Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Just How Good Do We Think Notre Dame Football Really Is?

That might seem like an odd question to ask a bunch of professional football fans, but I say it has relevance. And I say we need to seriously consider the answer. Because, as I see it, the Golden Dome's reputation is the only explanation for Brady Quinn's ascension to the Cleveland Browns' quarterback throne.

Either that or it's because he's pretty. I won't sit here and tell you Quinn's not that.

If you've read some of my other columns, you know I make no effort to hide my animosity for ND football. Consequently, I have no love for Brady Quinn. To complicate matters, I find it insane that the kid was handed endorsement deals and commercials before he'd taken snap one in a real game.

I find it equally insane that he was handed the reins to the Browns' offense just because the team's defense was an abomination.

Of course, such swag is handed to others with less talent than Brady and a thinner resume. If I'm being totally objective, it's no great sin. Furthermore, the sin isn't Quinn's; it's not like I'd turn down a lucrative endorsement contract if my phone rang tomorrow. Ditto the keys to an NFL offense - can you imagine the hilarity that would ensue from that cataclysm?

And Brady Quinn's obviously done more to deserve his fruits.

That said, I've seen both of his starts in the NFL and I have yet to see what all the fuss is about. I'm not saying he's bad or even destined for mediocrity - he's quite obviously better than average and any signal-caller with his tools could become great with a little confidence/luck. But the media - notably on Monday night, Tony Kornheiser - sells Quinn like he's the LeBron James of the NFL (that could be a slight exaggeration, but you get the point).

For instance, Kornhesier spent much of his mic-time Monday night frothing at the mouth over Quinn. I believe he said at one point that Quinn looked like he was born for this. Generally, I'm a big Kornheiser fan. But he was nauseatingly and inexplicably undignified in his praise during the Browns-Buffalo Bills game.

To be honest, I really didn't see too much difference between Trent Edwards and Quinn for the last three quarters.

Before people race an aneurysm to their keyboards, let me finish.

The Browns won that game by virtue of a missed field goal. That means they won a game by less than three points in which the opposing team's QB spent the entire first quarter throwing to your defense almost as often as he threw to his own receivers.

It's true, some of the responsibility for the game being so close goes on the defense's shoulders. But Edwards essentially handed Cleveland's offense the ball three times in the first quarter and it managed six points.

Trent's most hideous interception gave Cleveland the ball on the Bills' 12 yard line. The Browns went three and out, took a digger face-first into three points.

Throw in another fumble lost by the Bills, zero turnovers by the Browns, and only two penalties for a total of 15 yards.

That means Cleveland got four turnovers, did next-to-nothing to hurt itself, and still only won by two points. On a missed field goal that probably should have been made.

So the results on the field back up the assertion that Quinn and Edwards were not too different after that sparkling first 15 minutes.

Now for the eyeball test.

Brady Quinn was clearly better than Trent Edwards. He threw a tighter spiral, more accurate deep ball, and navigated the pocket with more confident finesse. He didn't turn the ball over and efficiently marshaled his side. But what is that really saying? It is, after all, Trent Edwards and not one of his better games.

And it's not as if Quinn blew him off the field.

I saw Brady frequently miss his receivers. I saw him make some really bad decisions where luck saved him from interceptions. What I didn't see were any throws that made me sit up and take notice of their whoa-ness.

There was that one nice touch pass to Jerome Harrison. Again, though, there was a pretty large window over a linebacker. It's not exactly expecting the world of an average pro QB to be able to make that throw. Still, it was nice.

And Quinn obviously has a good feel for the pocket. He deftly side-stepped the rush several times and got off a couple more of those jump-throws with huge slabs of meat bearing down on him.

So, again, I'm not trying to dog Brady Quinn. He was clearly better than Trent Edwards and he very well could be an upgrade over Derek Anderson.

But what I don't see are the throws that I see from Jay Cutler or Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco or Aaron Rodgers. In other words, I see the reason for all the hullabaloo when I watch those other young guns play.

I'm not saying they're all destined for greatness.

What I am saying is, when you watch them operate for four quarters, they mix in several throws that are unusual for their excellence. Either deep balls that hit a receiver perfectly in stride or shorter throws that anticipate small windows before they appear. Lasers that still only sneak through because of speed, brotha.

And, if you pull a palace coup on a Pro Bowl quarterback who is fresh off a lucrative new contract, that's what I would expect to see. But I don't.

I see a talented, young athlete whose best plays are more reminiscent of Jeff Garcia than Brett Favre.

Granted, it's only been two games and Brady Quinn is 1-1 as a starter. But this isn't about how good Quinn could become. It's about why there was such a push to insert him now.

The push came from the fans, but that's only natural when everyone with a column or mic is hyping Quinn like he's the Savior in cleats and shoulder pads. If I were a Browns fan, I'd probably want him in there too.

Still, Derek Anderson led the Browns to an annihilation of the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants. Heretofore, the only blemish on the defending champ's record.

Quinn "led" them to a nail-biter over the very mediocre Buffalo Bills.

Their stats are virtually identical except that Anderson has more interceptions and losses. He also has four times the number of starts.

So I return to the initial question.

If Quinn doesn't look especially great and his stats aren't especially great. If he isn't night and day compared to the guy he replaced. If said guy went to the Pro Bowl last year and sports a hefty price tag. If the results on the field aren't an immediate and obvious improvement. If the success of the team rises and falls with a porous defense.

Why was the quarterback change made?

Maybe there has been progress with Quinn behind center rather than Anderson. I won't pretend to have seen any Cleveland games except the last two in which Brady started. Even so, it's inconsequential as long as the defense remains putrid.

So why the urgency?

Surely it can't be Brady Quinn's alma mater any more than it could be his looks.

The very notion is laughable.

Unfortunately, a laughable explanation can still be the best if it's the only one.

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