Playoff QBs not exactly elite group

NFL: The passers lack glamour and are being overshadowed by dominant defenses this postseason, but the trend might not last.

January 07, 2001|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The 2000 NFL playoffs are already conspicuous for two things: an abundance of dictatorial defenses and the lack of glamour quarterbacks.

That combination could make for a very defensive conclusion to the playoffs, which completes its second round of play today.

The Tennessee Titans and Ravens, ranked 1-2 in total defense, head a list of dominating defensive teams in the postseason. The list also includes the New York Giants (fifth) and Miami Dolphins (sixth).

Meanwhile, the top three offensive teams (St. Louis, Denver and Indianapolis) have been knocked out. With them went three of the most productive quarterbacks this season - Kurt Warner, Brian Griese and Peyton Manning.

What was left entering this weekend was a mix of young, inexperienced quarterbacks alongside a group of recycled veterans.

The final eight quarterbacks ranged from New Orleans' Aaron Brooks, who became a starter only after Jeff Blake's season-ending injury, to Tennessee's Steve McNair, whose four postseason starts make him the most experienced playoff quarterback.

In between were the up-and-comers (Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb, Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper), the recycled veterans (Ravens' Trent Dilfer, New York Giants' Kerry Collins) and the only over-30 quarterback of the bunch, Oakland's Rich Gannon, 35. Miami's Jay Fiedler, 29, rounded out the group.

Where have all the big-name golden boys gone?

Into retirement, back to mediocrity, off to the trainer's room.

"I think we've gone through a phase here where you've had an unusually large number of elite guys move on," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "And of the guys left of that elite group, [Troy] Aikman's obviously been hurting a little bit and [Brett] Favre has had to work through some injuries."

In the past two years, John Elway, Dan Marino and Steve Young - all future Hall of Famers - retired. Favre, a three-time MVP in the league, has fallen back with the Green Bay Packers. Aikman's play deteriorated along with the Dallas Cowboys this season.

And two other playoff quarterbacks - Jacksonville's Mark Brunell and New England's Drew Bledsoe - failed to make the postseason cut.

The result is a whole new generation of playoff quarterbacks.

"I think we're just kind of in a transition phase right now," Billick said. "It's like when the season starts, it always favors the defense because it takes awhile for an offense to come around.

"Defenses that have been good defenses seem even stronger now because the offense in general is in a transition phase."

The void left by the departing stars has been filled by youthful inexperience.

Three of the final eight quarterbacks - McNabb, Culpepper and Brooks - are in their second seasons. Fiedler, who had one start before this season, is in his fourth.

"You have to figure there are so many young quarterbacks that are playing," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel. "Therefore, the defenses are probably ahead.

"If you talk to most football people, they'll tell you that defense wins football games."

A drop-off in quarterback production has manifested itself in a comeback year for defense. Billick, an offensive coach, believes it's a short-term swing.

"Things go in cycles," he said. "It's one year. Last year was all offense. So far this year, it's defense. Now let's see what next year is, and let's see how long this thing lasts before someone offensively steps up and cranks it back the other way."

Five of the league's top 10 passers this season made the playoffs. Only two - Culpepper and Gannon - are still playing.

Dilfer sees a turn toward team and away from individual.

"What wins these days in the NFL is team football," he said. "The days of the burning hot quarterback is over.

"I don't care how good you are, it's going to be very hard to get hot every single week in the playoffs. I think if you look at your Brett Favres, John Elways and Steve Youngs, there's other reasons why they got hot.

"It's team football. It's what you do in all three phases [offense, defense, special teams] to complement one another. I'm sold on that. Nothing will take me away from that philosophy."

Billick says player movement also played a role in the offensive backslide this season.

"I think part of it has to do with the nature of free agency," he said. "[When players leave], that long-standing relationship that a quarterback and his receiver or tight end has changes."

The Ravens' quarterback opponent today may carry the banner for the next generation.

McNair, 27, appears to be coming into his own in his sixth season.

"My appreciation for Steve McNair has grown this year," Billick said. "Up to this year, I would have told you that Steve McNair is a very good quarterback, but I don't know that he's a guy that could beat you in the pocket.

"If you're going to win a championship, if you're going to put that on your quarterback, he's got to beat you from the pocket. [McNair] has elevated his game. He is playing as well as any quarterback in the league."

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