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Can this quarterback beat our team from the pocket? That used to be the question when dealing with mobile quarterbacks. “Can we contain this guy and force him to make plays from inside the pocket?” The answer to that question used to determine how defenses were set up in preparation to a game, but maybe the answer has changed.
The Godfathers of Sole
The NFL has seen it’s fair share of “running” QBs. In the 60s and 70s few quarterbacks used the bottom of their cleets to escape disaster more than Fran Tarkenton. In 18 NFL seasons, Tarkenton completed 3,686 of 6,467 pass attempts for 47,003 yards, 342 touchdowns and added 3,674 rushing yards. All of those numbers were NFL records at the time. Tarkenton himself
said ” When I began my NFL career in 1961, I was a freak”, referring to his ability to run as a QB. In Minnesota’s first game ever, Fran came off the bench to throw four touchdown passes and run for a fifth in a big upset against the Chicago Bears. The label of running QB begins.
Steve Young was labeled a running QB early on. In his 1st two years in the league, Young rushed for six TDs and threw for only 11 , averaging 6.4 yards per pass attempt and 5.8 Yards per carry. Going to the San Francisco 49ers for the duration of his career, he became a much better passer. In Superbowl 29, Steve young was named MVP. His numbers 24/36 for 325 yards and a record six TDs , and of course nearly averaged 10 yards a carry with 5 runs for 49 yards. Hmm another QB labeled as “running ” who could throw.
In the 90s, Randall Cunningham was as made for T.V. as football could be. There once was a t-shirt that described Cunningham as “The Scrambling Superback”. Randall himself ranks 134th on the all time rushing list with 4,928 yards 2nd amongst QBs. In 1998 as a member of the Minnesota Vikings, he replaced an injured Brad Johnson and went on to pass for 3,704 yards and 34 touchdowns, leading the team to a record 556 points and a 15-1 record. Running QB???
The Real McCoy?
So the verdict is in. We label athletic QBs or guys that can run and extend plays running quarterbacks. The truth is every one of these players prove they can beat you with their arm. For everyone of them , players like Donovan McNabb , Steve McNair even Ken Stabler and “Big” Ben Rothlisberger, the label is a misnomer. The true running quarterback wore #7 for the Atlanta Falcons. A record nine games of at least 100 yards rushing by a QB and a single season record of 1,039 rushing yards as a signal caller.
Michael Vick electrified stadiums with his blazing speed and cannon arm. Make no mistake, precision passing wasn’t a part of his repertoire, but man, defensive coordinators were baffled as to how to contain this guy. It’s one thing to say “we’re gonna make him beat us from the pocket”, that was a pipe dream. When Vick was on, it was more than a football game, it was an experience. The Green Bay Packers never felt the sting of defeat in a home playoff game (ever), until January of 2003. Thats when Vick who one publication deemed “A 22-year-old improvisational genius”, walked into Lambeau Feild and ran out with a 27-7 statement win. With pedestrian numbers himself ( 117 yards passing, 64 rushing) Vick led an attack predicated on running. Four yard losses turned into two yard gains. One misstep by a defensive end or outside linebacker and it’s a 20 yards down field. It was literally like watching Barry Sanders play QB. The label fit simply because Vick was a terrible passer who had success playing QB. Vick a career 56.1% completion rate and 80.4 passer rating ranks 13th amongst active players on the all time rushing list.
The label turned strategy
Nowadays, it’s almost a detriment if u can’t get outside the pocket and improvise even a little. For every statue like a Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers, or even ‘Title’ Tom Brady, there’s an equally gifted passer the likes of Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers who can get out and use his legs. Nowadays you get Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III who are encouraged to run and make plays. Offensive plays built into the play book specifically to take advantage of their talents. Nowadays you get Russell Wilson where the offense is built around the run and the QB is apart of the rushing action. Pete Carroll could easily implement a pass layden offense , but why bother when u can’t catch the QB if he takes off.
The truth is 20 years ago, the label wasn’t good for college kids coming out. Whether it’s Akili Smith coming out and the coach tries to change everything about his mechanics to make him more pocket proficient (and he ends up a bust), or how about Kordell Stewart where they just go ahead and try to utilize you talents at another position. The reality is college coaches are recruiting running style quarterbacks and teaching them the nuances of passing. Now NFL coaches have to look for athleticism and rate it high. No more wondering if he can stand back and deliver darts, let’s just change the play book accordingly. You see now it’s all a strategy and coaches and coordinators are thinking more outside the box, or maybe just more outside the “Pocket”.