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Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Updated: November 15, 12:05 PM ET
Backup QBs under the microscope

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

With four starting quarterbacks getting injured in Week 10 -- all on playoff hopefuls -- the quality of the NFL's backup quarterback situation is about to be tested.

To date, the NFL has been lucky. Only three teams have had to use backups. Kevin Kolb went 3-2 for the Arizona Cardinals before getting hurt. (John Skelton was injured in Week 1.) Matt Hasselbeck led the Tennessee Titans to a 3-2 record filling in for Jake Locker, and Brady Quinn is 0-2 replacing Matt Cassel in Kansas City.

Alex Smith might be able to play for the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night despite his concussion, but the Philadelphia Eagles will find out if they can succeed with rookie Nick Foles filling in for Michael Vick. If Jay Cutler is out this week, which appears likely, the Chicago Bears will learn if they made the right choice by paying $3.5 million to Jason Campbell. In Pittsburgh, Byron Leftwich replaces Ben Roethlisberger for the Steelers' most important game of the season, a home tilt against rival Baltimore.

Bad backup situations derailed two franchises last season. Caleb Hanie was the wrong backup for Cutler. The Bears' season came crashing to a halt once they lost Cutler. Curtis Painter painted a gloomy picture for the Indianapolis Colts once they lost Peyton Manning and Kerry Collins.

On paper, the Bears with Campbell, the Dallas Cowboys with Kyle Orton, the Miami Dolphins with Matt Moore, the Titans with Hasselbeck, the Seahawks with Matt Flynn and the Detroit Lions with Shaun Hill have the best backup situations.

Leftwich was rusty replacing Roethlisberger on Monday night against the Chiefs, but the Steelers figured the experience of Leftwich and Charlie Batch would serve the franchise better than an inexperienced backup.

The Patriots, Ravens, Packers, Vikings, Saints, 49ers, Broncos and Eagles were among the growing number of teams willing to go into the season with totally inexperienced backups.

November and December will test whether teams have the right insurance policies at the most important position.

From the inbox

Q: I have never been more disappointed after going to see my Giants take on the Bengals this past Sunday. What happened? It feels like they have had issues in every single facet of the game the past couple of weeks. What's your perspective on the Giants' struggles?

Alex in Ohio

A: No need to lose faith in the Giants yet. They are 13-21 in November since Tom Coughlin has been the coach. They've been able to bounce back and win two Super Bowls despite bad Novembers. On offense, it appears defenses have made adjustments to take away the big-play consistency of Victor Cruz. Hakeem Nicks is playing on a sore knee and is more possession receiver than deep threat at the moment. When his knee gets better, he should be able to get downfield more. The running game has been inconsistent. No need to panic. The Giants lead the division.

Q: What do you make of the Dolphins' recent two game skid? It seemed like yesterday they were poised to make a playoff push and are now 4-5. Will the next month determine the fate of GM Jeff Ireland as well as their pending free-agent class of Jake Long, Reggie Bush, and Sean Smith?

Eric in Virginia Beach, Va.

A: The reality is the AFC really doesn't have six legitimate playoff teams talent-wise, but six have to make it. The Dolphins are an example about where the AFC is. Going into the season, the Dolphins didn't have enough at wide receiver to think playoffs. But the defense was good and Ryan Tannehill improved as a starter. The Dolphins aren't out of it. The same can be said of the Bengals and Chargers because of Roethlisberger's shoulder injury. I don't think Ireland should be judged by whether the Dolphins make the playoffs. If they finish with seven or eight wins, Ireland looks as though he may have hit on a quarterback. Plus, Miami has loaded up on draft choices. The future is bright despite the past two games.

Q: There has been a lot of bad offensive line play this season. We have seen many aspects of the game evolve over time, yet the offensive line seems mostly unchanged. Is this aspect of the game due to evolve?

Mark in Greensboro, N.C.

