NFL coaching legend Vince Lombardi was fond of telling friends that football was the perfect team game except for one conspicuous problem -- the quarterback was too important.
That imbalance is even more pronounced in the 21st century due to the increase in a quarterback's responsibilities before he even pulls the trigger on a pass.
Today's quarterbacks help shape the game plan, are tasked with mastering the opponent's changing personnel and nuanced tendencies and ensure that teammates know their role on every play.
Although Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees get credit for taking the pre-snap phase to a higher level, the San Diego Chargers believe Philip Rivers takes a backseat to no one in grasping the mental aspects of the job.
"I knew he was an elite passer, but I didn't realize this was one of the smartest football guys in NFL, bar none," offensive coordinator Frank Reich told Sports on Earth's Dan Pompei this week. "If there is a top 10 list of smartest guys in the league, he's on it, promise you. ... He just sees it faster than anybody else."
That doesn't happen by accident.
Rivers puts a tape together every week for a Wednesday meeting to review blitz situations with his offensive linemen, tight ends and running backs.
"It's my favorite part of the preparation," Rivers said. "When we get a pressure figured out and pick it up, those are the plays that fire me up the most."
The result, says Reich, is "a clinic reel on how quarterbacks should play in the pocket."
Rivers is a prime example of why NFL starting jobs are earned rather than handed out. If a quarterback is unwilling to obsessively prepare at the highest level of the game, he's not long for the league.