Surveying the landscape of the NFL in week 5, one thing struck me. The Buffalo Bills won this week, but so what? The Bills won 17-14. Last week they lost 23-17. Take a guess how many field goals the Detroit Lions missed this week to help the Bills get that win.
If you guessed “3,” you’re right and you paid attention in third grade math class. So why doesn’t a Buffalo victory to get them to 3-2 mean that much?
The Bills benched E.J. Manuel, and while E.J. Manuel may not have been great, he was a) slightly better than last year, b) their first round pick last year and c) ostensibly the QB of the future. Oh yeah, and d) almost certainly capable of leading the Bills to 17 points. Last week that lost. This week that won.
Let’s face it, Buffalo is riding their defense right now, so having veteran Kyle Orton lead them to the 17 points doesn’t mean squat. The Bills ain’t winning no Super Bowls this year, but they are keeping E.J. Manuel from getting any more experienced and keeping themselves from finding out if he can really play or not…unless they’ve already decided he can’t.
You think this guy is better?
Around the NFL, there are three rookie quarterbacks starting (Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr and Blake Bortles) but another trio of quarterbacks, Buffalo’s Manuel, the Jets’ Geno Smith (both in their second year) and Ryan Tannehill in Miami, in his third year, are on the hot seat. Manuel’s already been shown the bench. Tannehill appears to have staved off calls for his benching with a good showing last week, although that was against the Raiders. In New York, Rex Ryan intimated that Geno Smith would already be on the bench “if it were up to him.”
So when is it a good idea to bench a young QB? I’ve come up with a few easy ground rules.
First, if you’re a legitimate contender and can win with a so-so veteran back up game manager, then it’s definitely OK. Think the 2000 Baltimore Ravens with Trent Dilfer. Let’s also be clear: none of the teams I’m talking about are even remotely close to that. So none of these teams should be bringing in their washed up back up thinking about the Super Bowl.
Second, when the quarterback in question is so bad he’s retarding the development of your other offensive players. Blaine Gabbert in Jacksonville fit this description to a tee. He HAD to be pulled for Chad Henne. Of the quarterbacks under scrutiny, I actually think Geno Smith is playing the worst, but even he doesn’t look so bad that you can’t get an idea of how good your other players are. Honestly, stink that powerful is pretty rare.
Third, when you’re able to conclude that you’ve seen enough of the quarterback in question to know that he’s not your guy. Not now, not in the future, not at all. The Bills, apparently have reached that conclusion about E.J. Manuel, even though he’s only played 15 games in his career. The Jets brass, apparently, have NOT reached that conclusion about Smith, although his coach has. And I’m not sure what the thinking is in Miami. I honestly never liked Ryan Tannehill, but they took him, and I don’t exactly think it’s all his fault their offense hasn’t been good.
Finally, you can bench your young QB if your backup is actually so good that you can make a run, hopefully an extended run, with him as your starter. Kurt Warner in Arizona is the best example of this. And this is also the head scratcher among the teams who are hot to yank their QBs of the future. Buffalo now has Kyle Orton under center.
If Miami benches Tannehill, it means they’re going with Matt Moore. Kyle Orton? Matt Moore?
At least in New York, you could make an argument that Michael Vick, playing for a Jets team with a good defense (OK, playing with last year’s Jets lol) might be able to make a run with them, and maybe he could even stay healthy for a year or two. In fact, that’s kind of what happened during Vick’s tenure with the Eagles, where he played so well they installed him as the starter. Smith’s play in the first half against the Chargers was poor enough that the Jets finally did make the switch. Whether it remains permanent remains to be seen.
Relax, Geno. They told the coach he has to play you.
Every team with a young quarterback reaches a critical mass point where they have to make a decision of whether this is a player who can lead them to a championship or not. Cincinnati doubled down on Andy Dalton this year after going through that exact type of inquiry. Fans in Philadelphia are going to have that discussion about Nick Foles in a year or two.
Fans in San Francisco ought to be having that discussion about Colin Kaepernick right now, but the nonsense melodrama with the coach is drowning everything else out.
One thing is clear: it makes no sense to give up on a guy too early.
Otherwise what was the point?