D.A.: The Quarterbacks Are Good, But The Rules Are Even Better 

From Daniel Jones to Jacoby Brissett (to Kyle Allen to Gardner Minshew to Teddy Bridgewater), backups have balled this season. Why?

Damon Amendolara
September 27, 2019 - 12:59 pm

When NFL teams lose their signal-callers, the sky falls dark, gargoyles howl, and the bats come flying out of caves. The backup quarterback is always better in theory than in practice, and rookies without experience have been chum in shark-infested waters. With so many squads already turning to second-stringers and youngsters this season, the predictable outcome was a gory bloodbath. Except it wasn't. 

Nick Foles signed a fat contract in the offseason, then proceeded to get injured in his first quarter with the Jags. In trotted Gardner Minshew, he of the wild mustache and 6th round draft status. He promptly completed 22-of-25 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns. "But it was against the Chiefs spotty defense in a blowout," we rationalized. 

The Giants offense was stuck in neutral the first two weeks. Grizzled veteran Eli Manning was the victim of a weak line, a dearth of weapons, and a shallow roster. Then Daniel Jones took over in Week 3 and scored four touchdowns, threw for 336 yards, and led the team to its first win. "The Bucs missed a chippy FG that should've won it," we bellowed. 

Jacoby Brissett is a game manager, a nice player with a good attitude but limited ability. The Colts season was immediately put in the freezer when Andrew Luck announced his retirement. Indianapolis is 2-1, as its quarterback has thrown seven TDs against just one INT. Brissett beat the Falcons with 310 yards passing and two scores Sunday. "The Colts aren't asking him to do too much," we figured. 

The Panthers were in a nightmare scenario. The former league MVP looked washed up. He had a bum foot, a repaired shoulder, and he couldn't even be trusted to get a yard to win the game versus Tampa Bay. Carolina was 0-2 and without Cam Newton or much hope. Undrafted Kyle Allen had to take over. On the road in Arizona, he threw for 260 yards, four touchdowns and the Panthers scored their most points since Week 9 of last season. 

Teddy Bridgewater helped lead a Saints offense to 33 points in Seattle. The previously inconsistent Josh Allen has the Bills at 3-0. "One-dimensional" Dak Prescott has 920 yards passing and nine scores through three weeks. Minshew has a QB rating of 110 after three games. The quarterback position doesn't seem to be a problem even for teams using their second option. 

It all makes you wonder whether we are in a Golden Age of QBs or something else is at play. There's no doubt young signal-callers have more resources and training than ever before. High schoolers have private quarterback coaches giving them attention once reserved for pros. Year-round 7-on-7 drills and the rise of spread offenses at youth levels have produced highly-practiced baby gunslingers. YouTube allows anyone to access a digital film room of all schemes and fundamentals in the football world. The assets at the fingertips of young QBs have never been deeper. 

Could it also be the rules, though? The NFL has aimed for decades to make Sundays a safe zone for the throwers. The league recognized in the late-'70s the passing game was the Golden Goose. Years of destruction by the Steel Curtain, No Name Defense, Purple People Eaters, Doomsday Defense, and the Fearsome Foursome spooked the league office. Fans wanted Dan Fouts and Air Coryell, not 13-6 slugfests. So they instituted the Mel Blount Rule, which limited any contact downfield by the secondary, and the ’80s became a glorious passing era of Montana, Marino and Elway. The ’90s gave us the K-Gun and the Run n' Shoot, and the ’00s delivered Peyton Manning's Colts and the Greatest Show on Turf. The revolution was complete. 

The game flow now, though, is even kinder than just 15 years ago. Defensive players can't dive at the knee of the quarterback, nor hit them in the chest. They can't get their paws up around the helmet, and they certainly can't hit them late. They better not touch those receivers downfield, and even if there's no flag thrown, the officials can review it to see if they missed a penalty. The helmet-to-helmet hit is outlawed, and there shall be no targeting. Don't hit anyone out of bounds, and just remember even if you hit the quarterback legally as the pass is thrown, you better not land on him. 

Hey defenders, got that? 

This has all led to more passers being better prepared for success. Are Allen, Bridgewater, Minshew, Jones and Brissett all terrific replacements? Or do the rules dictate it's easier than ever to thrive under center in the NFL? Let's not take away too much from the parade of backups who have had their sunny moments. They're all in the league for a reason, but the incredible output by these former clipboard holders makes you wonder if the rules are even better than the reads. 

Damon Amendolara, known by his fans as D.A., hosts “The D.A. Show,” from 9:00AM-12:00PM, ET, across the country on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. “The D.A. Show” is known for its unique perspective on sports, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, colorful listener interaction, and candid interviews with athletes and coaches. Amendolara also appears regularly on NFL Network as part of the “NFL Top 10” documentary film series, CBS television and SNY TV. He is a Syracuse University grad and native of Warwick, N.Y.