind of quarterback Arians favors has become a hot topic.

Here is what we know: Arians has had a lot of success with taller quarterbacks who don’t run much. Just look at Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck. They can run, but don’t in Arians’ system. And most every quarterback that fits those dimensions has succeeded in his scheme.

Here’s a look at the past six quarterbacks Arians has coached and the top 10 quarterback prospects in this year’s draft, according to ESPN:

Big Ben, Browns and a touchstone moment

November, 19, 2013
The Pittsburgh Steelers always provide the Cleveland Browns a measuring stick.

One way to measure is to realize that the Steelers have had Ben Roethlisberger starting at quarterback since he was a first-round draft pick in 2004.

How that happened constantly provides the Browns with a nightmare memory of one of those touchstone moments when the entire course of two franchises could have changed based on one decision.

Butch Davis was coach of the Browns then, and the team was coming off a 5-11 season in which Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb each started eight games.

Davis started the 2003 season with Holcomb, based mainly on his 400-yard plus playoff performance in Pittsburgh the season before -- a game Couch missed with a broken leg.

But Holcomb broke his leg in '03 on a quarterback sneak in San Francisco -- a break Davis called "a teeny, tiny break in a non-weight bearing bone."

Couch and Holcomb see-sawed back and forth until Holcomb threw a couple of interceptions in a Monday night loss to St. Louis. After that game, Davis called Couch in his office and told him he was his quarterback for years to come.

The Browns had the seventh pick in the first round. The front office wanted tight end Kellen Winslow or wide receiver Roy Williams. Davis tried to trade up for safety Sean Taylor, but after initially saying yes to the deal the Giants changed their mind and instead swapped Philip Rivers for Eli Manning.

San Diego and New York both found their quarterback.

Davis never really considered Roethlisberger -- even though he had thrown for more than 10,000 yards at Miami of Ohio and even though he grew up in Findlay, Ohio.

Davis privately told people he simply was not a Roethlisberger guy.

The Browns coach favored one of two kinds of players: Guys he recruited and signed to the University of Miami, and guys he tried to recruit.

Winslow and Taylor fit the profile; Roethlisberger was from the MAC and didn’t.

The Browns wound up trading up one spot in the draft to get Winslow and gave up a second-round pick to do it.

Roethlisberger went to the Steelers at No. 11. He went on to win Rookie of the Year and take the Steelers to the AFC Championship Game in his first season. He eventually won two Super Bowls.

The Browns signed Jeff Garcia, cut Couch (the quarterback for years to come) and went 4-12 in '04 only because Holcomb started the last game and won it.

They are still looking for their quarterback.

In a draft in which three franchises found quarterbacks who are still starting for the teams that drafted or dealt for them on draft day, the Browns got a tight end and traded a second-round pick to move up one spot for him.

Since the Steelers drafted Roethlisberger in 2004, the Browns took two other quarterbacks in the first round (Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden) and two in the third round (Charlie Frye and Colt McCoy). They may take another in 2014.

Since the Manning-Rivers-Roethlisberger draft, the Browns have used 17 starting quarterbacks. And Pittsburgh has gone 15-0 in games Roethlisberger has started against the Browns.
Andy Dalton & Colt McCoyUS PresswireThe futures of the Bengals and Browns are tied to young QBs Andy Dalton, left, and Colt McCoy.
Since the AFC North was created during the 2002 realignment, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have been the biggest bullies within the conference. Those teams have combined for seven division titles in the past nine seasons.

With new eras beginning simultaneously for Ohio's two NFL franchises, young quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Colt McCoy will be aiming to shift the balance of power toward the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, respectively. Quarterback is the league's most important position, and if Dalton and McCoy turn out to be the long-term solutions, it could go a long way toward potentially turning the AFC North on its head.

The Steelers and Ravens have their answers at quarterback. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, 29, already has led his team to three Super Bowls, winning two, and is currently in the prime of his career. Baltimore's Joe Flacco, 26, has led the Ravens to three consecutive playoff appearances and continues to get better.

That puts an immense amount of pressure on Dalton and McCoy to catch up. Their futures directly tie into Cincinnati and Cleveland's ability or inability to close the gap within the division. If both are busts, there might not be an end in sight to the dominance by Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Neither the Bengals nor the Browns have any shot of overcoming these perennial contenders with shoddy quarterback play.

"It's horrible; there's nothing good about [inexperienced quarterbacks] facing the Ravens and Steelers," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "They're not carbon copies of each other, but their philosophy is pretty similar. They're going to take away your running game, and you're not going to outwork them in the trenches or move them. Then you're one-dimensional, and then you're in trouble."

Cleveland has had a number of quarterbacks eaten alive by Baltimore and Pittsburgh since returning to the NFL in 1999. Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn are just some of the players who were battered, beaten and couldn't maintain long-term success in the AFC North. McCoy is next in line to give it a shot this season.

Last season McCoy showed flashes of promise, but he got off to an inauspicious start against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. He went 0-3 against the Steelers and Ravens, throwing for two touchdowns and eight interceptions in those games. If McCoy has similar performances against Cleveland's biggest rivals in Year 2, he won't hold his starting job very long.

"I think he played like a rookie at times and then he far exceeded my expectations at other times," Browns president Mike Holmgren said recently of McCoy. "It coincided with the games we won and a couple games that we lost. ... Did he exceed expectations from me? I would have to say yes, because I didn't expect him to play. Is there a huge upside and much more to come? I would say yes to that, too, because he is a young man just learning to play the position in our league."

Holmgren echoes the sentiment of Cleveland's coaches and those in the front office, who remain optimistic about McCoy. But Williamson isn't convinced.

Williamson recently ranked the Browns last in his post-draft Power Rankings, leading Scouts Inc. to predict Cleveland will take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the top pick in the 2012 draft. If this scenario plays out, McCoy's first full season as a starter in 2011 projects to be a disaster.

"I really worry about the guy's arm strength. I just can't get around that," Williamson said. "When the weather gets bad, he's not going to be able to complete passes in Cleveland. I think he's a real good fit in the West Coast offense. I think he has some moxie to him and I like the way he plays. But when it's December and the Steelers and Ravens are in town, you better be able to complete a deep out."

Former No. 1 overall pick Carson Palmer did have success, which is why Cincinnati is the only team other than Baltimore and Pittsburgh to win the AFC North. The Bengals won division titles in 2005 and 2009.

Palmer, who demanded a trade and threatened to retire this offseason, was particularly tough against the Ravens. He was 9-4 as a starter versus Baltimore, and the Ravens certainly won't miss Palmer if he never plays another down in Cincinnati.

That is where Dalton comes in. Barring an unexpected change of heart by Palmer, Dalton is projected to be the Week 1 starter in Cincinnati after leading TCU to an undefeated season in 2010.

Dalton, like many successful quarterbacks, comes to Cincinnati with confidence and a very competitive attitude.

"Obviously, everyone knows about the current situation with Carson Palmer," Dalton said. "As far as I know, it's open [competition]. We're trying to figure out who will be the guy, and I’m looking forward to it."

Dalton's biggest strengths are his accuracy and leadership, which will be needed in Cincinnati. Dalton recently said he models his game after some of the top quarterbacks in the league.

"Growing up and watching the NFL, I saw what Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have done. They seem to have full control over their team," Dalton explained. "You see how well it's worked out for them. Recently, I watched Aaron Rodgers even before he won the Super Bowl. He's a guy who took advantage of his opportunity when it was his time. I think those are three guys that I've watched and studied. Hopefully I can take something from each of their games."

Neither McCoy nor Dalton was a top draft pick. McCoy was a third-rounder in 2010, and Dalton was taken in the second round last month. Yet both are projected to start very early in their careers and, thus, will carry pressure similar to being a first-round pick.

Time will tell if Dalton and McCoy will eventually lead to a quarterback changing of the guard in the AFC North. But count Williamson among the biggest skeptics.

"They both won a ton of games in college, were wonderful college players, and you want your daughter to marry them," Williamson explained. "But they just don't throw the football as well as they have to be 'The Guy' in that division."

Browns have a lot riding on Colt McCoy

December, 17, 2010
Colt McCoyScott A. Miller/US PresswireColt McCoy has three more games to prove he deserves to be the Browns' starting quarterback beyond the 2010 season.
BEREA, Ohio -- It felt as if there was a changing of the guard at the Cleveland Browns' training facility this week. After talking it over with president Mike Holmgren and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Browns head coach Eric Mangini named rookie quarterback Colt McCoy the starter for the remainder of the 2010 season.

Mangini gushed about McCoy's work ethic, quick learning curve and how the rookie wouldn't accept it when everyone in the organization -- from Holmgren on down -- said they didn't plan for McCoy to see the field this year. Instead, McCoy is projected to play eight games, which is half of the Browns' season.

McCoy landed his initial opportunity through injury, but he's regaining the starting job with solid play in five starts. He threw for 975 yards, completed 63.8 percent of his passes and had an 85.3 passer rating. The rookie proved to be the best quarterback on the roster and essentially forced the team into this decision.

"I wasn't really looking at this as just being the case where we're throwing a young guy in to see whether or not a young guy can do it," Mangini said. "I think Colt really did a good job with the opportunities that he had. I think he's earned the chance to play these three games."

Is McCoy the long-term solution in Cleveland? It's too early to tell.

But the Browns (5-8) and the rest of the NFL are about to learn a lot more about McCoy in the next three games against AFC North opponents. The first test is Sunday, a road game against the Cincinnati Bengals (2-11) and then there's back-to-back home games against the playoff-bound Baltimore Ravens (9-4) and Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3).

The training wheels are officially off for McCoy.

"It's no landmark day," McCoy said Thursday. "Today is the day that I know I'm the starter and I have to go out and play. I have to go out and get better and I have to go out and help us win."

McCoy's play down the stretch will affect a lot with the Browns, starting with the NFL draft. Quarterback is the league's most important position, and Cleveland has lacked stability there since returning to the NFL in 1999.

A lot of quarterbacks have passed through Cleveland's revolving door, including Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn and now Jake Delhomme. Poor quarterback play is one of the biggest reasons Cleveland has just one playoff appearance in more than a decade.

McCoy showed promise, going 2-3 in five starts. But five games do not make a solid season. Three more contests will provide a half-season's worth of film to evaluate the rookie.

"The No. 1 goal of the Cleveland Browns right now has to be finding out what they have in McCoy," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "They like what they've seen from him, but can he be the guy? Or do the Browns need to draft a guy or bring in a free agent? I think the Browns need to have a clear picture of that going into the offseason."

The Browns also need to find out whether McCoy can play in inclement weather. Garcia, Frye and Quinn didn't have the arm strength to throw against the heavy winds that come off Lake Erie in Browns Stadium during the winter.

McCoy's biggest asset is his accuracy, not arm strength, which raised some red flags when the Browns drafted the University of Texas product in the third round. McCoy didn't see a lot of bad weather as a four-year starter in the Big 12.

"I've played in the snow and wind in Kansas a couple times. I've played in Nebraska," McCoy explained. "We had some real wet games back home [in Austin]."

McCoy believes playing in bad weather is more mental than physical. But when he was pressed by the media this week regarding his arm strength, a confident McCoy fired back.

"I guess we'll find out, won't we?" McCoy scoffed.

Running the carousel in the AFC North also will be a great learning tool for McCoy. If Cleveland is to turn the franchise around and make a run at the postseason, it first has to win within the division.

The past three seasons the Browns are just 3-12 against AFC North opponents. It's a major reason former head coach Romeo Crennel was fired in Cleveland and Mangini is currently on the hot seat. If McCoy can get hot and pick up two or three wins against Cleveland's biggest rivals, everyone in the organization looks better heading into the offseason.

It's obvious the Browns have a lot riding on McCoy's performance in these final three games.

Why Brad Childress failed

November, 22, 2010
ChildresAP Photo/Andy KingBrad Childress had a cold and distant relationship with his players even when the team was winning.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Five years ago, the Minnesota Vikings swept up Brad Childress during what they believed was a frenzied, multi-team competition for the man they considered the hottest coaching candidate on the market. They flew him into town less than 24 hours after firing Mike Tice and kept him sequestered in a Twin Cities hotel while they half-heartedly interviewed the remaining candidates on their list.

