Passan: The Quinn Question

Six games into the 2007, Rich Passan wonders if Derek Anderson's surprising play in 2007 is making quarterback-of-the-future Brady Quinn an afterthought. If you have a quarterback who is leading the team's offense to a record season, can you sit him for a youngster?

Is it too early to ask the most probing question of the 2007 season thus far?

No, this has nothing to do with the Browns' embarrassing run defense or even more embarrassing pass defense. And it has nothing to do with Romeo Crennel's job security.

Nor does it deal with whether Todd Grantham should be demoted or whether LeCharles Bentley is finally ready to fulfill his dream of playing for the Browns.

So . . . is it too early to wonder whether Derek Anderson is on his way to making Brady Quinn an afterthought in Cleveland?

That begets other questions. Were the Browns premature in drafting Quinn? Did they have their quarterback of the future on the roster and not realize it? Did they trade next year's first-round draft pick unnecessarily? Is this all just an aberration? Or a portent of things to come?

Think about it before jumping to conclusions.

This season has gone from "where did that come from? in week two against Cincinnati to "if this is a dream, please don't wake me up" heading into Sunday's game in St. Louis and the main reason for that is Anderson. He has been the linchpin for an offense on pace to score 445 points this season, which would be a club record.

Anderson, just 16 months older than Quinn, seems to have embraced Rob Chudzinski's offense rather warmly and looks more comfortable by the game. Chudzinski's confidence in his quarterback swells with each game.

But the most important statistic on Anderson's resume thus far is the three impressive victories he has produced in his eight National Football League starts (four victories if you include his relief effort in the Kansas City game last season). That has to at least make one stop and think that maybe, just maybe, he is more than just this gangly kid from Oregon State with a strong arm.

For the first time since the Browns returned in 1999, they seem to have reached a level of offensive stability that has been sorely lacking. And Anderson is the main reason for its surprising success.

Sure, he has the weapons with which to work. But he's good enough and smart enough to make take advantage of that weaponry. Great teams are the sum of all the parts, not just a few here and there. For example, how good would Kellen Winslow Jr. and Braylon Edwards be with Charlie Frye under center?

Yes, that's a rhetorical question. But it kind of makes one wonder what the Browns didn't see in Anderson that convinced them that Frye should start the season.

(You know what's scary? The Browns trading Anderson to Seattle instead of Frye. Now that's a frightening thought.)

The amalgam of the offensive line, a decent running game and two terrific receivers has elevated the Cleveland offense to nearly elite offensive status in the NFL. Check the stats. They don't lie. There's a very good reason the Browns are 3-3 at this juncture.

After this Sunday's game against the hapless Rams, litmus tests await Anderson and his offense against three straight strong defenses in Seattle, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the latter two on the road, where Anderson has struggled. The results could elicit a whole new list of questions.

If Anderson's performance thus far this season is any indication, this could be what the New England Patriots went through in 2001 when Tom Brady stepped in and carved out a Hall of Fame career following an injury to Drew Bledsoe.

Who knew back then that a sixth-round draft choice out of Michigan would turn into arguably the best quarterback in the NFL in the last 20 years? Anderson was a sixth-round draft pick by Baltimore.

Then again, that might not turn out to be the case. After all, look what happened in Miami when Scott Mitchell stepped in and did very well following an injury to Hall of Famer Dan Marino in 1993, then went on to carve out a mediocre career.

The arguments on both sides are valid, entertaining and definite food for thought.

Quite simply, Anderson has made Chudzinski's offense work. And Chudzinski is smart enough to scheme his offense to suit the talents of his quarterback.

The offensive line has received major points for its protection of Anderson. But that's a two-way street. One of the main reasons the protection has been so good is that the ball doesn't stay in Anderson's hands very long.

His ability to check down adroitly enables him to get rid of the ball so quickly, opposing pass rushers frequently punch the air in frustration because they reach him too late. Don't underestimate how much that helps build a bridge of confidence between the quarterback and his men up front.

Pass blocking is hard enough, but when your quarterback gets rid of the ball in less than four seconds, that's reason enough to work harder.

Anderson has made some great throws and he has made some awful throws. That's all part of the maturing process. It's unrealistic to think he's going to play at an All-Pro level game in and game out.

He gives his receivers a chance to make plays. Last week against Miami, for example, he allowed Edwards to make a terrific play on his third touchdown of the game. If Anderson doesn't release the ball early and allow Edwards to make a play in the end zone on the unsuspecting cornerback, it most likely would have failed.

Anderson also has a terrific feel for the passing game. He knows when to step up to avoid a collapsing pocket and deliver the ball. That can't be taught.

Most of his problems, it seems, have come while throwing down the middle of the field. That's where most of his interceptions have taken place. Those mistakes are correctable.

When criticizing his inconsistency, factor in that Anderson is still a baby at this stage of his professional football life. He has just the eight starts, but has put up some rather impressive numbers along the way.

He's going to have his bad games. Count on it. But that shouldn't interfere with the notion that he definitely belongs in the NFL. The big question is with which team.

And that's where Phil Savage's developing little dilemma begins. Anderson's sudden and unexpected blossoming has to give the Browns' general manager at least some pause. Was he premature in drafting another quarterback last April?

Eventually, he is going to have to make a decision regarding his quarterbacks. He'll most likely say it's a win-win situation and that whichever quarterback he chooses, the Browns will be in good hands.

Given his troubles with quarterback personnel decisions over the years, it'll be interesting to see which of the young quarterbacks he hangs his hat – and reputation – on.

There's also a chance he might choose to keep both quarterbacks. But that would spark something that would be distasteful: A controversy.

So . . . once again . . . is it too early to wonder whether Derek Anderson is well on his way to making Brady Quinn an afterthought?

Certain things in life make you wonder and go hmmmm. Add this one to the list.


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