Friday night lights: retreads and newbies

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Aug 13, 2010



Pinning your hopes on quarterback retreads and newbies is a tradition in the NFL, even if it is typically born of desperation.
 
So the most interesting storyline following the first Friday night of the preseason, at least from our perspective, was the on-field debut of the actors in the cross-country, inter-conference musical chairs of quarterbacks between the Raiders, Redskins and Eagles.
 
Here's the quick overview for those of you who have spent the offseason, you know, with a life or something:
 
ONE – The Raiders, mired in a historically dysfunctional stretch of quarterbacking, dumped former overall No. 1 pick JaMarcus Russell in the off-season.
 
TWO – The Raiders, in desperate need of a quarterback to wash away the terrible aftertaste of the Russell Era, acquired from Washington Jason Campbell, the underachieving but still promising former first-round pick for the Redskins, for the bargain price of a single fourth-round draft pick in 2012.
 
THREE – The Redskins, relieved of the disappointment of Campbell, acquired by trade from the Eagles Donovan McNabb, the highly productive, franchise-record-setting but typically inconsistent winner who was never embraced by the Philly faithful.
 
FOUR – The Eagles appear ready to cast their lot with McNabb's former back-up, Kevin Kolb, the fourth-year quarterback who has started just two NFL games; while Michael Vick waits in the wings, ready to pounce on the starting gig.   
 
Clearly, each team's fortunes in 2010 are largely dependent upon the success of their new starting quarterback, but the offseason activity was not particular encouraging for two of these clubs.
  • The Raiders exchanged one disappointing former first-round pick for a slightly less disappointing former first-round pick. Not so good.
  • The Eagles exchanged their most successful quarterback of the past 50 years for an unproven fourth-year player with 130 pass attempts on his resume. Hard to put a happy face on that deal.
  • The Redskins exchanged a young, unproductive quarterback for a well-seasoned veteran who's been one of the best and most successful quarterbacks in the league for the past decade. So at least they can reasonably expect improved production at the position.
The first round of limited evidence tends to reinforce our initial knee-jerk reaction of each off-season move. Here's how each team stacks up in the new-QB lottery, based solely upon the scant evidence of a part-time effort in the first exhibition game of the new season Friday night.
 
Washington: so far, so good
McNabb started and played the first two series for the Redskins, in a 42-17 win over Buffalo. He produced a fairly reasonable facsimile of the productive, mistake-free McNabb we've seen in Philly over the years.
 
He completed 5 of 8 passes for 58 yards, 1 TD and a game-high 124.0 passer rating in a contest that saw four different quarterbacks attempt passes. His second possession, an 80-yard scoring drive, ended with a 4-yard TD toss to receiver Anthony Armstrong. McNabb exited with his club sporting a 7-3 lead.
 
Keep in mind that this effort came against Buffalo's first-team defense, a tough, shut-down unit that was second only to the Jets last year in Defensive Passer Rating and second only to the Packers with 28 picks. So, overall, we got a promising first look from McNabb and the Washington offense.
 
Philadelphia: crank up the QB controversy
The Eagles eked out a 28-27 win over the Jaguars, and Kolb led the offense for the first three series.
 
He performed well, leading two field goal drives and exiting with his team holding a 6-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. He completed 6 of 11 passes for 95 yards (a great 8.64 YPA), 0 TD, 0 INT and a mediocre 83.5 passer rating.
 
His solid but uninspiring effort was also overshadowed by a typically exciting performance from Michael Vick, who played the second and third quarters and completed 11 of 17 passes for 119 yards. He threw a pick, but also added 50 yards on the ground, highlighted by a 10-yard TD run.  
 
So the first round of evidence quickly raised the specter of a QB controversy – always a detriment to a smooth-sailing ship. At least at this point, there's no reason to believe that Kolb will match the caliber of quarterback of the player he replaced. Meanwhile, one of the most exciting players in football is waiting in the wings. So this controversy will only grow.
 
Oakland: another punchless season ahead
The good news is that the Raiders pounded out a 17-9 win over Tony Romo and the Cowboys and that the defense impressed throughout.
 
The bad news for the quarterbacking situation is that Campbell was largely ineffective during his six series (the entire first half).
 
He completed 7 of 13 passes for 49 yards (a meager 3.77 YPA), 0 TD, 0 INT and a 62.7 passer rating. Oakland failed to score a single point with Campbell at the helm.
 
You know it's a sign of trouble when Kyle Boller was your most effective quarterback (12 of 21, 148 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT). Boller sparked Oakland's 17-point fourth-quarter burst with a 4-yard scoring toss to receiver Nick Miller.
 
But their combined average of 5.79 YPA felt awfully similar to the anemic, ineffective averages Oakland's quarterbacks have produced pretty much every year since 2003. Last year, the Raiders averaged 4.80 Passing Yards Per Attempt, using our adjusted formula that measures the impact of sacks. Only the Rams and Browns were worse.
 
So the early evidence is that we can anticipate yet another disappointing season of offense in Oakland, a team that has cast its offensive lot with a disappointing former No. 1 draft pick; and if that fails, with an even more disappointing former No. 1 draft pick.
 
Must be something in the Bay Area water. Remember, the 49ers are in the same exact situation as the Raiders. They're hoping that either Alex Smith or David Carr, both former overall No. 1 picks, can live up to the expectations NFL talent evaluators had of them back in hopeful Aprils that seem so long ago.
 
We get our first look on that looming disaster on Sunday, when the 49ers visit the Colts.

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