Super Bowl will showcase QBs who can move
Given the nature of American football, Super Bowls inevitably get billed as a battle of two quarterbacks and this year’s finale features two of the most entertaining in the game – Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
It is, of course, a gross over-simplification to view the complexities of the game as simply a contest between the two men who take the snaps.
So much depends on how much protection they can get from their offensive line, how well the opposition covers the receivers that are the main offensive outlet and of course how effective the running game is, but there is no doubt that the effectiveness of the decision-making and execution from the quarterback is key.
What is particularly fascinating about this year’s match-up is that both Roethlisberger and Rodgers are quarterbacks who are willing to run with the ball.
The two great quarterbacks of this era, Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots are both more in the category of ‘stand and deliver’ quarterbacks, who rely on their outstanding vision and passing ability to get their team moving forward.
Neither are noted for their ability to leave the ‘pocket’ (the immediate area where the quarterback receives the pass) and make a break for the endzone themselves.
Roethlisberger has long been noted as a quarterback who is prepared to take a good number of sacks in a game, he has the physique and the toughness to endure those hits without it risking his ability to be up and ready for the next play.
The Packers quarterback is a less meaty proposition physically but he makes up for that with his outstanding footwork, a much undervalued quality in the role.
Rodgers has run in a touchdown in the last two playoff games – his effort against the Atlanta Falcons would have made a rugby scrumhalf proud – and in Sunday’s NFC Championship win over the Chicago Bears he smartly confounded a defense , expecting a running back to come charging, by moving deep and then zipping through the empty space to the left.
Neither Rodgers nor Roethlisberger are particularly quick over the ground but they are just swift enough to take advantage of the gaps that open up in front of them. Roethlisberger is willing to drop the shoulder and take the tackle like a running back while Rodgers is usually smart-footed enough to avoid challenges but knows his limits and will slide when he faces a likely crunch after a dash.
The increased range of options a team gets from a quarterback with good enough feet or physique to run with the ball, are so obvious it is hard to see why more emphasis isn’t put on this side of the game.
It is understandable that coaches (and owners) fear the cost of injury to their main man and prefer to see their quarterback walk off the field with barely a bead of sweat on his face. There are also conservative coaches who see a quarterback galloping with the ball under their arm and their first thought is ‘turnover’.
But you have to wonder if the success of Rodgers and Roethlisberger this year won’t change attitudes a little when it comes to the next generation of quarterbacks to come through from the college game.
Tim Tebow of the Denver Broncos was a master of the dual-purpose quarterback when he played for the Florida Gators in college football but the assumption was that he would have to unlearn much of that approach when he entered the NFL.
Certainly adjustments needed to be made for the more rigorous demands of playing against the big hitters in the NFL but maybe we are entering a time when the ability to run with the ball is seen as a key weapon for a quarterback and we might see a greater chance given to ‘all-rounders’ in coming years.
This year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Cam Newton of Auburn, will enter the 2011 NFL draft after setting the record for rushing yards for a quarterback in the Southeastern Conference. He may be entering the league at just the right time for a player with legs as well as an arm.
Let’s hope so because as the Super Bowl will surely show, the more varied skills a quarterback has, the more entertaining the game.
PHOTO: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers hold the George Halas Trophy after defeating the Chicago Bears in the NFL NFC Championship football game in Chicago, January 23, 2011. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes