Commentary

Style of QB play on center stage

Pocket passers vs. running QBs is the main attraction this NFL weekend

Originally Published: January 8, 2014
By Jason Whitlock | ESPN.com

Tom Brady, Colin KaepernickGetty ImagesTom Brady and Colin Kaepernick represent two different but successful styles of quarterback play.

Dear Jason:

I was talking with my staff this week, and we concluded there was a lot of undue media and public attention and criticism of the Affordable Care Act because you did not write the NFL Truths column in 2013. Americans need a distraction. Give them the truth.

Barack


Here are your playoff NFL Truths:

10. The creators of HBO's "Game of Thrones" could not write a better playoff script than the quarterback duels taking place in Roger Goodell's postseason coliseums.

The NFL's Elite Eight includes four baby dragons and four traditional powerhouses, four athletic freaks and four standard pocket passers, four kids and four adults. Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton represent the league's future. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers represent the league's glorious recent past.

What transpires over the next three NFL weekends will likely give us a peek into pro football's future. Are we really on the cusp of a dramatic strategic change at sport's most high-profile, influential and important position? Or will the baby dragons have to continue to adjust their games to fit the mold set by Manning and Brady?

Let's be clear. No one has asked Brady, Brees and Manning to incorporate the QB run game into their offenses. The overriding belief among NFL decision-makers is that the road to the Super Bowl and consistent success runs through the pocket. In the minds of traditionalists, the disaster in our nation's capital with Robert Griffin III and Mike Shanahan is a not-to-be-ignored cautionary tale about falling in love with a QB who can move the chains with his legs. RG3, like old-school Michael Vick, can excite a fan base, elevate expectations and provide endless fodder for talking heads, but there are major questions if he can distinguish the Vince Lombardi Trophy from the Heisman Trophy.

There are growing signs RG3's peers do know the difference. Luck, Wilson and Kaepernick have led playoff qualifiers for consecutive seasons. They're winners. Luck and Kaepernick are building reputations as clutch performers. Luck has more come-from-behind victories than any QB the past two years. Kaepernick has beaten Green Bay twice in the postseason. Wilson and Newton have displayed tremendous fourth-quarter poise this season.

We're guaranteed at least one of the youngsters and one of the old guys is going to advance this weekend. Newton and Kaepernick face each other as do Manning and Rivers. Luck is an underdog against Brady and the Patriots on the road. Wilson is a favorite hosting Brees and the Saints at home. The odds favor one of the young QBs meeting Manning or Brady in the Super Bowl.

If Brees comes out of the NFC, the narrative will be the road to the Super Bowl still runs through the pocket. If one of the young stars wins the Super Bowl, a new era of QB strategy will be accelerated.

My money is on Kaepernick. He's the young John Elway with a supporting cast.

[+] EnlargeSmith
Denny Medley/USA TODAY SportsThe Chiefs' Alex Smith is probably not the guy who will lead the team back to the top of the NFL.

9. The Bengals should stick with Andy Dalton for one more year and draft a QB in the first two rounds.

There's no reason to pretend Dalton is a franchise quarterback. He's not. Let's not play games with numbers and stats. Just because his first-three-years stats are similar to Peyton Manning's doesn't mean he should be compared to Manning.

There's nothing elite about Dalton. He doesn't have one QB characteristic that is elite (top five). He isn't particularly accurate (Aaron Rodgers). He's not great at handling pass-rush pressure (Brady). His visualization and anticipation are not special (Manning). He can't beat you with his legs (Kaepernick). His long ball is average (Joe Flacco). He's not a leader (Brees). He's not someone who elevates his play in the postseason (Eli Manning).

Andy Dalton is a game manager -- an interception-prone bad one. He's an elite version of Brad Johnson. The Buccaneers won a Super Bowl with Johnson. So the Bengals can win with Dalton. But Johnson was a journeyman for a reason. He never stuck with one team for more than five years in a row.

You date Andy Dalton until you land a legitimate franchise QB.

The Bengals will be a Super Bowl favorite heading into the 2014 regular season. It's unlikely there's a veteran upgrade to replace Dalton. There's no Alex Smith for Cincy to acquire. Drafting a rookie at the bottom of Round 1 is the best option for the Bengals. Let Dalton try to duplicate Flacco's contract season from a season ago, and then let some other team overpay Dalton next offseason.

