The League

Doug Farrar
Writer

Doug Farrar

A FootballOutsiders.com staff writer

The Systems Will Dictate

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If there's one common denominator in successful rookie quarterback seasons, it seems to be a run-heavy offense. Putting too much on your new signal-caller, even if he's your top draft pick and you've invested millions of dollars in his future, makes little sense.

If we look at the three most recent successful rookie quarterbacks -- Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, and Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco last season -- we're dealing with offenses in which the ground game was the dominant factor. In Roethlisberger's case, the Steelers went 15-1 in his rookie year, and he threw a grand total of 295 passes. The whole team attempted only 358 passes to 618 rushing attempts. The 2008 Falcons, which featured Matt Ryan's transcendent season, ran the ball 560 times to 434 passes. Flacco, who became the first quarterback in NFL history to start two playoff wins in his first season, benefited from a power running game that took 592 attempts to his 428 passing attempts (433 total for the team). While there is an element of teams running the ball more near the end of games when they're winning a lot, there's also a concerted effort in these successful cases to keep things in balance. It's the best way to have your young quarterback on the field without stretching him beyond his current capabilities.

Each of the three quarterbacks in question could have those kinds of rushing attacks. For Matt Stafford, the Lions have a new coaching staff and second-year back Kevin Smith from the University of Central Florida. If the Lions want to expand Smith's role, that's something he's used to - in his senior season, Smith ran the ball an astonishing 450 times. Jim Schwartz will just have to remember that if Smith runs that many times in the NFL, he'll be little more than a grease spot in the FieldTurf by season's end.

The Jets have a new coach as well in the person of former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez should benefit from Ryan's knowledge of Flacco's success factors. The Jets have talented backs in Thomas Jones and Leon Washington, and there's no Lord Favre to demand X number of passes, leading to a more potentially balanced game.

Tampa Bay is the wild card here. Not only has their entire coaching staff been overhauled (the other common denominator among the teams we're discussing), but quarterback Josh Freeman is known to have some mechanical issues that will need some work at the next level. Former Boston College head coach Jeff Jagodzinski Is a proponent of a run-heavy attack led by the zone-blocking principles he learned from O-line avatar Alex Gibbs, and he'll put that in place as Tampa Bay's new offensive coordinator.

So, all three young quarterbacks have what it takes to succeed, but I suspect that the Jets will start Sanchez pretty much right away, the Lions will bring Stafford along behind Daunte Culpepper, and the Bucs might sit Freeman for a while as he learns a few things.

By Doug Farrar  |  July 1, 2009; 10:55 AM ET  | Category:  Detriot Lions , Doug Farrar , New York Jets Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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