You hear the rhetoric often about how the NFL is a passing league. That is certainly true, because there is no denying the correlation between winning games and throwing the football well. But what often gets lost in that statement is the value that running the football has.
No, you can’t win championships by running the football. But you can get out of the basement by running the ball. The Falcons certainly proved this. Their quick turnaround in 2008 is often attributed to Matt Ryan’s presence on the team, but it was really Michael Turner that made the difference that year. I’m not saying Ryan didn’t have a major impact on that team and the stability and leadership he offered at quarterback was extremely important. But the Falcons won most of their football games off the back and thighs of Michael Turner.
I think the Minnesota Vikings also illustrate this. They have had subpar quarterback play in five of the last six seasons (excluding 2009 with Brett Favre). Yet in three out of those five years they have finished .500 or above, and made the playoffs in two of those years, largely due to the stabilizing presence of Adrian Peterson.
In order to compete at the highest level, that is the level that entails winning Super Bowls or coming awfully close, they are going to need Christian Ponder to play a lot better than he currently is. But they are at least not in the cellar. I know Vikings fans are among the more tortured fanbases in the league, so I can’t sit here and pretend that they are groovy with their current state of affairs. But I’m fairly confident that they are much more content being 8-8 every year than being 3-13 every other year.
So if you’re running a team, that is at least something to shoot for. It’s much more likely to keep you employed, and if you’re an owner to keep some butts in the seats. And if you’re not in an immediate position to be hoisting Lombardi Trophies, your initial goal should be to get to a point where you are a playoff contender year in and year out.
And I think where this manifests is in the draft. Teams know that they need a good quarterback to win a championship, and thus get so desperate that they take guys like Ponder a round earlier than they should. And teams wind up drafting any guy rather than the right guy.