Ravens24x7.com calls upon the expertise of AM 1300 'The Jock's' Bill Pisano who breaks down the skills required to play quarterback in the NFL.

"> Ravens24x7.com calls upon the expertise of AM 1300 'The Jock's' Bill Pisano who breaks down the skills required to play quarterback in the NFL.


Quarterback ~ The Highlighted Athlete

RavensInsider guest writer Toni Lombardi of <A HREF="http://Ravens24x7.com">Ravens24x7.com</A> calls upon the expertise of AM 1300 'The Jock's' Bill Pisano who breaks down the skills required to play quarterback in the NFL.<br><br>

Quarterback is perhaps the most celebrated and criticized position in all of team sports. Since Anthony Wright's injury, the Ravens back-up quarterback position has been a frequent topic of discussion in pubs, coffee shops, on the airwaves and around the water cooler at work. 

Why is the quarterback position given so much attention and why is it such a difficult position to play? What makes it so difficult to project a collegiate talent to the NFL level? To help us gain a better understanding of this position and all of its nuances, we once again looks to Chalk Talk Guru, Bill Pisano.

What makes a Quarterback good? 

When the media and fans talk about quarterbacks in the NFL, frequently they discuss arm strength, escape ability, size, speed and accuracy. All attributes which define the quarterback's physical characteristics. However important critics deem these traits, none are near as indispensable as the intelligence and decision making skills that are required to lead an entire offense into the end zone.

A great example can be seen in the former San Diego Charger and Cowboy Ryan Leaf. Ryan is a huge physical specimen that could throw a football a country mile. Before he came out of college he was revered for his physical attributes and was thought to be ahead of Peyton Manning in the draft. The scouts had stated that Peyton was a good quarterback but lacked the physical tools needed to really excel in the pro game. The Colts disagreed and chose him first while the Chargers picked up Ryan, and then the comparisons began.

If you remember the first six weeks of the 1998 season the media had a weekly comparison of their performances. Both took some big lumps but Ryan was ultimately benched and Peyton began a storied career. Although Ryan had far superior athletic skills, the thing that set Leaf and Manning apart was their decision-making skills. During that season Sunday Night highlights on ESPN featured a rattled Leaf throwing interceptions costing the Chargers several games, while Manning threw touchdowns to different receivers every weekend. It wasn't that Manning had more tools for success, it was that he was able to understand the defense in front of him and make a decision that was favorable for his team to succeed.

But that isn't the only thing that makes a quarterback good. Being in a system, that keeps the decision making process manageable is also highly important. Have you ever wondered why Vinny Testaverde is a hero as a Jet but was a bum as a Raven? He is a Heisman Trophy winner that is tall, fast and has a cannon for an arm. Vinny has done some pretty amazing physical things during his long tenure in the NFL. Last season, he even surpassed the legendary Johnny Unitas in the number of yards thrown in a career. Like him or hate him Vinny is truly one of the most physically gifted specimens to ever play the position. However Vinny is not considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time because Vinny gets paralysis by analysis. 

With the Ravens under Ted Marchibroda, Vinny was given a great deal of latitude in the decision making process. Remember Marchibroda began his career when the QB was the offensive coordinator and called the plays on the field. Vinny had to analyze defenses and pick from a plethora of plays to audible to. Often the audibles Vinny called were completely blown by someone on the offense because they hadn't prepared to use that specific audible the week prior. With the Jets, Vinny was given fewer decisions to make and a limited number of plays. The Jet coaches understood Vinny's shortcomings and designed an offense that allowed him to think less, hence a more productive Vinny.

So what is involved in the decision making process? 

The decisions that a QB needs to make in a single play are often numerous and varied. The most successful decision makers are the ones that have a regimented progression that allows them to analyze the situation in front of them and make adjustments to the play. Decision-making must be in the confines of the offensive structure and be within the game plan created by the offensive coordinator.

Usually the decision making process begins the Tuesday before the game. A QB must watch an enormous amount of film to understand how a defense works (blitzes, stunts, games and coverages run by the defense) and the situations when those defensive schemes are run. Next he needs to understand the blocking assignments of the entire offense on each play under each circumstance. Then he needs to know what the receivers will be doing and the adjustments they will make given the specific coverage or blitz that the defense runs. Finally, he needs to understand his options during any given play.
For example, when the QB comes to the line of scrimmage the center makes a line call (odd or even). This tells the offensive line and the QB the blocking scheme for the called play by giving them an indication of the defensive front . The QB then looks at the safeties to determine the coverage. Then he will look at the linebackers and corners to determine if they are giving away any hints of a blitz. (Typically a corner will play inside leverage on a receiver if the defense is in a man coverage, which would indicate a blitz.) 

Now the QB takes all of the information and must decide if the play called makes sense given the defensive scheme or if an audible needs to be called. If an audible needs to be called, he must choose between a couple of plays determined to be the best play called for the situation during the week of practice. He then must communicate the change to the rest of the team. This may require going from a running play to a passing play changing the blocking schemes and giving the receiver routes. 

If he stays with a running play or he audibles to the running play then he must perform his responsibilities as related to the play (handing the ball off to the running back) and any finishing tasks (either carrying out a fake or making a block). If a pass play is called or audibled to, several more steps in the decision-making process must occur.

First the QB must understand the routes being run by all of the receivers. Sometimes the routes will be adjusted because of the play of a defender or the coverage being run. He must understand where each of the receivers should be. Then he must comprehend whom his primary, secondary and tertiary receivers will be in the given defense (sometimes referred to the QB's pass progression). If his primary receiver is being covered he must then look at his second, third and any other option available. 

Also he must understand what is happening around him. Is there a pass rush? Where is it coming from? Which unblocked person is my responsibility? All of this must be done while the play is in progress before the ball is thrown. Once the ball leaves the QB's hands he then must begin preparing himself for the next round of decisions that he needs to make.

With all of the decisions that need to be made by the QB it is easy to understand why even the most athletically gifted QB's don't always succeed. From the time the team begins preparation each week to the second after the ball leaves the QB's hands the person playing the quarterback role has to constantly make decisions that help determine the outcome of each play and ultimately the winner of the football game. It's easy to understand why this position is the most important position on the offensive side of the ball.

Considering the thought processes and the limited time in which to sort the information, one should understand why the Ravens tried to keep the offense simple for the young Kyle Boller last season. The simplicity is by design but it does lead to predictability and fan frustration. But keep in mind that the Ravens, Brian Billick and Matt Cavanaugh are trying to employ a winning formula that has served the team well. In keeping the offense simple, they are trying to eliminate mistakes and turnovers and win football games. If you can bring along a promising young QB at a comfortable pace by playing smash mouth football and put your team into position to actually win a division, most would consider that a very successful season. Perhaps we as fans shouldn't criticize the method as long as the progress and winning is apparent.

So far the method seems to work. Let's take care of business and beat those that we should within the confines of the formula. The future looks bright Baltimore….

Tony Lombardi is a writer and site manager of Ravens24x7.com as well as a host for GAMETIME which can be heard on AM 1300 The Jock every Sunday beginning June 13, 2004 from 8-10 AM. 

Bill Pisano is a contributing writer for Ravens24x7.com and will host GAMETIME's "Chalk Talk" Segment.

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