Rozner: Great QB play begins above the shoulders
If you watched Joe Burrow play football Sunday afternoon, you probably noticed something immediately.
Well, first you saw some classic rookie stuff. It's expected. But on the final Bengals drive of the day, Burrow seemed to be in control, knowing what coverage the defense was in and where to go with the football.
For some, they might learn this in college. For others, it's great coaching. For most, it's an instinct for the game and a feel for the scheme.
Burrow was playing in his first NFL game after zero exhibition contests. And on that drive he looked very much at home on an NFL field, directing an NFL offense against an NFL defense, trying to engineer a comeback with no timeouts and precious little time on the clock.
There were two drops in the final minute and a TD called back on an offensive pass interference or Cincinnati would have won in regulation, and then his kicker missed a chip shot that would have sent the game into overtime.
Most impressive, however, was the calm with which Burrow got his guys to the line, moved them into position, communicated with his receivers before the snap and walked his team down the field.
First game in the NFL with a useless training camp and no preseason games.
The kid is going to struggle, no doubt. There will be games when he looks confused, but you can almost always see right away whether a player has the mind for the position, even if the results don't show it every week.
It does not take years to figure out whether your quarterback can see the field or make a throw under pressure.
Josh Rosen was taken 10th by the Cardinals in 2018. After watching him start 13 games his rookie year, Arizona drafted Kyler Murray No. 1 the following year and traded Rosen to Miami, where he started 3 games and was cut before this season.
General managers must self-scout and be honest with themselves about what they're seeing from players they draft and fall in love with. The good ones admit a mistake and move on without fear of reprisal. They don't compound it or ignore it, especially at the quarterback position.
GMs can see it and you can see it.
You watch the way they play, how they command the huddle and the line of scrimmage. You watch their poise under pressure. You watch their eyes when they scramble. You watch them look off receivers. You watch them freeze defensive backs. You watch, through their play, the way their minds work under duress.
Not every team will land a Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson. Not every city gets to watch a Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Russell Wilson.
No one will ever again get 18 years of a Tom Brady.
But teams should not pretend a player has the means to manage 10 other players on offense, knowing the precise responsibilities of each, while reading 11 players on defense and knowing instantly what to do with the football.
"A true quarterback (has) to do three things," Brady said on Peyton Manning's ESPN+ series earlier this year. "You have to think. You have to throw. And you have to lead. But in the end, if you can't think you're going to have a limited career.
"There's no play the coach can call from the sideline that he knows is gonna work. It's my job to find the guy that's gonna be open, and if I don't think someone's going to be open, I gotta figure out how to get someone open."
Neither of these men was gifted with a monster arm or great athleticism. And yet, they're two of the greatest ever to play. So how did that happen?
"People always thought I was trying to check us into the perfect play. Not true. I'm trying to get us out of bad, wasted plays," Manning said. "You watch a game and there's so many bad, wasted plays. You only get about 60 plays a game. You don't have time to waste any downs."
Bad plays. Awful throws. Wasted opportunities.
Generally, it traces back to a lack of understanding of an offense or a failure to read a defense and execute the correct play.
"(Bill) Belichick has a great line. You can't win a game in the NFL until you can keep from losing," Brady said. "What does that mean? One snap over your head. One missed exchange with a halfback. Anything like that. It's just bad football."
All the QBs in the NFL have the ability to play the game, obviously, but that's not what sets the best apart.
It's all about whether they can see the field and think the game.
Joe Burrow might become a franchise quarterback. Maybe he won't. But the Bengals will not need several years to see that he is, or accept that he isn't.
At least, not if they're being honest.