A: Often, the best lines are the ones that are together for 40 to 50 games. The Seahawks of the mid-2000s and the Giants in the late 2000s were the best examples of that. But it's hard to keep that type of continuity. If the line stays together too long, it gets too old and too hard to replace. The Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins were examples of lines that got too old. Those teams are still trying to fix their blocking problems. First, there aren't enough good left tackles to fill 32 teams. Right tackle might be the second-toughest position to fill successfully. Teams want a little more athleticism at left guard and that's a hard fit. It's surprising to see the Green Bay Packers struggle on the line because they do such a great job of drafting. You're right, though, there have been a lot of problems with the lines.

Q: I am curious to know if you think the NFL will ever consider an adjustment to the current pass interference rules. I wonder if they could do something similar to the old facemask penalty where a minor infraction could be 10-15 yards and the more blatant being the spot foul it currently is.

Max in Los Angeles

A: I don't see any change. The NFL feels going to the shorter penalty would lead to more mugging by defensive backs. Defensive backs are smart. If it's a choice between a 50-yard completion or a short penalty, they will take the penalty. It could lead to more interference penalties. The NFL likes offense. A change such as that could give defenses a little advantage.

Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck has already shown enough to indicate he's bound for great things.

Q: Why are so many people fawning over Andrew Luck? He has better yardage because he's thrown 100 or so more passes than Russell Wilson and RG3. And he had no touchdown passes against either Cleveland or Jacksonville, which combine for a 3-15 record. RG3's numbers are much better; more accurate passer short and long, and you can throw in 550 yards rushing.

Bill in Syracuse, N.Y.

A: Luck isn't perfect, but he has the look of greatness. He beat Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Where he scored major points was against the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins entered that Week 9 game against the Colts with the best third-down pass defense in football. Luck shredded them that day on third down. I was at that game, and Luck was sensational. Face it, this class of rookie quarterbacks is one of the best ever. Luck and RG3 are great. Wilson has been the surprise and has the Seahawks on a playoff run. Tannehill and Brandon Weeden have been good. Their success leads to interesting debates.

Q: Why do coaches call timeouts in the third quarter to save the 5 yards from a delay of game? Wouldn't it be more prudent to save that timeout in case they need it at the end of the game? I don't know if there is any research on this, but it seems to me it would be more beneficial to have timeouts at the end of the game than 5 yards in the third quarter.

Greg in Shelton, Conn.

A: NFL coaches always try their best to save timeouts for late in the game. What you are seeing a lot this season is young quarterbacks calling more timeouts earlier in games rather than running a bad play. More teams are using younger players, so they might be a little quick in calling a timeout earlier if they spot a mistake. I have no research at the moment to see if there is an increase in timeouts, but I will look into it.

Q: I was just looking back over the weekly leaders and it appears for the most that the weekly rushing leader (in yardage) has been on the winning team. The passing leader? Not so much. More like 50/50. I know this is hyped as a passing league and everything, but doesn't this show how overrated yardage stats in offense and defense are in judging a team?

Terrel in Milwaukee, Wis.

A: I just did a stat for Inside the Huddle on 300-yard quarterbacks. They are 38-42 in games in which the 300-yard mark was reached or surpassed. Last season, there were 124 300-yard games. The league is on pace for 140 this season. This is a passing league. Don't doubt that. But a 300-yard game doesn't guarantee victory. As we witnessed last season, two of the worst pass defenses in the league went to the Super Bowl. But those teams -- New England and the New York Giants -- each had elite quarterbacks.

Q: Just finished watching the Niners-Rams overtime debacle and I can't help but think how much more entertaining a college shootout format would have been. Will the NFL ever consider the college OT format?

Frank in Kearny, N.J.

A: I don't see that ever happening. The NFL likes a sudden-death finish. After the two nontouchdown possessions, the first team to score wins. The college rule works well in college. The NFL overtime rules were installed to minimize ties, and they have worked reasonably well through the years. I wasn't a big fan of the two-possession rule change. My worry is that the two possessions without a score would eat up too much time. In the case of the 49ers-Rams game, the two possessions ate up about seven minutes, which wasn't much of a problem. In my opinion, the NFL overtime rules don't have to be overhauled.