The quarterback wins debate is endless and exhausting. It’s fairly obvious that teams can’t have lasting, sustained success without a top-tier passer. And when they have a good quarterback—or a disturbingly bad one—they are relevant. But what happens when the quarterback is removed from the conversation entirely?
Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick dominated the NFL for nearly two decades. It didn’t hurt that the New England Patriots had arguably the greatest quarterback and coach of all time, and it certainly didn’t hurt that their roster was infused with talent across the board. Brady has left New England and we can assume that his replacement, Jarrett Stidham, who has two NFL completions to his name, will be a far cry from the upper echelon of passers.
What would other teams, specifically in the NFC West, look like without their prized quarterback? The 49ers were able to get by with Jimmy Garoppolo being hot and a little more cold for people’s liking, the Rams didn’t live up to the hype but have the pieces without Jared Goff, the Seahawks have been relevant only because of Russell Wilson’s magic and the Cardinals without Kyler Murray would still remain at the bottom of the barrel.
Let’s take a closer look.
San Francisco 49ers
Garoppolo is 19-5 as a starter, dating back to 2017. In his first full season (2019), he completed 69.1% of his passes for 3,978 yards with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Garoppolo’s flaws, specifically under pressure and in the fourth quarter—most notably seen in his Super Bowl 54 performance—are often masked by the top-to-bottom talent on San Francisco’s roster.
The 49ers’ three strong position groups are tight end, running back and defensive line. George Kittle headlines the tight end group and is the best player on offense, even with Garoppolo in the mix. Shoring up the offense is a rushing trio of Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, and Jeff Wilson. Last season, Mostert, Coleman and the since-traded Matt Breida combined for more than 80% of the team’s rushing yards. San Francisco’s rushing attack was second-best in the NFL in yards per game (144.1) behind only Baltimore (206).
Where the 49ers are the strongest, and what more than pushed them to the top of this list, is their talent along the defensive line. The headliner was rookie Nick Bosa. He missed the elusive double-digit sack benchmark by one, but his first year noticeably improved the now high-energy defense. San Francisco traded veteran DeForest Buckner but quickly replaced him with a younger, greener option in first-round pick Javon Kinlaw. The 49ers will be as successful as their defensive unit lets them—Garoppolo’s performance aside.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams’ fall from grace after their Super Bowl 53 appearance was maybe not so shocking. The young Sean McVay galvanized Los Angeles to the top of the NFC but the team went from back-to-back 11-plus win seasons to a meager 9-7. The Rams didn’t utilize a questionably injured Todd Gurley correctly and he eventually made his way to Atlanta; and, in this case, removing Goff from the equation helps.
Los Angeles has one of the best defensive playmakers in the league: Aaron Donald. Sure, there are some holes in the defense without Bryce Hager and Cory Littleton in the middle, and those holes need to be addressed. However, Donald’s immediate presence up front and Jalen Ramsey effectively everywhere else makes this defensive unit tough for almost any offense to beat.
The one issue is the Rams’ offense. They return Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, who both had more than 90 catches and over 1,100 yards, and tight end Tyler Higbee, who enjoyed a breakout season. Goff might not be worth his four-year, $134 million contract extension, but we don’t have to worry about that here.
The only reason Seattle isn’t at the bottom of this list is because Arizona is much worse. However, the Seahawks’ ability to win without Wilson on their current roster is greatly, almost entirely, diminished.
When looking at each position group, the best Seattle has sans Wilson are its ... wide receivers? Safeties are a close second. It’s a far cry from the once-dominant Legion of Boom. But, just as the Seahawks somehow surprise and disappoint at the same time, these position groups can do the same.
Seattle’s offensive line usually causes more problems than it stops. It’s sorely lacking on the defensive front as well without securing Jadeveon Clowney. Further down the list, the Seahawks’ running back room features two players returning from injury—Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny—too many tight ends with Luke Wilson and the aging Greg Olsen at the forefront, and a good group of linebackers, which features a seemingly permanent fixtures in Seattle’s defense: Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. There are a couple of hot names, Clowney and Olsen were (and still are) free-agency buzz words, but without Wilson, this team would struggle tremendously.
The Cardinals’ quarterback blunder seemingly ended when they drafted Murray. But even with the first-overall 2019 pick manning the offense and newly minted NFL coach Kliff Kingsbury facilitating it all, Arizona finished 5-10—its second-worst record in the last three seasons.
The team now has star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, but he alone cannot make up for Arizona’s lack of success with its current roster. The defensive backfield features breakout stars Byron Murphy and Budda Baker along with Patrick Peterson, who is in a contract year, which should bring life into the secondary. Chandler Jones finished 2019 with 19 sacks and an NFL-leading eight forced fumbles. Veteran Larry Fitzgerald will be a reliable option along with Hopkins. Eno Benjamin, drafted out of Arizona State, will pair with starting running back Kenyan Drake and back-up Chase Edmonds.
Arizona struggled to put its pieces together last year. Infusing more talent (like Isaiah Simmons and Hopkins) will be helpful, obviously, but when a team can’t utilize or make it work within the system, it’s going to result in another year of bottom-dwelling.
- Aug 11, 2022
- Aug 10, 2022