Pro-style QBs come back in focus


Once upon a time, NFL scouts wanted college quarterbacks who played in a pro-style offense. The theory was no one could learn to read pass coverages after arriving in the NFL: a player needed years of practice using NFL-style tactics. Quarterbacks who had been great runners in college offenses, such as Eric Crouch of Nebraska, were poison to NFL scouts.

Then about a decade ago, the spread offense arrived in Texas prep football. NFL teams of the Lone Star State may be struggling, but Texas high school football remains the sport's leading indicator. With the spread, suddenly quarterbacks didn't need a sophisticated understanding of defenses because everybody was open. About five years after that, the zone-read offense arrived. Suddenly running quarterbacks also had passing stats. The 2011 Alamo Bowl -- 777 yards of offense by Baylor, 620 yards by the University of Washington -- was thought the bellwether for the NFL. Insistence on quarterbacks from a pro-style offense seemed passé.

San Francisco at Washington on "Monday Night Football," the traditionalist scouts had their revenge. There's a reason they liked pro-style quarterbacks, who now may make a draft comeback.

In the game, Niners zone-read quarterback Colin Kaepernick struggled against one of the league's worst pass defenses, often sailing the ball where no receiver awaited. Led by a highly drafted, magazine-cover, college-style quarterback, the Niners are last in the league in passing.

Zone-read quarterback Robert Griffin III -- the prize of a king's-ransom trade -- looked dreadful as he threw for only a 2.9 net yards-per-attempt average, which includes plays where he was sacked. Griffin was hampered by poor blocking: several times left tackle Trent Williams, among the league's highest-paid linemen, barely slowed San Francisco's Aldon Smith. Griffin was hampered by poor coaching. With 41 seconds remaining before intermission, a Washington runner went out of bounds at the San Francisco 18, then coach Mike Shanahan called timeout, with the clock already stopped. The R*dsk*ns list 21 coaches; shouldn't executive vice president/head coach (his actual title) Shanahan have one of them watch the clock? And Griffin made poor decisions, holding the ball too long and for the second week in a row launching a crazy, heave-ho interception.

Mostly, Griffin and Kaepernick looked like quarterbacks who can only run a college-style offense. When the zone-read was a fresh idea last season, that was fine. Now that defenses have adapted to the flavor of the month, good old vanilla, chocolate and strawberry passing is required. On Sunday night, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady did vanilla, chocolate and strawberry to spectacular effect: Monday night, the flavor of the month was a bust for both teams.

The pendulum had swung toward college-style quarterbacks on draft day -- expect it to swing back the other way.

As for San Francisco, the Niners are difficult to take seriously without a passing attack. Two years ago, the Giants won the Super Bowl despite the league's last-ranked rushing attack. In the modern game, winning a Super Bowl with a bottom-of-the-barrel passing attack is hard to imagine.

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