The NFL has a crisis on its hands. No, it isn’t PR control from deflated footballs or from movies about concussions. Rather, it’s the surprising number of injuries to those that play game’s most important position.
Injuries are a part of the NFL. Each team battles through a number of injuries each year in a test of depth and grit. Yet, the injuries this season to the game’s quarterbacks have arguably reshaped the complexion of the league. The AFC playoffs will feature only 2 QB’s that have started each game this season while 14 of the league’s teams have seen their starting quarterback miss playing time due to injury.
Is this season just an anomaly or are we beginning to see the fruits of one of the ill-advised regulations of the 2011 CBA? One of the aims of the CBA was to promote more player safety by reducing off-season practice times by five weeks. The flip side of the coin appears to be offensive linemen not having enough time to refine their skill. Inevitably, this leads to the linemen not being as sharp when the bullets are live and thus more QB hits and injuries. The CBA isn’t solely to blame however.
Seattle Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable told ESPN Radio in May: “I’m not wanting to offend anybody, but college football, offensively, has gotten to be really, really bad fundamentally.” “Unfortunately, I think we’re doing a huge disservice to offensive football players, other than a receiver, that come out of these spread systems. The runners aren’t as good. They aren’t taught how to run. The blockers aren’t as good. The quarterbacks aren’t as good. They don’t know how to read coverage and throw progressions. They have no idea.”
Former NFL head coach Jon Gruden also expressed similar sentiment: “You’re getting a lot of young offensive linemen out of college these days that have never been in a three‑point stance, have never been in a huddle,” Gruden said. “They don’t have a real good background in how to get the stance and get out of a stance and pass protect, let alone pick up stunts, blitzes, handle audibles. It’s a whole new world. I think late in the season, no one’s wearing pads on the practice field. They don’t pad up on the practice field in training camp nearly like they used to. There are a lot of linemen changing teams more so than I’ve ever seen before … I think that’s why you see a lot of teams running dive options with built‑in bubble screens.”
At first, some thought this was partly a quarterback issue as well, particularly with young ones fresh out of the collegiate ranks. Jon Gruden expounded on this also: “I know a lot of quarterbacks have been under siege,” he said. “A lot of quarterbacks have been hit hard. A lot of the poor offensive line play has to do with poor quarterback play. You’ve got to be able to direct these protections. You’ve got to make the right calls. You have to make sure everybody’s on the same page. You also have to throw the ball away and not hold it very long in pro football. So I think the quarterback at times is truly responsible for the negative outcome on some of these plays I’ve seen.”
But this season, it isn’t just young quarterbacks getting punished. Veterans that know a thing or two about deciphering a defense have also taken a beating as well. Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco to name a few. What’s worse, is that a number of these players reflect the stardom power the league holds. As they go down, so does the overall performance of the league.
For the NFL, the implications could be more damaging than expected. Quarterbacks are the league’s most prized possessions. They’ve helped propel the league to a stratosphere never before seen. In the short-term, the NFL may be able to brush this season off as an anomaly, but the signs are becoming clearer and clearer. The NFL has a quarterback crisis.