It All Starts With The Man Under Center
By Steven King
The Cleveland Browns will probably lose to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Yes, the Packers are beat up and missing some key players and, of course, there are some matchups that favor the Browns.
Plus there's the fact that record-wise, the Packers (3-2) are just a shade better than the Browns (3-3).
But the most important thing of all is the fact their quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, is better than Cleveland QB Brandon Weeden. That supersedes everything else.
It always supersedes everything else. Really, it’s no more complicated than that.
The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. It always has been that way to a great degree, but now that’s so much more the case because of all the rule changes that benefit the offenses, especially the passing game. You could also say that about college and high school football.
Realizing that, the team with the best quarterback – or the team whose quarterback plays better that day – is the one that will almost always win.
There are exceptions, of course. There are exceptions to every rule, sports and otherwise. But when it comes to the quarterback adage, those exceptions are few and far between. If a team has a great quarterback, then it has a chance. And if a team doesn’t have one, then it has no chance. It may be just a small edge that one quarterback has over his opposite number on a particular day, but it’s often enough to explain why one team wins and the other team losses.
It’s just the way it is.
And you don’t have to look any further than last Sunday’s games – and the performances of the quarterbacks – to see indisputable evidence of that, whether it comes in the form of limiting interceptions, throwing touchdown passes and/or playing well and making big plays down the stretch in critical situations:
Dallas 31, Washington 16
Tony Romo (Cowboys) – 18-of-30 passing for 170 yards and one touchdown with one interception; Robert Griffin III (Redskins) – 19-of-31 for 246 yards and no touchdowns with one interception.
Seattle 20, Tennessee 13
Russell Wilson (Seahawks) – 23-of-31 passing for 257 yards and no touchdowns with no interceptions; Ryan Fitzpatrick (Titans) – 17-of-29 for 171 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions.
San Francisco 32, Arizona 20
Colin Kaepernick (49ers) – 16-of-21 passing for 252 yards and no touchdowns with one interception; Carson Palmer (Cardinals) – 25-of-41 for 298 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
New England 30, New Orleans 27
Tom Brady (Patriots) – 25-of-43 passing for 269 yards and one touchdown with one interception, including the game-winning 17-yard touchdown pass with five seconds left; Drew Brees (Saints) – 17-of-36 for 236 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
Denver 35, Jacksonville 19
Peyton Manning (Broncos) – 28-of-42 passing for 295 yards and two touchdowns with one interception; Chad Henne (Jaguars) – 27-of-42 for 303 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions.
Cincinnati 27, Buffalo 24 (OT)
Andy Dalton (Bengals) – 26-of-40 passing for 337 yards and three touchdowns with one interception; Thaddeus Lewis (Bills) – 19-of-32 for 216 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
Kansas City 24, Oakland 7
Alex Smith (Chiefs) – 14-of-31 passing for 128 yards and no touchdowns with no interceptions; Terrelle Pryor (Raiders) -- 18-of-34 for 216 yards and one touchdown with three interceptions.
Green Bay 19, Baltimore 17
Aaron Rodgers (Packers) – 17-of-32 passing for 315 yards and one touchdown with one interception; Joe Flacco (Ravens) – 20-of-34 for 342 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
Philadelphia 31, Tampa Bay 20
Nick Foles (Eagles) – 22-of-31 passing for 296 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions; Mike Glennon (Buccaneers) – 26-of-42 for 273 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
Pittsburgh 19, New York Jets 6
Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers) – 23-of-30 passing for 264 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions; Geno Smith (Jets) – 19-of-34 for 201 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions.
Carolina 35, Minnesota 10
Cam Newton (Panthers) – 20-of-26 passing for 242 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions; Matt Cassel (Vikings) – 32-of-44 for 241 yards and one touchdown and two interceptions.
St. Louis 38, Houston 13
Sam Bradford (Rams) – 12-of-16 passing for 117 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions; Matt Schaub (Texans) – 15-of-21 for 186 yards and no touchdowns with no interceptions, T.J. Yates (Texans) – 12-of-17 for 98 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions.
Detroit 31, Cleveland 17
Matthews Stafford (Lions) – 25-of-43 passing for 248 yards and four touchdowns with one interception; Brandon Weeden (Browns) – 26-of-43 for 292 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
As for the Packers, Rodgers has been their starter for six straight years. After going 6-10 in his first season (2008), they recorded double-digit victory totals and went to the playoffs over the next four years, winning the Super Bowl following the 2010 season.
Before that, Brett Favre started for 16 consecutive years. In his second season, the Packers made the playoffs for the first time in 11 years and for the first time in a non-strike season since 1972. So until the Packers found their quarterback – twice in a row, as it were, with Rodgers and Favre -- they were horrible.
The Browns have not had a quarterback – a legitimate, top-level one anyway– since Bernie Kosar. They made the playoffs five straight times in Kosar’s first five seasons (1985-89), winning four AFC Central Division championships and advancing to the conference championship game three times.
Since Kosar was unceremoniously cut midway through the 1993 season – with the team at 5-3 and tied for first place in the division – Cleveland has finished with only three winning records and made the playoffs just two times (1994 and 2002).
Browns fans should think about that – the fact Rodgers is clearly better than Weeden and the success both Cleveland and Green Bay have enjoyed through the years when they’ve had great quarterbacks, and the struggles they’ve had when they’ve been without such – as they watch Sunday’s game. You could include every NFL team in that discussion.
With all this proof, there’s no getting around the fact that until the Browns – in Year 15 of this nightmarish expansion era – find their franchise quarterback, their struggles will continue, regardless of how well-fortified they might be at the other positions.
So that – identifying the next Kosar – will be the No. 1 priority for the Browns in the offseason yet again.