The Manning Bowl might as well be broadcast in black and white.
With all the hype over the new-age quarterbacks and cutting-edge offenses, you'd think an afternoon watching Peyton and Eli Manning would be something like shopping for Jordache jeans while listening to a Walkman.
There's the read-option, the Chip Kelly Oregon offense and even the New England Patriots' hurry-up. The Mannings – set to face each other for the third time in the NFL, this time in New York – just drop back and throw. Yawn. Manning Bowl III isn't even the most expensive ticket this weekend; that belongs to two quarterbacks of the future: Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson on "Sunday Night Football" in Seattle.
The problem with the future is that it might look a good deal like the past.
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A lot has changed in the NFL, but a lot hasn't among championship-winning quarterbacks. Joe Flacco is a traditional pocket passer. So were Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and both Mannings. The only possible exception is Aaron Rodgers, who runs well, but he threw 39 times (for three touchdowns) in the Packers' Super Bowl win in 2011. You have to go back to John Elway and Steve Young (the game's leading rusher in his Super Bowl win) to find mobile quarterbacks who won it all. And Elway, in the end, wasn't so mobile.
Until this changes, the revolution is not truly a revolution.
In Week 1, you saw something a little different out of the new generation of dual-threat quarterbacks: traditional drop-back passing. Kaepernick shredded the Packers much more with his arm than like he did with his legs in the playoffs last season. Robert Griffin III, still not his old self after ACL surgery in January, led Washington's comeback on Monday night with his arm. Cam Newton now has a drop-back quarterback in Ken Dorsey as his position coach.
The common wisdom is that a mobile quarterback gives an offense more options. It might be the opposite.
Yes, a quarterback who can run adds extra stress to a defense both mentally and physically. But a pass-only quarterback can use the entire field. As soon as he tucks the ball (or simply lowers his eyes), a lot of the field becomes closed off. And (get ready for some real insight here) the ball travels faster in the air than on the ground. So a quarterback who can fool a defense with his eyes (by keeping them downfield) is always going to succeed more than one who fools them with his feet.
That hasn't changed. What has changed is newer offenses allow younger, mobile quarterbacks to succeed more quickly.
"I think what's happening … with the need to put quarterbacks on the field so quickly, I think that's a big reason why you're seeing more of the zone read," Panthers coach Ron Rivera told the Charlotte Observer on Wednesday. "If you want to put an explosive quarterback on the field, you have to go to the zone read. You're not going to be able to say, 'We're going to make you a pocket passer.' "
Is this simply a delay of the inevitable adjustment? Does an "explosive" quarterback who does more than one thing have to eventually become a pocket-passer? Are Kaepernick, Wilson and Andrew Luck going to have to tuck the ball away less and less as they mature? If a franchise ascends with its quarterback, as Carolina, Washington and Seattle surely intend to do, will they end up building new Mannings? That's more or less what the Packers did; Rodgers still can move, but he's basically another Manning.
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Just look at the attrition. Not many people think "athletic quarterback" when they look at Peyton or Eli Manning, but both have had long consecutive-game streaks. Peyton has the second-longest among quarterbacks all time (227) and Eli has the third (147), which is still going. Everyone's blown away by Griffin returning to the field from offseason surgery without missing a game, but Peyton Manning went 13 years without missing a game. That didn't happen because of his mobility.
Other names on the top 20 consecutive game list: Brady, Joe Flacco, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Dan Marino, Ron Jaworski, and at No. 1, Brett Favre. You see the pattern. Of the top 10 quarterbacks on the list, only three never made a Super Bowl. Yes, you have to be supremely talented to keep a job for 80 or more games in a row, but you also have to be healthy. And history doesn't look kindly on the health of mobile quarterbacks (with an apology to Fran Tarkenton).
That's the buyer-beware for offenses that work in the college ranks, like Kelly's and the zone-read. College offenses always have young quarterbacks. The replacements come every fall. Building a pro franchise takes much longer, and so far it's only worked to the fullest with quarterbacks who wait in the pocket. Yes, the Eagles' offense is a delight to watch, but so was the Detroit Lions' run-and-shoot offense under Mouse Davis. That NFL revolution didn't end so well.
So enjoy Manning Bowl III. Those are two quarterbacks blessed with such ability that we may never see the likes of them again. But don't necessarily confuse rare ability with old-fashioned ability. We're all excited to see the future of the position in Kaepernick v. Wilson, but we're more likely to see the future of the sport in Broncos v. Giants.
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