Owner Zygi Wilf triumphantly lauded Childress as a disciplinarian who would restore order to the franchise on and off the field. "Brad Childress is a winner," Wilf famously said.

But Wilf could never answer the follow-up question: How do you know?

At 49, Childress had never been a head coach at any level. He had been the offensive coordinator of the highly successful Philadelphia Eagles, but coach Andy Reid called almost all of the plays over that period. Childress' ability to relate with players was also a debatable proposition; among other stories, it was public knowledge that mercurial receiver Terrell Owens had asked Childress to stop talking to him during the 2005 season.

If I had to sum up why Childress failed in Minnesota, my tight answer would include those two reasons. He had a distant relationship at best with players, feuding with most key veterans at one point or another. And his schemes were uninspiring and rigid, routinely minimizing the skills of talented players.

Few coaches bring both of those disparate skills to the table, but having one can usually minimize the need for the other. You can inspire players to excel by reaching them personally, or you can put them in position to play well with smart schemes that maximize their skills.

Childress, however, did neither consistently. It's true that his teams won consecutive NFC North titles, something that hadn't happened in Minnesota since 1977-78. But starting with his first season and continuing through those title years, we heard the same complaints about his program.

Veteran quarterbacks from Brad Johnson to Kelly Holcomb to Gus Frerotte chafed in an offense they believed could have been much better if allowed more in-game freedom. When Brett Favre brazenly freelanced last season, Childress angrily considered benching him.

That rigidity wasn't limited to quarterbacks, however. In 2006, Childress minimized receiver Marcus Robinson because his best route -- the fade in the end zone -- wasn't a part of his red zone offense. The offense provided no avenue to get tailbacks Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor on the field at the same time.

If you searched hard enough, similar whispers could be heard before Childress' arrival. I doubt Wilf heard any of them. Why? His coaching search committee included no one with a football background. The primary interviewers were Wilf, his brother Mark, vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski and vice president of operations Kevin Warren.

Brzezinski and Warren are experts in their fields, but neither was qualified to assess if Childress' football acumen was as good as advertised. It's almost as if they assumed it based on Childress' stature as a "hot" coaching candidate. I once asked a high-ranking team official this question: Whom did you use for the "football" portion of the interview, the part where Childress' schematic and actual coaching talents would be measured?

The answer?

Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant, who had been retired for 20 years. My understanding is that it was a cursory conversation, and it's interesting to note that Grant has always been silent about Childress and his performance.

Some successful coaches channel Bill Belichick, attempting to out-think and out-scheme opponents. Others emulate Bill Cowher, whose motivational skills kept his teams playing hard for more than a decade. Childress didn't fall in either category, and ultimately that's why his players turned on him this season. They felt neither inspired nor challenged.

Childress began clashing with players on a personal level early in his first season, starting with cornerback Antoine Winfield, and even in the best of times had what players described as a cold and distant relationship.

Without a foundation of trust and loyalty, Childress watched as his players reached near-mutinous levels at the first sign of adversity this season. It led to a confrontation with receiver Percy Harvin, among many other incidents. It all culminated Sunday when the Vikings sideline fell into chaos during a 31-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers. It's rare when you see a coach keep his job under those conditions.

Childress did make a positive impact in many areas of the organization, cleaning up his team's off-field behavior and professionalizing the team's organizational culture. But without a so-called hook to hang his hat on -- an attribute that could help him navigate tough waters -- he ultimately failed.
BEREA, Ohio -- Veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme made no secret about his intentions this year with the Cleveland Browns.

[+] EnlargeJake Delhomme
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesJake Delhomme is looking to rebound from a disastrous 2009 season.
"I play this game for one reason and one reason only -- to win," Delhomme said. "That's what this game is about. There's something about walking into a locker room after a game with those 10 minutes when it's just the coaches and the players. There's nothing greater than seeing a mission accomplished for the work you put in."

The Browns are hopeful they finally have a proven starting quarterback this year. Since returning to the NFL in 1999, Cleveland has had a plethora of rotating quarterbacks that included Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson.

