Not a Two QB League Just Yet, But You Need a Solid Back-Up When No. 1 Gets Hurt

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—Flash back to the 2003 NFC Championship game between the Eagles and the Carolina Panthers.

 Nick Foles will likely start in Sunday's game against the  Dallas Cowboys. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Nick Foles will likely start in Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Early in the second quarter of that game, Birds quarterback Donovan McNabb gets hits by Carolina linebacker Greg Favors and suffers badly bruised ribs that eventually force him to leave the game.

With Koy Detmer in the game in relief of McNabb, the Eagles really had no chance to come back and win because there was a huge drop off in talent when you compare those two quarterbacks.

And so in the here and now, the Eagles have two guys who are capable of starting and winning.  When Michael Vick pulled a hamstring in the win over the New York Giants, Nick Foles came off the bench and threw a pair of second-half touchdown passes to lead the Eagles to the win.

With Vick unable to go against Tampa Bay last week, Foles passed for 296 yards and threw three touchdown passes in the Birds win over the Bucs.

Now, of course, you have a full-blown quarterback here in the City of Brotherly Love. There are some rooting for Foles to be the starter and others rooting for Vick, who will apparently be on the shelf for another week rehabbing his injured hamstring.

In an NFL where there has been a rash of quarterback injuries, you would think that teams would have backups that are just as good as their starters.  But the reality is when teams lose their starting quarterback, the back up guy is someone not as talented as the starter or who has little game experience.

“But typically, your starter is better than your backup ‑‑ in our situation, we’ve got two guys that have gone in and won a game, so ours is a little bit unique,” said Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.  “But in a lot of places, there’s probably a drop‑off between their first and second guy. “

Michael Vick will probably miss Sunday's game against the Cowboys. Photo by Webster Riddick

Michael Vick will probably miss Sunday’s game against the Cowboys. Photo by Webster Riddick

Will NFL teams ever evolve to the point to where you need two guys who are capable of being starters?  I don’t know.  In some situations, you’re lucky if you can get one guy to do it. And if you do have two capable starters, someone’s going to want to emerge as the No. 1 guy.

Every team finds themselves one season-ending injury away from having to start their back up quarterback. Foles said even as a backup, you work with the mentality that you’re going to be the starter.

“I’m going into this week like I always do,” Foles said. “I work everyday like I’m the starter, nothing changes. No matter what happens if I’m not getting reps, I’m mentally getting reps. What throws I didn’t get if I’m not getting first-team reps, I’m going to throw after (practice).”

During his press conference after the Birds win over the New York Giants where Vick got hurt, Kelly said he enjoys the luxury of having two quarterbacks capable of starting.

“No matter where you are in this league, you have to make sure you have two quarterbacks that’s just the nature of this league,” Kelly said. “We’re fortunate that we do.”

More often than naught, the loss of a starting quarterback means the season can take a huge nose-dive in the win-loss column, especially when you throw in a rookie or player who gets very little playing time. In 2011, the Indianapolis Colts lost Peyton Manning for a season and their record plummeted to 2-14.

Along with the Eagles, the Cleveland Browns (Brian Hoyer), the Buffalo Bills (EJ Manuel), New York Jets (Mark Sanchez), the Jacksonville Jaguars (Blaine Gabbert) and Tennessee Titans (Jake Locker) have seen their starters miss a significant amount of time and in some cases, like Hoyer, they are out for the season.

But throughout the history of the game, some teams have successfully managed long-term injuries to their starting quarterbacks better than others and some have been quite successful.

When McNabb had a season-ending knee injury in 2006, Jeff Garcia came in and the lead the Eagles to wins in five out of their last six games en-route to an NFC East title.

Back in 2008, Tom Brady had a season-ending knee injury in the Patriots first regular season game. Matt Cassel led New England to 11 wins, but did not make the playoffs.

Brady, a sixth-round draft pick, was Drew Bledsoe’s backup at the beginning of the 2001 season before being pressed into service when Bledsoe got hurt.  Of course, Brady went on to win three Super Bowls as the Patriots starter.

In 1990, New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms went down with a foot injury in week 14. Backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler led the Giants to a victory in the Super Bowl.

If there was one coach in NFL history that seemed to have a knack of finding a back up quarterback good enough to win when his starter got hurt, it was Hall of Fame coach Don Shula.

During his coaching days with the Baltimore Colts and the Miami Dolphins, Shula saw legendary quarterbacks in John Unitas and Bob Griese go down with injuries. In 1968, when Shula was coaching the Colts, Earl Morrall filled in for an injured Unitas and took them to the Super Bowl and was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.

In 1965, when Shula lost both Unitas and another backup quarterback Gary Cuozzo, he turned his halfback Tom Matte into a quarterback. It was Matte who helped the Colts clinch a berth in a playoff-tie breaker against the Green Bay Packers.

When Shula was coaching the Dolphins in 1972, it was Morrall, who took over for  Griese and led Miami to an unbeaten regular season.  In a 1981 playoff game against the San Diego Chargers, Miami was down 24-0 and brought in backup quarterback Don Strock to who replaced an ineffective David Woodley.

Strock completed  29-of-43 passes for 403 yards and four touchdown passes to get Miami back in the game. The Dolphins eventually lost an overtime classic.

I don’t know if the NFL will eventually go to a two-quarterback system, but there is need to make sure your No. 2 guy is ready to go out and win games in case your top QB goes down. You can’t take that position for granted.

“I think it’s important that we continue to develop quarterbacks and that’s probably a discussion for the off-season, when you talk about how your rosters are structured,” Shurmur said.



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