Even someone who doesn’t follow American Football is probably still aware of this thing called a quarterback. And when watching the game, even on the most superficial level quarterbacks are one the most identifiable and active players on the field.
Quarterbacks often get the most media attention. And quarterbacks are often a team’s highest payed player. In fact, 7 out of the top 10 NFL salaries in 2015 are going to quarterbacks.
But do these high salaries translate into team success? Of the five undefeated teams to this point in 2015/2016 season, only Aaron Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers is one of these top ten paid players. In fact, of the top 10 paid quarterbacks, 6 of them are in teams which sit in the bottom 16 positions of the league table.
But of these five undefeated teams, three have quarterbacks who are top five in the quarterback ratings. And of the league’s current top 16 teams, eight have quarterbacks in the top 10 quarterback ratings. The fact is that going into week nine of the 2015 season, the teams who are consistently winning games are teams who have superstar quarterbacks.
So let’s take a look at the position of quarterback and try understand why it can make or break a team’s success.
Quarterbacks are the On-Field Leaders
The quarterback is responsible for each offensive play. Whilst a play is selected in consultation with the coaches via a headset, it is the quarterback who is responsible for making adjustments depending on the opposition’s defensive setup. These are the audibles you hear before the snap – “red, 36”. The quarterback calls these audibles after examining the defence’s setup and recalling a previous time the opposition ran that defence. They need to know the players they have on the field and what plays they understand. And then they signal any variations on that offensive play. Whilst coaches have some on-field control through the headset, it is the quarterback who is ultimately responsible for the finer points and a play being executed successfully.
With this in mind, it should be noted that quarterbacks need to be able to inspire everyone around them. Everyone in the team must have 100% faith in the quarterback’s leadership. The decisions they make in the final seconds before the snap is the decision that will ensure a play’s success. The failure of any player to execute these instructions will most likely result in an unsuccessful play.
And like all high profiles leaders, it is the quarterback who is often the most celebrated. But on the flip side, when a team is performing badly pressure is often directed at the quarterback’s on-field performance. Of course American Football is a team game and every player on their field needs to perform. But the leadership position that the quarterback holds means they will often be held directly responsible for a team’s failure or success.
Quarterbacks are Quick Thinkers
Once the ball is in the quarterback’s hands they have to assess the defenders coming at them, move into a good position, evaluate their team’s offensive strength, and decide how best move the ball. Do they pass, hand off, rush?
The decision they make determines the success of moving the ball forward. And this often happens in less than two seconds. The longer it takes them to make this decision the more likely they are to be sacked.
It should also be pointed out that the quarterback is the defence’s main target. Whilst cornerbacks and safetys are charged with looking after the running players, the remaining seven defensive players have one general objective – put the quarterback into the turf. For the defensive team, sacking the quarterback is a massive play and usually results in negative yards.
With all this in mind, it’s easy to see the amount of pressure a quarterback is placed under. They need to make complex split second decisions. And they are well aware that they longer it takes them the more likely they are to be taken down with a force greater than a fighter jet roll.
But are Quarterbacks really that Important?
This is a topic of some debate. Some argue that Tom Brady is merely the product of great plays setup by the New England’s coach Bill Belichick. Likewise, great quarterbacks make great plays because they are given protection by their offensive linesman. And because they have good running players who are able to get into position and make great catches. Great quarterbacks who have underwhelming players around them will not likely be part of a successful team.
American Football is the ultimate team sport. Every player has an important job to do. They are parts in a machine. If one cog fails or is weak, then it makes the rest of the team’s job harder.
But the quarterback is the central cog, if the quarterback fails to read the defence properly, or is slow to make decisions, or can’t inspire the rest of the team, ultimately the rest of the players and the team will be rendered ineffective.