Delhomme looked good in Wednesday's practice that was open to the media. He hit receivers Brian Robiskie and Chansi Stuckey for a pair of diving touchdown receptions to the outside. Delhomme also was accurate and in command of the huddle throughout Wednesday's organized team activities.

"The things that we have heard about his leadership and our research is definitely showing up since he's been here," said Cleveland head coach Eric Mangini.

The Browns have a quiet confidence about Delhomme.

Expectations are fairly low, because Delhomme is 35 and coming off the worst season of his NFL career. Last year Delhomme threw for 2,015 yards, eight touchdowns and 18 interceptions before being benched by the Carolina Panthers.

"I love six of the seven years I had in Carolina," Delhomme said. "I'll be perfectly honest. Everything was great, [but] last season just wasn’t a lot of fun."

Much of Cleveland's success rest on Delhomme's shoulders. If he has a bounce-back year, the Browns have a good chance to improve on last year's 5-11 record. If Delhomme has another disastrous year, Cleveland could be in major trouble.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Will the Cleveland Browns have enough patience to successfully groom rookie quarterback Colt McCoy?

When it comes to quarterbacks, patience certainly is not a virtue in Cleveland.

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
AP Photo/Amy SancettaColt McCoy is expected to start the season No. 3 on the quarterback depth chart.
It's a city that is desperate for a championship and a franchise quarterback to call its own. It's been 17 years since Bernie Kosar last donned a Browns uniform. Cleveland fans have been quick to anoint the Browns' next franchise quarterback, only to be disappointed.

Often the Browns' organization followed suit by rushing quarterbacks onto the field and usually without much of a supporting cast.

For example, Tim Couch was a No. 1 overall pick after the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999. He played 15 games his rookie year and spent that season -- and most of his career -- taking a pounding for an expansion franchise. Thus, Couch never had the chance to fully blossom as an NFL quarterback thanks to various injuries he suffered.

Kelly Holcomb, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson and most recently Brady Quinn all followed and were among the young players who were shuffled in and out of Cleveland’s revolving door at quarterback. The team never established a consistent direction at the league's most important position.

This brings us to McCoy -- this year's highly publicized third-round pick. He is the next young quarterback to generate hope and a significant buzz in northeast Ohio.

Ideally, Browns president Mike Holmgren wants to wait a year, maybe two, before McCoy sees the field. But the second veteran starter Jake Delhomme struggles with a multi-interception game, there will be pressure in Cleveland to see what McCoy can do. Yet Seneca Wallace, not McCoy, is currently No. 2 on the depth chart if Delhomme falters.

In the past decade, few NFL franchises have failed more at grooming a long-term solution at quarterback than the Browns. That is why it's important for the team to stick to its plan and let McCoy learn from the sidelines in 2010 -- no matter what happens with the quarterbacks in front of him.
Free-agent quarterback Derek Anderson lashed out at Cleveland Browns fans after he was released by the team Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeDerek Anderson
James Lang/US PresswireDerek Anderson's best season in Cleveland was in 2007, when he threw for 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Anderson later apologized for his comments. But don't think for one second the former Pro Bowl quarterback didn't mean what he said.

Frustration had been mounting with Anderson ever since the end of the 2007 season. He had the finest year of his career, which included 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns, but it never seemed to matter. It is a fact that he was cheered by Browns fans while injured, and things only got worse when his level of play dropped.

Living in Ohio for the past seven years, I will offer you two truths about Browns fans: First, it is an extremely frustrated group. Second, the backup quarterback usually is the most popular player in town.

Browns fans have an odd infatuation with players holding a clipboard. Somehow, standing on the sideline long enough creates legendary status in Cleveland.

It happened to Kelly Holcomb. It happened to Charlie Frye. And in Anderson's case, it most recently happened to Brady Quinn. All of these former backups were fan favorites until they also faltered, leaving Browns fans to seamlessly move on to the next target.

Should Anderson have made those comments publicly? No, especially since it was a parting shot on his way out the door.

But it's true that Cleveland is not a quarterback-friendly city, and perhaps Anderson's comments will provide Browns fans a chance to re-examine how they treat the NFL's most important position.

Ex-Bills coach glad they passed on Brees

January, 26, 2010
Buffalo Bills fans have endured their share of blows over the past decade.

A former coach delivered a reminder about Drew Brees that must feel like a punch in the gut and followed it up with a cheap shot.

Gregg Williams was a guest on Nashville sports-radio station 104.5 The Zone and sounded happier to be New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator than the Bills' head coach.

"I'm kind of at that point and time in my career," Williams said, "where the three W's are the most important of the choices that I make from now on in coaching: What am I doing? Where's it at? Who's it with?

"I'm never going to discount again on who's it with. I've been able to kind of pick and choose now after all these years about where I want to go to, and I really, really, really wanted to draft Drew Brees when I was the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, and thank goodness that didn't happen otherwise I'd still be stuck up there in cold Buffalo.

"Now I'm here. I do have a chance to go with him into [the Super Bowl]."

The San Diego Chargers selected Brees with the 32nd overall choice in 2001, Williams' first season with the Bills.

The Bills took cornerback Nate Clements with the 21st pick and also owned the 46th pick. As Williams explained to Sports Illustrated's Peter King in the fall, the Bills hoped to trade up to get Brees but couldn't find a willing partner.

"I almost pulled a hamstring in the draft room, jumping up and down because I was so mad,'' Williams told King.

The Bills eventually drafted defensive end Aaron Schobel with the 46th pick. A very good selection.

But instead of having a franchise quarterback for the next decade, the Bills' starting quarterbacks in 2001 were Alex Van Pelt and Rob Johnson. They traded for Drew Bledsoe the next year and have since called Kelly Holcomb, J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm starters.

Williams lasted three seasons as Buffalo's coach. He went 3-13, 8-8 and 6-10.

Finding meaning in Favre-Childress spat

December, 27, 2009
Brad Childress and Brett FavreUS PresswireLast week may have been a pivotal point for Brad Childress, Brett Favre and the 2009 Vikings.
The theater was entertaining. But ultimately, it was a sideshow. Many of us enjoyed suggestions of a conflict between Minnesota coach Brad Childress and quarterback Brett Favre. It makes for good blog material, if nothing else. In reality, however, we should be more interested in the subtext.

Namely: Was this episode the smoking gun -- proof that the Vikings’ great gambit won’t work? Did it signify that the flash Favre added this season won’t be enough to carry Minnesota through the regular season and into the playoffs?

There exists some compelling evidence to support that suggestion, with more potentially on the way Monday night (ESPN, 8:30 ET) when the Vikings visit Soldier Field. The Vikings have lost two of their past three games as Favre’s performance took a notable dip. One wrong move -- namely, a loss in either of their final two games -- would threaten their season-long hold on the NFC’s No. 2 playoff seed.

And to get himself back on track, Favre will have to win a cold-weather road game for the first time in five years. That’s right. Favre has lost his past seven road games when the game-time temperature was below 38 degrees, most recently Dec. 20 at Carolina. Through coincidence or otherwise, that streak is a piece of the tapestry Favre carried with him to Minnesota, a pattern that has fans and some inside the organization concerned.

I think it’s too early to start drawing conclusions about what this means for Favre and the Vikings next season. Even if there had been no dust-ups, Favre’s return in 2010 was far from a sure thing.

But I do believe we reached a pivot point for 2009 last week, one way or the other. Either we saw a crack in the foundation of the Vikings' season, or witnessed the cold shower that will set them back on a course for Super Bowl contention.

“We’re not going to let this thing stop us,” Childress said, “from getting where we want to go. That’s rare when you’re in the last couple of games of the season … and still be able to reach all the goals that you set in the beginning of the year.”

Is he right? On what ground do Favre, Childress and the Vikings stand at this moment? Let’s look at evidence from both sides.

They’re cooked

Perhaps the biggest question remaining after Favre arrived is whether he would coexist professionally with Childress, who had demonstrated an exceptionally rigid commitment to his offensive scheme and left a number of frustrated veteran quarterbacks in his wake.

In 2006, Brad Johnson noted that he and Childress “never talk” about game-planning issues. In 2007, Kelly Holcomb was baffled when plays were called during games that he had never run in practice. In 2008, Gus Frerotte openly lamented the minimal number of audibles he was allowed to use.

