Chargers Review: Quarterbacks

There was more excitement at the San Diego air show than there was at Qualcomm this year. Drew Brees and Doug Flutie faced tough times and felt the brunt of criticism as they lead the Chargers to a 4-12 record. Brees, 2-8 as a starter, was inconsistent much of the year, while Flutie, 2-3 as a starter, provided a spark until the magic unceremoniously died. For the Chargers to move forward from a disastrous year, they will need better play from the quarterback position.

Since the Chargers have the first pick in the April Draft, this position will be dissected like no other. Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger are on the board and the direction of this team will hinge on how the team responds to the question.

There is reason to supplant both quarterbacks and fewer reasons to keep them. The dog show displayed in 2003 would not win any awards.

Drew Brees enters the offseason with a big "X" on his back. In year two of his starting career, he was benched not once, but twice.

The golden retriever, left alone long enough, will become over-exuberant. He simply tries to do too much with too little.

Brees got by on his talent in college, despite a lack of arm strength and height. In the Pros, he has struggled to find consistency. People will justly point to the pass protection of the offensive line and the changes at wide receiver through the year, but it still boils down to Brees making better throws and better decisions. Wide receivers dropped 21 passes, but Brees overthrew 30, underthrew 12, threw 21 wide, and had eight batted down at the line.

Seventy-one of his 205 completions went to LaDainian Tomlinson. That equates to 35% of the total. No other receiver on the team had over 70 receptions on the season, including the seven games Flutie played in (two in relief).

In eleven games, Brees threw 15 interceptions, seven of which came on third down. Speaking of third down, Brees completed a paltry 47.6% of his throws. He also could not hold onto the ball in the pocket, fumbling five times. It actually gets worse…Brees threw eight interceptions between the San Diego 20-39, all of which led to points for the opposition. Eight of his interceptions came with the team down 8-14 points. Only four interceptions came with Brees under pressure, facing a blitz or with a defender knocking him down. That makes 11 interceptions unaccounted for.

In his two wins, Brees had just one touchdown pass. In essence, he didn't lose those games, nor did he have a part in winning them.

In the four games where the point differential was less than seven points to end the game, Brees tossed five touchdowns and two interceptions. With help, his family around, Brees won't start going into lonely golden retriever mode. He behaves himself like an obedient little pup.

The problem, and reason for the continued look at the negatives is even if he had a line that protected him well, receivers that stayed healthy and caught everything he threw, Brees would still be average at best. The playbook is pared down for Brees. He cannot make the throws necessary to be effective in the NFL.

When was the last time Brees threw a 10-yard out pattern? He can't. His arm strength won't allow him to. That limitation allows opposing defenses to leave the sidelines undefended. They play within the hashes. But Antonio Gates has caught passes along the sidelines, you say. True, his catches came on long crossing routes that were designed to go 20-25 yards, allowing Brees to use his loft and settle it in to Gates.

Brees is vastly underrated as a scrambler. He just doesn't run with the ball. He eludes pressure and will often find a seam to throw in outside the tackles; he just does not have many lanes inside the tackles with his height. Unlike Flutie who makes his own lanes, Brees cannot. Countless times receivers were open downfield and went unseen.

What are we saying?

Brees is not the long term answer for the San Diego Chargers and there are already rumors he will be traded. A scout tells us, "The Chargers would be lucky to get a fourth rounder for him."

Doug Flutie went 2-3 as a starter, respectable numbers. Contrary to Brees, he was the catalyst, the Chihuahua that won two games. A bundle of energy fit into a small package, Flutie knows how to make plays.

He is never going to complete 60% of his passes and will have a hard time completing 56% due to his size, but he does not make stupid mistakes. In fewer games, Flutie had more balls thrown away to avoid a bad play than Brees. He will tuck the ball and run. That poses problems for defenses, as they must keep a spy on him, even at 41.

When he is pressured, his completion percentage was in the 38% range, but amazingly he did not throw an interception when under the gun. Instead he used his feet to move away from the pressure and tossed four touchdowns while on the move. Along those same lines, Flutie had some of his best ratings when there was an extra defender on the line. Perhaps that "spy" was taken away and with his ability to move outside the pocket he could make plays.

Just as Flutie needed to be in motion, so did the rest of his offense. When the Chargers went to an alignment on offense that had no motion from receivers, Flutie was at his worst. He threw all of his interceptions when that was the case and completed fewer than 50% of his passes. He was also sacked six times when there was no motion in the backfield.

When he was back in Buffalo, you could look at his games against the NY Jets and know he was going to lose. They always had a gameplan to stop him. Granted Bill Belichick was the defensive coordinator back then, but the premise is still the same. When a team knows he will be on the field, they can be creative to stop him. Match him up against a good defense and he will not rise to the occasion.

His first game in Chicago he went 8-11 hitting every receiver in sight. The following game he threw two touchdowns and ran for two in a win against Minnesota. Then they knew he was coming. He went 1-3 after the initial win. He completed 43% of his passes in the three losses, an indication of better game planning by his opponents.

Flutie has said the organization has given him every indication that it wants him back. But NFL insiders know how quickly things can change in the offseason.

Among the things possibly being an obstacle to Flutie returning is his cap number of $6 million. That's even more of a concern than his age, which will become 42 next year.

Flutie, though, has no intentions of playing elsewhere. A rumor of him returning to the CFL surfaces occasionally, but he really has no interest -- at his age -- to heading north. Especially if he can stay in La Jolla, where he loves the lifestyle and has promised his young daughter she can finish high school there -- that's two more years.

He is what he is, a great backup quarterback. Is he worth the money, nope. Will he return? It is highly likely, but at a reduced rate.

Up next: Running Backs

Denis Savage can be reached at

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