The Backup Quarterback Is As Important As Ever


They say that the backup quarterback is the most popular guy on the team. While that may not have been the case for many NFL teams in 2015, plenty of organizations learned the value of having, or not having a quality arm behind the starting signal caller.

The Denver Broncos started the season with one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of football, but it was clear before long that Peyton Manning just wasn’t himself. Even with their All-Pro quarterback’s slow start, Denver got out of the blocks strong starting the season 7-0 before their first hiccup.

After two straight losses, it was clear that Manning’s injuries were just too much and Gary Kubiak turned to his fourth-year backup who had never taken a snap.

Brock Osweiler hasn’t been perfect since getting the nod, throwing for nine touchdowns with three picks, but he’s been good enough to lead Denver to a 4-2 record since taking over for the future Hall of Famer.

Osweiler and the Broncos offense was shut out in the second half in back-to-back losses, and the offense has been anything but explosive, but he’s earned his head coach’s trust enough that he’ll be able to say that Manning will be his backup this Sunday when the Broncos close out the regular season with a chance to earn a bye against the San Diego Chargers.

There’s no guarantee that Kubiak won’t decide at some point during the playoffs that he’s got to give the old vet another shot, but he may never have an opportunity to make that decision had Osweiler not held down the fort so well.

While they’ll almost certainly be eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts were in contention in the AFC South all season long in large part due to the play of backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

While he wasn’t fantastic, the Colts’ backup was a steady hand, throwing for nine touchdowns with just five interceptions during his eight starts, in what could be the 40-year-old’s final season.

The Colts season will absolutely be considered a disaster, as the team which was a preseason favorite to win the AFC South and contend for the AFC crown had a forgettable 2015 mired by injuries, mistakes and poor play.

That said, few of those things applied to Hasselbeck, until this final week. While the 17-year veteran did battle injury and illness, he showed amazing toughness to battle through much of it, starting each of the Colts last six games, but he won’t be able to go in the finale, meaning the Colts are in an unenviable position.

With Luck and now Hasselbeck on the shelf, Indianapolis dug very deep into the quarterback pool this week signing Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley.

The St. Louis Rams entered the season with high hopes for newly acquired quarterback Nick Foles, but after the former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback had just seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions over 11 starts, the team turned to backup Case Keenum.

While Keenum hasn’t been spectacular, he’s completed 61.4 percent of his passes to Foles’ 56.4 percent, and he’s had four touchdowns with just one interception in four starts.

The Rams have gone 3-1, including winning the last three since making the switch.

In Cleveland, Johnny Manziel was the backup quarterback, until he was the starting quarterback, until that thing made him the backup quarterback, until an injury made him the starting quarterback yet again.

Got that?

Now, the polarizing, much maligned, second-year quarterback is going to miss the final game of the season on Sunday because he’s been placed into the concussion protocol after showing up to practice with concussion like symptoms, and later being diagnosed with a concussion on Wednesday.

There are a million and one stats that you can point to, to show just how bad the Cleveland Browns have been, but perhaps none of them are more Browns than this; When Austin Davis starts on Sunday, it will be the fourth consecutive season that the team’s third-string quarterback will start the final game of the season. Colt McCoy, who was named the starter halfway into his rookie season in 2010 was the last Browns starter to play in a season finale.

Once upon a time, quite long ago, Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys were 2-0 and coming off of a division title. Because the team’s offense was built on a strong running game behind what is almost universally recognized as one of the best, if not the best offensive line in football, you could have argued that the value of Romo could have been underestimated. Not any longer.

Since the injury to No.9, Dallas has played Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassell and Kellen Moore, and have managed to go just 2-9, with the Cowboys looking as bad as any team in football during stretches of the season.

While you could argue the defense had its issues, or that the team missed DeMarco Murray, there’s no question the Cowboys wouldn’t be 4-11 through 16 weeks had Romo been healthy.

In all, 50 quarterbacks took snaps in the NFL in 2015, and 14 of the league’s 32 teams had to rely on a backup quarterback at some point in the season. This year the entire AFC North, and three of the four AFC South teams all had to go to their second-string signal caller.

In a league where offenses are becoming more and more reliant on the passing game, the need for a quality backup quarterback is pretty clear, especially when you consider almost half of the league had to go to plan B at some point during the year.

About Pat Donovan

Pat Donovan

Pat Donovan has covered the NFL for almost a decade and is a host and producer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers radio flagship 620WDAE/95.3FM. Pat covers the NFC South and NFC East for Football Insiders. Follow him on Twitter, @PatDonovanNFL.