So as Favre raced into MVP contention this season, the assumption was that Childress had relented and allowed Favre the freedom he needed to excel. That conclusion seems premature, based on the stories that surfaced last week detailing at least four instances when Childress so disapproved of a Favre decision that he considered benching him.

Most alarming for the Vikings, Favre said last week that he has been less assertive in changing plays than ever. So he’s clashing with Childress for changing plays at a frequency much lower than his usual approach?

“This year, probably more so at any other time in my career, I’ve tried to play it exactly the way we want to play it,” Favre said.

But in an issue independent of freedom within the offense, Favre’s performance has undeniably slipped beginning with the Vikings’ Week 13 loss at Arizona. Following a post-Week 12 pattern that dates to 2005, Favre has thrown more interceptions (four) than touchdown passes (three), and finished with passer ratings under 80 in each of his past three games.

The slip hasn’t been as dramatic as in recent years, and it’s hard to imagine the Bears’ depleted defense putting up too much of a fight Monday night. But the pattern at least gives reason for pause when considering the game-time temperature is forecast for under 30 degrees at Soldier Field.

They’re stronger

The Vikings’ confidence in their passing game reached an all-time high in Week 12, when Favre passed on 46 of the Vikings’ first 65 plays in a 36-10 victory over Chicago. At that moment, their offense seemed to transition from an emphasis on tailback Adrian Peterson to Favre.

That the Vikings lost two of their next three games might not be a coincidence, and if anything positive came of this week’s episode, it was an agreement from both Childress and Favre that Peterson should be the primary focus on the offense.

“I know our offense starts with Adrian Peterson and that’s where it ends,” Favre said, “and we have to get that back on track.”

There is an old adage about quantity of running plays being more important than quality, and it’s one Childress mentions often. As constructed, his offense would work best with Peterson providing the base and Favre feasting on play-action.

It’s no surprise that Favre has the NFL’s third-best rating on play-action passes, according to ESPN’s Stats & Information. Unless the Vikings fall behind early Monday night, it would be shocking to see them repeat their play selection from last month’s game against Chicago. The Bears should prepare for a heavy, heavy dose of Peterson -- who has rushed for 345 yards and five touchdowns in two career games at Soldier Field.

A rebalanced offense, centered on Peterson but capable of the big passing strike, is a better formula to lead the Vikings through the playoffs. Will it work out that way? Or did the Vikings peak too early this season? As we like to say, tune in to ESPN’s "Monday Night Football" to find out.
Posted by's Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills will avoid a quarterback controversy for at least another week.

Bills coach Dick Jauron already has announced concussed starter -- or at least he used to be the starter -- Trent Edwards will not play Sunday against the Houston Texans in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Bills have gone 2-0 with backup Ryan Fitzpatrick running the offense. They haven't transformed into the 1984 Miami Dolphins, but the offense has gotten better with Edwards off the field.

Jauron said "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it" in response to a question about who the starter will be when Edwards has been cleared to return.

In other words, Jauron -- ahem -- might be willing to check down.

The Bills hoped their quarterback quandary days were over when they rid themselves of J.P. Losman and signed Fitzpatrick to be the unquestioned No. 2. Edwards was the no-doubt starter.

An injury, which given Edwards' history was inevitable, wasn't expected to make a difference. Fitzpatrick simply didn't have the pedigree to warrant cries of a switch.

But, in a big way, Edwards has fallen out of favor with Bills fans. They call him Captain Checkdown, and based on the mailbag submissions I receive, they generally would prefer he check out of town.

Bills faithful have been debating the merits of the two quarterbacks on the same roster almost since Jim Kelly retired 13 years ago. Todd Collins, Alex Van Pelt, Doug Flutie, Rob Johnson, Van Pelt again, Kelly Holcomb, Losman, Edwards ...

The Bills are almost there again. Once Edwards is healthy, the Bills will have another QB dilemma to deal with.

Posted by's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC North:

Morning take: Welcome to the NFFL: The National Flag Football League.

Morning take: This is an annual pastime for the Browns. Throw this latest installment in with other classic competitions such as Tim Couch vs. Kelly Holcomb and Charlie Frye vs. Anderson.

Morning take: They better get protection for Palmer in the draft first, or he will be on his back before the receivers finish their routes.

Morning take: Absolutely. His namesake and legacy are solid. But Pace has to be able to stay healthy to make a difference next season.

Posted by's Kevin Seifert

Minnesota quarterback Gus Frerotte has expressed his disappointment several times in the Vikings' decision to return him to backup status following his recovery from a fracture in his lower back. This week, he took his sentiments a step further by telling Michael Silver of that he was the Vikings' best option and should have started Sunday's 26-14 loss to Philadelphia.

Here's the relevant quote:

"I just don't know what to think right now. It was a very frustrating experience, because I felt like I should've been the one playing. That might sound selfish, but I think I would've given us the best chance to win. I'm going home to St. Louis [on Monday] to be with my family and figure out where things stand, but the way things played out at the end really makes me question things."

Many people around the Vikings are expecting Frerotte to retire or otherwise effect his departure from the team. He'll join Brad Johnson, Kelly Holcomb and Brooks Bollinger as veteran quarterbacks who have left the team -- either by their choice or the Vikings' -- after being acquired by coach Brad Childress over the past three years.

Continuing around the NFC North on this fine Tuesday:

Posted by's Kevin Seifert
 Tom Dahlin/Getty Images
 Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has struggled in the Vikings' first two games this season.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- During his three years in Minnesota, I have seen coach Brad Childress stand at a podium and defiantly explain his stance on a key issue. I've watched him sneer at some questions and wax poetically on others. He's expressed sympathy, anger, humor and intelligence.

Wednesday, I saw something new: Uncertainty.

As he announced the decision to bench quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, Childress hardly seemed the confident offensive guru that the Vikings eagerly hired in January 2006. Instead, Childress seemed shaken to his core on the day when he admitted the quarterback he has groomed and built his program around had failed.

Childress suggested that part of Jackson's struggles "may" be related to a lack of experience and said: "I know Gus will give us that."

That's hardly an enthusiastic endorsement for a quarterback who was just entrusted with the final 14 games of the season. But it's the best Childress could muster after making the most complex -- and clearly the most wrenching -- decision of his career.

Let's be clear: Childress had no choice after watching Jackson struggle through the season's first two games. But in turning to Frerotte, Childress knows he is indicting his own reputation. A head coach should never give his owner a reason to doubt him, but today the Vikings' Zygi Wilf has to be wondering about Childress' purported strength in developing quarterbacks.

Childress was closely associated with the maturation of Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb and in Minnesota has demonstrated some hubristic tendencies at the position.

He never connected with incumbent Daunte Culpepper and willingly cast aside a player who had an MVP-like season in 2004. A month later, Childress signed off on drafting Jackson out of Division I-AA Alabama State, referring to him as a "piece of clay" who only needed some professional coaching in order to become the Vikings' long-term starter.

As he worked with Jackson, Childress benched veteran Brad Johnson and ran through a carousel of short-term backups. Childress' designated No. 2 quarterback flopped in each of his first two training camps, forcing the Vikings to give up draft picks to acquire Brooks Bollinger in 2006 and Kelly Holcomb in 2007 for emergency depth.

And it took only incremental improvement -- from terrible to better -- in 2007 for Childress to commit to Jackson this season, an especially weighty decision given Wilf's eight-figure investment in the free-agent market. Most owners won't spend $60 million in guaranteed money for a team that is still developing its quarterback. The understanding was that Jackson was ready, even though he had never showed it on the field.

If anything, Jackson actually has looked worse in the season's first two games than he did at the end of 2007. His mechanics were flawed, his passes inaccurate and he couldn't explain why he wasn't sliding at the end of his runs. In short, he played like a rookie after three years in the Vikings' offensive system.

It's like Childress put 51 cards in Jackson's hat, saving only one in case of emergency. And now he has played that card -- one that's hardly an ace -- in the middle of September. At a time when Childress believed the Vikings would be reaping the benefits of his essential skill, they instead are reeling because of his hubris.