8.  As a Chiefs fan, here's what's more depressing than the second-half collapse in Indianapolis: It's highly unlikely the team will be better next season.

Only once since the Marty Schottenheimer "golden era" have the Chiefs put together back-to-back winning seasons. Inconsistency is Kansas City's greatest consistency. This is the plight of a franchise that has NEVER drafted and developed a franchise quarterback. QB instability creates franchise instability.

Alex Smith played spectacularly against the Colts. He ran courageously, eschewing legs-first slides. He challenged the Colts downfield. He played arguably the best and most complete game of his career. It wasn't good enough. It wasn't enough to hold off a true franchise quarterback -- Andrew Luck.

That's not me blaming Smith. It's me recognizing the NFL is set up for the best quarterback to win most of the time. It's me also recognizing that it's unlikely Smith will ever duplicate that performance again. He did everything right and lost.

I blame misfortune, a rash of injuries, for K.C.'s loss. Misfortune won't be the excuse when the Chiefs take several steps back next season. K.C.'s tiny window is closing. Charles, Tamba Hali, Dwayne Bowe, Brandon Flowers, Branden Albert and Derrick Johnson -- the foundation drafted by Herm Edwards and Carl Peterson -- are in their primes. They're not going to get any better. The young nucleus selected by former general manager Scott Pioli -- Eric Berry, Tyson Jackson, Dontari Poe, Dexter McCluster -- is suspect. Berry is an All-Pro safety who struggles in coverage and missed far too many one-on-one tackles against the Colts.

The new regime -- Andy Reid and GM John Dorsey -- absolutely whiffed at the very top of the 2013 draft. Reid and Dorsey hid rookie right tackle Eric Fisher from Colts defensive end Robert Mathis by claiming Fisher was too injured to play last weekend. Fisher had the Robert Mathis flu.

The 2013 Chiefs beat up bad teams and bad quarterbacks. They wasted the No. 1 overall pick. The strength of their team (defense) got exposed as a major weakness the second half of the season. The 11-5 record is likely going to make ownership cautious during free agency.

Next season has 8-8 written all over it.

7. There's a possible explanation for the bizarre, virtually nonexistent officiating in the 49ers-Packers game: The cold-weather uniforms worn by Ed Hochuli and crew changed their personalities.

Hochuli and his guns love the camera. Each NFL Sunday is an opportunity for Hochuli to preen for a reality TV show. Hochuli is the Terrell Owens of referees. I'm serious. You wrap him up in cold-weather gear and suddenly he officiates a game that features only five penalties. Hochuli's guns and face were covered this weekend. There was no chance for him to star in a nationally televised football game.

The Packers and the 49ers took full advantage of Hochuli's absence. Everything was legal in Lambeau. A Packers offensive lineman put a switchblade to the throat of a 49ers defensive lineman who tried to sack Aaron Rodgers. Hochuli saw nothing.

You think the athletes are the only ones who love attention and ham it up for the cameras. All the players take a backseat to Hochuli.

6.  We're officially in the Rooney Rule Silence Period. No one in the media is supposed to talk about the Rooney Rule until all the head-coaching jobs have been assigned. No reason to irritate our sources.

Let me break the silence. Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin are all receiving courtesy interviews at various places. Unlike previous years, the Rooney Rule is being followed.

Teams chose not to use the trendy Rooney Rule trick of firing their head coaches with two games left on the schedule and naming a token black position coach as interim head coach and then interviewing the interim coach. Also, Lovie Smith earned the Tampa Bay job without much controversy.

Is the NFL making real progress in terms of head-coaching diversity? Yes.

Mike Tomlin and Marvin Lewis will lead teams with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations next season. Lovie Smith has a great opportunity in Tampa. Next year, Bowles and Indianapolis offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton have a chance to be in high demand around the NFL. I predict there will be six African-American NFL head coaches in 2015.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesDuke's David Cutcliffe should be on every NFL team's list of potential head coaches.

5.  Here are the four coaches I'd interview if I owned an NFL team in need of a head coach:

David Cutcliffe: Duke's head coach is Peyton Manning's favorite football coach. If you can make Duke a winner and be Peyton's confidant, why can't you fix Robert Griffin III? I like the fact Cutcliffe is nearly 60. His experience and maturity would be an asset in the NFL.

Mike Zimmer: Cincinnati's defense carried the Bengals through the regular season and gave Cincy a chance to advance in the playoffs. Zimmer's defense isn't built around a bunch of high draft picks. I like Zimmer far more than Cincy offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.

James Franklin: I think he's the Sean Payton of college football. His play calling and persona are worth six points on game day. Three straight bowl games at Vanderbilt. Two straight nine-win seasons. Franklin is can't-miss.

Gus Malzahn: At this point, Malzahn is qualified for any job he wants. Great high school coach. Great college coordinator. Great college head coach. He would figure out how to build an NFL offense.

4.  Michael Vick needs to embrace the mindset of being an ideal backup quarterback rather than looking for a starting job.

I know that's a difficult transition for any athlete. But with the proper mindset, Vick could stick around the NFL for another five or six years and play himself into a starting role on a good team. If he's stuck on being a starter, he's likely going to land on a very bad team and be out of the league after just one more season.

No well-run franchise will commit to Vick as its starter or even bring Vick in to compete for the starting job. He's missed too many games due to injury over the past few years. What teams will find valuable is the way Vick helped the Eagles transition to Nick Foles.

Vick's ideal team in 2014 is the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals should draft a young QB and sign Vick as the No. 3. If Andy Dalton falters or is injured, Vick would get his chance to play as the Bengals tried to compete for a playoff spot.

The backup job in Carolina would be another solid landing spot for Vick.

The wrong attitude and too much talent can lead teams to avoid certain qualified quarterbacks.

3. How can Michael Crabtree be the "greatest catcher" on the same team with Anquan Boldin?

Jim Harbaugh is trying to motivate Crabtree, who has a problem dropping balls. Harbaugh wants Crabtree to be the modern-day Cris Carter. Rather than criticize Crabtree, Harbaugh is trying to infuse him with incredible confidence and make him live up to a reputation.

It's good coaching ... as long as Boldin doesn't pout. NFL receivers are divas. It doesn't take much to set them off. Boldin had three catches, six targets and 38 yards last week. Crabtree had eight, 13 and 125.

Stay tuned.

2.  The faux outrage over the Dallas Morning News reissuing an old quote from the Louisville Courier-Journal with Lou Holtz saying "Charlie Strong is not a hip-hop coach" is comical and sad.

Holtz hired Strong twice. Holtz knows Strong quite well and was likely one of Strong's biggest supporters for the Texas job. Holtz's characterization of Strong is actually politically correct. What Holtz likely was trying to avoid saying is: "Charlie is not a guy I hired because he could recruit and relate to black athletes from the inner city who think Jay Z is some sort of ideal role model. Charlie is a football coach, not a babysitter."

I'm not politically correct. I played college football and most of my best friends are former black athletes or highly experienced sports writers. Athletes and experienced sports writers -- regardless of color -- know there are recruiters/babysitters on every coaching staff. College football and basketball teams bring kids to campus from tough places who have a difficult time adjusting to environments they are not accustomed to. Smart, fair-minded coaches employ people on their staffs who help these kids acclimate themselves to a different environment. These assistant coaches are highly valuable. But oftentimes, they're not ideal candidates to be head coaches.

The recruiter/player development coaching path is not the path that leads to a head-coaching position. The entry door (recruiting/player development) that many black coaches are forced to go through undermines their ability to develop into head coaches.

Lou Holtz put Charlie Strong on the path to being a head coach. You can be mad at Holtz for "inappropriately" using the term "hip-hop." Or you can celebrate Holtz for hiring Strong at Notre Dame and making him defensive coordinator at South Carolina.

I'm gonna celebrate Holtz and take a deeper look into the real obstacles facing black coaches. I'm gonna let you waste your day debating whether there are any "white rock 'n' roll coaches."

1.  Did anyone else think Jameis Winston swallowed Jared Lorenzen Monday night?

• Columnist for Fox Sports from 2010-2013
• Columnist at the Kansas City Star for 16 years
• ESPN.com Page 2 columnist from 2002 to 2006

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