Perhaps the injury to Aaron Rodgers, the stellar quarterback of one of the league’s storied national teams, did it.
Perhaps it was the injury to Sam Bradford. Or Jake Locker. Or Jay Cutler. Or Brian Hoyer … E.J. Manuel … Michael Vick … Mark Sanchez …
You get the picture. So does the NFL. A league that depends on its highest-paid, big-name stars has taken a look at the high number of injuries quarterbacks have suffered this year and has decided that it’s worth considering further measures to protect them.
How, short of encasing them in bubblewrap, this will be accomplished is not yet clear, but consider just how important a healthy QB is: The seven teams that are alone in first place in their divisions have stability at the position. There’s Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, Alex Smith in Kansas City, Matthew Stafford in Detroit, Russell Wilson in Seattle, Drew Brees in New Orleans, Andy Dalton in Cincinnati and Tom Brady in New England. Another team that’s in the running, the Denver Broncos, has Peyton Manning, who is hobbled by a “lower-body” (ankle) injury. Buffalo, Cleveland and Green Bay are down to their third option at QB.
“Should he always get protection from low hits or head hits, regardless of the posture he’s presenting?” Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice-president of officiating, told the Associated Press. “Part of the conversation will be: Should that protection be expanded to all times when the quarterback has the ball in the pocket?”
The league’s competition committee considers rule changes ever offseason and has altered rules in the past to protect passers. After Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2008, the committee enacted the Brady Rule, which prohibits a defender on the ground who hasn’t been blocked or fouled directly into the quarterback from lunging or diving at the QB’s lower legs.
“Currently the quarterback is as protected now as he’s ever been,” Blandino said, “but I think that’s been the case for eight or nine years.”
Back in March 2012, during the Saints’ BountyGate investigation, John Madden told Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times that one idea was limiting the responsibilities of a referee to solely watching the quarterback from the snap through the whistle. “I don’t know that the referee can be watching holding on the offensive line and get back to the quarterback,” Madden, chair of the coaches’ subcommittee of the competition committee, said 20 months ago. “I think watching the quarterback is a full-time job.”
And Madden, a Super Bowl winner as a coach as well as a former TV analyst, was a realist about how important the QB is in today’s game.
“We need the quarterbacks. It’s a passing league and a quarterback-driven league,” Madden told Farmer. “We need the Peyton Mannings in football uniforms out there playing — the Tom Bradys, the Drew Breeses, the Philip Riverses — we need those guys instead of them standing on the sideline.”