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QB controversies aside, goal is to put team in best spot to win

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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It's Week 3, so naturally quarterback controversies are front and center. Four coaches in particular are dealing with the fallout from such controversies.

"There's no quarterback controversy here."

Coaches have all said that at one time or another. Now Andy Reid, Chan Gailey, John Fox and Tom Cable are trying to make the best of a tough situation.

The Bills, Eagles and Panthers are all handing the keys over to their backup quarterbacks -- and the Raiders continue to weigh their options. The Jaguars might have been in the same boat if Luke McCown didn't tear up his knee after replacing David Garrard. With all the movement, one has to wonder what purpose the preseason served as far as determining the starter.

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So, how do coaches make the decision to pull their quarterback, especially this early in the season? While it always starts with which passer gives the team the best chance to win right now, each situation is different.

Michael Vick has been brilliant in six quarters of action, and after planning to stick with Kevin Kolb, Reid is opting to go with the veteran. Players will not forget what it felt like with Vick on the field. Giving Vick a few Wildcat plays, especially if Kolb struggled, wasn't going to appease the team.

With Vick in the wings and Donovan McNabb coming to town in Week 4, Reid opted to pull the trigger on the move now rather than wait to see what would unfold with Kolb and a shaky offensive line. Reid said it's a beautiful situation to have two good quarterbacks. There's no arguing that point as long as the best one is on the field winning games.

In Buffalo, Gailey really doesn't have the same luxury and admitted he was looking for a fresh start. That's reason enough to make an early switch, but the Bills are also paying Ryan Fitzpatrick about $1 million more a year than Trent Edwards. Fitzpatrick originally lost the starting job to Edwards after going 4-4 in 2009 and completing 15 of 23 passes with two touchdowns in the preseason.

After the Raiders traded for Jason Campbell in the offseason, he didn't throw a touchdown in the preseason. Bruce Gradkowski had four. It should be easy for the coaching staff to sell Gradkowski to the players after he led them to a win last week and he beat the Bengals and Steelers last season.

The one that makes you wonder is in Carolina, where Jimmy Clausen takes over for Matt Moore. When asked about if Clausen is ready, veteran receiver Steve Smith said, "We're going to find out now." One NFL coach told me the Panthers will find out the rookie QB isn't ready.


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Combining preseason and his short appearance in relief last week, Clausen has completed 28 of 57 passes with no touchdowns, three interceptions and four sacks.

I doubt we'll hear Fox say Clausen gives us the best chance to win, because he just doesn't know what the rookie will do. Fox might have a challenge with head-strong players like Smith. The coach has one big thing going for him, however: The team trusts and respects him and will follow his lead.

It's interesting it took years for Fox to remove Jake Delhomme as the starter and only two games to bench Moore. I get the feeling we will see Moore again before the season is over, unless the decision to play Clausen came from upstairs.

It's not uncommon to see a team go back to its first starter if the replacement struggles. Granted, the coach is left wide open for criticism, but most coaches realize that comes with the territory.

I was in a situation with the New York Jets when Ken O'Brien was benched for Browning Nagle, who was inexperienced and not very good. The team didn't like the move and lost respect for most of the organization in the process. You can't fool players when it comes to which QB gives the team the best chance to win. Whenever Nagel couldn't play due to injury, O'Brien would come in and we would look 10 times better.

Titans coach Jeff Fisher made it clear right after the loss to the Steelers that Vince Young was the starter for the rest of the year. Fisher was looking for a spark from Kerry Collins to win a game and the decision might be made again at some point. Keep in mind, Young was benched after one game two years ago and didn't regain the starting job until Collins was benched after an 0-6 start last season. So far, Young has handled it like a true professional and that goes a long way to squashing any issues.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said it best this week when defending his young QB Joe Flacco.

"There's going to be ups and downs," Harbaugh said of Flacco bouncing back.

I wish a few of the other coaches had said that instead of bouncing their starter after two games. As one former player said to me, "Be careful when you want to shake up the locker room, it usually backfires."

When we hear a coach say there's no QB controversy, it's either because he's in charge or someone higher up told him who to play and that ends the controversy.

If you really want to end a QB controversy, get the right guy when you have the chance. Last spring, McNabb was available for a second-round pick and a third- or fourth-round pick next year. Every team involved in benching its starting quarterback right now has to look in the mirror and ask why it passed on that opportunity (or traded McNabb away in the first place)? Heck, there's another dozen teams that should also look in the mirror on that decision. In a few weeks, some of them will be denying there's a QB controversy.

The first thing the late Dick Steinberg taught me about building a team was: "Never pass on a quarterback who might be a franchise player."

Teams should soak in those words.

Stability in an organization is critical and controversy at quarterback is the first big step to a lack of stability. Teams have got to do a better job of picking the right quarterbacks to compete in the offseason and then make sure the preseason leads you to the right guy.

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