Today’s NFL features younger quarterbacks, simpler plays

If one were to scrutinize the starting offensive lineups of the 32 National Football League teams, it would be revealed that more than half of the teams are dependent on young quarterbacks who have been out of college five years or less.

In the old school, a drafted quarterback would serve as a bench-warmer for at least five years or longer, studying reams of information from a playbook that resembles a reference encyclopedia.

Or he would be the quarterback for the scout team—the one imitating the upcoming opponent– and run all of their offensive plays.

If he was lucky, he would fill in for his team’s starting quarterback if he was unfortunate enough to be incapacitated from an injury, or for “mop-up duty” if his team was either comfortably ahead late in the game or was too far behind to have a legitimate chance to catch up.

Nevertheless, it was a tough life for a young quarterback in the not-too-far-away “good old days.”

Today the NFL teams are swooping down on the successful college quarterbacks—especially those who are tall (6-foot, three) or larger, have rocket arms and are very mobile—and making them their top draft choice with the idea of playing them in their rookie year or for certain within the next two seasons.

A few years back many NFL teams who were panicked because their long-time quarterback went down with an injury that would keep him rehabbing for a month or two, discovered that the young backup played rather admirably. In many cases, the coach would look stupid sitting down the rookie when the greybeard starter was fully recovered.

A case in point closest to home is the Houston Texans when Matt Schaub was injured and young Case Keenum replaced him. The former University of Houston star quarterback has started only two games, but he has done an admirable job and has yet to be intercepted. Schaub and former backup T.J Yates slung 11 interceptions, four of which were returned for enemy touchdowns.

But looking at the big picture in the entire NFL, many teams are having success with young quarterbacks.

The first one that comes to mind is Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, who took over as the starter during last season, led his team to the playoffs and currently has engineered eight victories in nine games. Wilson is complimented by one of the best defenses in the NFL spearheaded by Orange native Earl Thomas III at free safety.

Cam Newton stepped right in as the starting quarterback after the Carolina Panthers drafted him out of Auburn three years ago.

And to make his starting job less complicated, the offensive coordinator gave Newton a booklet of packaged plays, which have built-in options for both the run and the pass, according to this week’s issue of ESPN The Magazine. There are at least a dozen teams using this simplified playbook.

“This means the quarterback can call one play, then read the defense’s movement and initiate a different play. See a cornerback backing off his coverage? Throw a quick screen pass to a wide receiver. See a weak box? Run right at it, either with a quarterback keeper or a traditional handoff,” the article pointed out.

“Packaged plays aren’t new at any level—colleges and high schools have run them frequently the past decade—but they’re gaining momentum in the NFL, especially for teams with inexperienced quarterbacks.

“The beauty of packaged plays is that they replace verbose playcalls and endless pre-snap audibles with simple, sometimes one-word, plays that bundle several options into one.

“That’s a big reason the Buffalo Bills, with three green quarterbacks, were running one play every 23.4 seconds, second fastest in the NFL,” the article stated.

And the fastest team is the Philadelphia Eagles who use the packaged plays as the center core of their offense. They were rattling off a snap every 22.6 seconds and before Sunday’s 49-20 romp over the Oakland Raiders, were averaging 6.2 yards per play—third in the NFL.

But Sunday at Oakland, Nick Foles, subbing for the injured Michael Vick, tied an NFL record by throwing seven touchdown passes for 406 yards. Foles completed 22-of-28 passes, frequently exploiting mismatches and blown pass coverages.

Other young starting quarterbacks finding success are Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, Oakland’s Terrelle Pryor, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Washington Redskins’ Robert Griffin III, Kansas City’s Alex Smith, Miami’s Ryan Tannehill and NY Jets’ Geno Smith just to name a few.

We’re not bad-mouthing such great veteran quarterbacks as Denver’s Peyton Manning, New Orleans’ Drew Brees, New England’s Tom Brady, Dallas Cowboys’ Tony Romo, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger or Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, but merely showing how the new breed of NFL quarterbacks are finding early success with much simpler offensive plays.

KWICKIES…Quarterback Tony Romo is doing a good job of keeping the Dallas Cowboys on top of the NFC East Division, even though their record is a mediocre 5-4. Dallas has a tough game Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints in the Louisiana Superdome and is an early seven-point underdog. But the Saints had a tough time beating lowly Buffalo two weeks ago and then were upset 26-20 by the New York Jets Sunday while Romo put up huge offensive numbers against Detroit in a harrowing 31-30 loss at Detroit and a 27-23 victory Sunday over the Minnesota Vikings.

My alma mater, the McNeese State Cowboys, really took it on the chin Saturday night at home when Southeastern Louisiana took over first place and remained undefeated in the Southland Conference with a 41-7 thumping of the Pokes. Now the Cowboys must hope that Sam Houston State can beat Southeastern Louisiana Nov. 16 in Hammond and throw the SLC into a three-way tie and all three teams get invited to the post-season tournament.

Although the Lamar Cardinals won’t figure into winning the Southland Conference, they have come a long way to being a bona fide college football team this year. Saturday’s upset victory over Nicholls State by a convincing 56-34 score verifies this point. And the Cardinals did it after Head Coach Ray Woodard suspended 20 players Saturday morning for violating team rules and made them sit in the stands during the first half of the Nicholls State game in their street clothes. Woodard found out that many of his reserves play college football well as the Redbirds rolled to their second-highest point total of the season.

Here are some scores from last weekend of teams that might become playoff foes for our local high school football teams: Coldspring 28, Cleveland 14; Liberty 28, Shepherd 16; La Marque 31, Columbia 0; Brenham 63, Huntsville 21; Carthage 49, Diboll 6; Giddings 14, Smithville 8; Waco Connally 62, Waco La Vega 60; Jasper 48, Huntington 8; Groveton 37, Anderson-Shiro 16; Corrigan-Camden 57, Hemphill 14; Cameron Yoe 45, Marlin 10; Humble Summer Creek 41, Barbers Hill 10; Crosby 49, Humble 9; Navasota 56, Caldwell 7; Tenaha 42, Evadale 0.

JUST BETWEEN US…As the regular 2013 high school football season ends this weekend for many teams, a “new season” also begins for the successful teams that have qualified for the state playoffs. And the Orange area is fortunate to have more than half of its teams extending their seasons in their respective playoff brackets, including the Little Cypress-Mauriceville Bears in Class 4A, the West Orange-Stark Mustangs and hopefully the Orangefield Bobcats in Class 3A, Deweyville in Class 2A, Orange Community Christian in TAPPS and Vinton in the Louisiana state playoffs.