Cover-Two: To bench, or not to bench?
Which embattled QBs deserve a second chance and which ones should be relegated to the bench? In Audibles’ latest Cover-Two, Chris Burke and Doug Farrar offer up their opinions on five quarterbacks on the hot seat.
Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings
Chris Burke: Don’t bench. I know … it’s ugly. It’s been ugly for awhile for Ponder, whose Vikings made the playoffs last season despite a pretty mediocre performance from him. Somehow, he’s been worse to start 2013 — a 67 QB rating, twice as many INTs (4) as TDs (2), a completion percentage of 58.6. Unfortunately for the Vikings, they’re not going to fix this overnight. Even if Matt Cassel provided a temporary jolt, he showed in his final two Chiefs seasons that he’s hardly a star QB in this league. Ponder, if nothing else, still has time to develop at 25 years of age and in his third season as the starter. We haven’t seen a lot of that progress, mind you, but he has more of a chance to find it than does Cassel.
Doug Farrar: Bench. The Vikings won’t likely do this long-term until next season, because admitting defeat on a 2011 first-round draft pick is a fairly damning organizational statement. Short-term? If the Vikings had a better second option than Matt Cassel, the decision might have been made already. Ponder struggles to match even the “game-manager” label at this point. He’ll have small stretches of decent play, but his struggles in play action with Adrian Peterson as his running back are fairly inexcusable. If there had been development over his NFL career, it would be easier to chalk his 2013 start to an early slump, but the sample size is too large in the other direction.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
CB: Don’t bench. If the argument is that the Redskins’ offense is stagnant because RGIII can’t or won’t run, then how does the plodding Cousins help? The immediate reaction to a struggling QB anywhere, with any team, is to give the backup a shot. And Cousins might earn a crack at a starting gig somewhere down the line — he’s done everything asked of him so far. The truth, though, is that the Redskins don’t win the division last season with Cousins at QB, and they are a team with a pretty limited ceiling should he take over this year. Griffin can elevate Washington to a higher level when he’s on his game. The team needs to give him more of a chance to get there.
DF: Don’t bench. Tom Brady in his first two games of the 2009 season, when he returned from the knee injury that cost him most of the previous season: 62 completions in 100 attempts for 594 yards, two touchdowns and two picks. RGIII in the first two regular-season games since his knee surgery: 56-of-89 for 649 yards, five touchdowns and two picks. Yes, he’s balky at times, and he’s not running well yet, but the “Bench RGIII” talk is the ultimate in reactionary thinking. Quarterbacks need time under the gun to regain confidence in their physical condition.
Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
CB: Bench. Trade. Release. Whatever. It is painfully obvious that Freeman has no future in Tampa Bay, even if Greg Schiano’s problems force the coach out the door first. So what exactly are the Bucs doing here? They seem to have no faith that Freeman can do the job in the present, and Mike Glennon is there for the future. Freeman has 24 completions so far this season — nine against the Saints in a loss on Sunday. Glennon probably is not ready to step in and be successful as a starter in this league, but the offense is accomplishing nothing with Freeman under center.
DF: Don’t bench … yet. Setting aside the talk about Freeman wanting a trade and Greg Schiano wanting Mike Glennon under center, it’s clear through two games that Freeman isn’t operating the Bucs’ offense as it’s set to operate. Through two games, he’s completed 45.3 percent of his passes, and has not been consistent in an offense that requires deep passes to receivers who can win downfield matchups. If Freeman can’t set this straight, the decision will be made sooner than later. It’s the last year of Freeman’s contract, and the 0-2 Bucs need to see what Glennon offers.
Brandon Weeden, QB, Cleveland Browns
CB: Don’t bench. It will be interesting to see how much Weeden’s game improves once he’s back from injury, now that WR Josh Gordon has returned to the Browns’ lineup. Gordon missed Weeks 1 and 2 while serving a suspension, robbing Weeden of his best downfield threat in an offense designed for hitting home runs. Gordon’s presence might not matter one iota if the Browns’ offensive line continues to slump as it has, but Weeden hardly had a ton of reliable options around him early. My answer to this might change by mid-October, but for now, Cleveland has to stick with its 2012 draft pick.
DF: Don’t bench. Weeden will be out against the Vikings due to a thumb injury, and Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski has intimated that Weeden won’t automatically take the job back from backup Brian Hoyer. We also know that Hoyer is a favorite of GM Michael Lombardi. I suspect that will change when Hoyer lines up behind an offensive line that has allowed a league-high 51 pressures, and finds himself throwing to an undefined receiver corps. Weeden isn’t great by any stretch, but he’s the best they have, by far.
Blaine Gabbert, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
CB: Don’t bench. Does it matter? Probably not. The Jaguars are in a multi-year rebuild, and won’t really take any massive steps forward until the 2014 draft rolls around. Jacksonville’s starter for next season is not on its roster right now. May as well ride out 2013 with Gabbert to see if he can be even a serviceable backup next season. The dream of him being the guy to turn around Jacksonville’s fortunes has long passed.
DF: Bench. Gabbert won’t play against the Seahawks’ ridiculous defense this Sunday due to a hand injury, which may be the first bit of good news he’s had in his NFL career. Like Ponder, he’s a 2011 first-rounder from whom the franchise is trying to extract anything approaching greatness. And like Ponder, he’s given his franchise very little to go on. Through two games with Gabbert and Chad Henne at quarterback, the Jags are averaging 3.6 net yards per attempt in the passing game. The NFL average is 6.4. After the season is done, we’ll be talking about how nice Teddy Bridgewater will look in two-tone teal, and Gabbert will have moved along.