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Getting The Right Coach For QB1

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Throughout the history of the NFL, coaches have gone to great lengths to make sure they do everything they can to help their QBs prosper and shine.

In the early 70s, the Bears’ head coach Mike Ditka and his newly drafted mobile, left-handed QB, Bobby Douglass, performed the Chicago version of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, as they agreed to be roommates in Ditka’s posh downtown apartment.

In the early 80s, it was widely rumored that the Eagles’ head coach Dick Vermeil and his QB Ron Jaworski spent many a night breaking down tape into the wee hours of the morning and slept on couches at the team facility.

In the early 1990s, The Bill and Phil Show in New York was must see TV. The Giants’ head coach Bill Parcells and his QB Phil Simms were hugging each other on the sidelines one minute and then screaming at each other the next.

For Cardinals’ fans in 2008, it was a treat to watch Kurt Warner and his offensive coordinator Todd Haley go ballistic on each other. Behind the scenes they were drawing up the blueprint plays that enabled the Cardinals to win their first and only Halas Trophy and trip to the Super Bowl.

Just yesterday, while celebrating the auspices of his 9th trip to the Super Bowl, Tom Brady reiterated to the media that, “Bill (Belichick) and I have always gotten along.”

The relationship between coach and QB is often at the crux of a team’s success.

Yet, over the past two years, we are seeing a very interesting evolution of the coach/QB relationship.

Only a short time ago, NFL coaches were bemoaning the notion that the razzle-dazzle, no-huddle, spread offenses from the shotgun were hindering the NFL readiness of the nation’s top collegiate QBs.

However, as the saying goes—-”if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

NFL coaches—-are changing their stripes.

NFL coaches are no longer asking what the QB can do for their offense—-they are now asking what can I or we (the staff) do to help you run your offense.

Several of the coaches who in recent years have drafted QBs have gone back to the QB’s college tapes and have added the QB’s favorite plays to their playbook—-and why not?

Not only that—-because teams with young QBs want to accelerate the QB’s progress and therefore the team’s potential success—-coaches are doing their best to let the QBs be themselves—-that is, better versions of themselves.

For example, anyone who watched Jared Goff’s tapes at California would recognize that he had a poor habit of throwing off his back foot. In comes Sean McVay and instead of trying to break Goff completely out of that habit, McVay has told Goff, hey if you are going to throw off your back foot you had better be accurate.

There once was a QB named Peyton Manning who made a living out of throwing off his back foot.

Similar situation in Kansas City where Andy Reid has not put any restrictions on Patrick Mahomes’ sometimes crazy throws on the run—-especially the ones where he throws back against the grain (a so-called no-no of QB decisions). Instead, Reid has encouraged Mahomes to be himself—-and if he makes a mistake to two they will live with that.

The Cardinals last year after drafting Josh Rosen insisted that they wanted Rosen to be himself. Go ahead Josh, speak your mind—-we’ve got your back.

What NFL coaches are realizing about QBs is the paradox that quite often the QB’s greatest perceived weakness can also be considered the QB’s greatest strength.

So—-why not create a comfort zone for the QB to be himself—-to run the kind of plays he’s been good at all his life—-and to trust in his own instincts, thorough failure and success.

Goff (in just his 3rd year) and Mahomes (in just his 2nd year) played very well in their first ever conference championship games.

This gives great hope for the likes of Josh Rosen and his new head coach and play caller, Kliff Kingsbury.

Apparently, Kingsbury came to his interview in Arizona with a litany of the things he could do to develop Rosen into a top notch NFL QB.

Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim were so impressed that they signed Kingsbury on the spot, even thought Kingsbury freely admitted he needed Keim to build him a staff.

But, as history strongly suggests—-the relationship between coach and QB is of paramount importance, particularly for a young QB like Josh Rosen.

While Bill Belichick drafted Tom Brady and has been flourishing with him at QB for the past 19 years—-and Sean Payton signed Drew Brees and has been flourishing with him for the past 13 years—-one has to give serious props to Andy Reid for surprising everyone by moving up in the 2017 NFL Draft to snag QB Patrick Mahomes.

Reid was getting Pro Bowl worthy QB play from Alex Smith who was just hitting his prime. At the time Mahomes was drafted, Smith, then in his early 30s, was coming off two 11 win seasons, having thrown for 7,000 yards at 66.5 % completion rate, and a TD/in ratio of 35/15.

Then in 2017, while Mahomes was a rookie on the sidelines, Smith threw for over 4,000 yards at 67.7 % and a 26-5 TD/int ratio. Smith was a legitimate MVP candidate—-and yet—-this off-season, Reid traded Smith to the Redskins for CB Kendall Fuller and the Skins’ 2018 3rd round pick.

That left Mahomes “alone” as the Chief’s starting QB in 2018. Smith goes to Washington and has an up and down year, ended by a gruesome, Joe Theisman-esque leg injury. Yet, Mahomes dazzles to the tune of 5,381 yards at 65.9% and a TD/int ratio of 50/13—-which may very well win him the NFL MVP award in just his first year of starting.

What also bears watching is what is transpiring with the 2017 NFL Champion Eagles. Once again this year, Carson Wentz suffers a late season injury, and Nick Foles provides late season magic. And were it not for a missed catch by WR Alshon Jeffery that caromed and was picked off by the Saints in Round 2 of the playoff, Foles might have been battling Tom Brady again for the Lombardi.

Several Eagles yesterday shot down the rumors that Wentz has an attitude problem that is grating on some of this teammates nerves—-but—-there is little question that Foles has a better command of the Eagles’ offense at this point. Yet, the Eagles claim they are sticking with Wentz and the speculation is that they will try to trade Foles—-for real—-this year.

Then—perhaps the most uncanny coach/QB development this year occurred in Cleveland. When Hue Jackson was fired by the Browns in the middle of the season, former Cardinals’ TE and QB coach, Freddie Kitchens took over as OC and helped to lead rookie #1 draft pick Baker Mayfield to an exciting 5-3 record down the stretch.

Again—-what Kitchens did was create a comfort zone for Mayfield, not only with weekly play packages that best suited his strengths, but with Kitchens’ outspoken support of Mayfield’s ultra competitive and sometimes ostentatious demeanor. Kitchen’s rapport with Mayfield became so catalytic that Kitchens was named the Browns’ new head coach—-despite Kitchens’ former head coach, Bruce Arians, openly lobbying for the job.

Arians has now embraced the opportunity to try to turn Tampa Bay’s controversial QB Jameis Winston into a winner.

Meanwhile, prize mega-millionaire UFA QB Kirk Cousins went through two OCs and missed the playoffs in his debut with the Vikings....and he is saddled with a defensive minded head coach, in Mike Zimmer, who insists on running the ball.

The Cardinals missed out on moving up to draft Patrick Mahomes in 2017. But, now they have Josh Rosen at QB working with Mahomes’ college coach, Kliff Kingsbury. The hope is that Kingsbury can do for Rosen what Sean McVay is doing for Jared Goff. If you read the second half of this article you will see why Mahomes believes Kinsgbury is a “gifted coach” who will bring out the best in Rosen.

What Mahomes loved about Kingsbury’s offense was the lengths to which Kingsbury went (scheme and design-wise) to protect him.

Look at how the Patriots protected Tom Brady at Arrowhead Stadium. On the flip side, Mahomes had Patriots in his face most of the night.