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Cowboys Vs. Titans

This weekend is a great one for football in the DFW Metroplex. You have the regular Friday night HS games (some on Thursday), Tech and Baylor playing at 11:00 AM Saturday in the Cotton Bowl (has either won a game there since it was SMU’s home field?), the Ags playing Arkansas in Arlington at 2:30 PM Saturday, and the Cowboys hosting the Titans on Sunday at 3:15 PM. I have tickets to the NFL game (Did you hear about the $54k dinner bill Dez Bryant rang up? He took the team to the Club Level Concessions! Zing!).

Vince Young playing QB is a big part of the reason I’m going to my first NFL game in 15 years. He’s in an interesting situation in Tennessee. It’s clear that Jeff Fisher doesn’t want Vince to be his QB. Does that make sense? Here are Vince’s stats for his last 16 starts-

365 attempts, 225 completions, 2657 yards, 15 TDs and 11 interceptions for a 84.9 passer rating. The team is 12 – 4 in those games.

Kerry Collins’ stats for his last 16 starts?

479 attempts, 275 completions, 2884 yards, 9 TDs and 17 interceptions for a 66.6 passer rating. The team is 7 – 9 in those games.

What jumps out at you are the small number of pass attempts Vince has had. You also notice that despite 100+ more pass attempts in his last 16 games, Collins only has 225 more yards and actually has six fewer TDs. Kerry Collins is not Vince’s competition for a starting position. Quarterbacks off the waiver wire and via trade are his competition.

Why wouldn’t Fisher want Vince as his QB? Some will point to his early 2008 meltdown, but I think they’re missing the point. That was an instance where Vince was really down about being benched, and his mother (with her own history of instability) freaked out and called Fisher. She was not the most reliable assessor of the situation, and Fisher was the worst person to call. Vince was not suicidal, and he spent the next 14 months quietly out of the limelight to prove his emotional stability. Vince was far more in control of himself that night than Ben Roethlisberger ever is.

I have a theory for Fisher’s aversion to Young. In the NFL, the QB is the guy who implements the coaches’ plan. All the gameplanning is taught to the QB, who is expected to understand the "how" of the game plan, if not the "why". To coaches, the gold standard for QBs is Peyton Manning, who understands exactly how his offense was built, why the game plan emphasizes some plays over others, and exactly what he is expected to do. Coaches like QBs who they can relate to, so the vital communication is more efficient.

Vince is different from every other QB in the league. This is not about skills or tint. This is about upbringing. Vince was raised by wolves. His father was in prison, and his mother was on drugs. He grew up in the projects of Houston, and learned far more from osmosis and intuition than careful guided mentoring. Vince is neither cerebral nor analytical in nature. He is an instinctual thinker, and expects to control more situations through reacting in the moment than through strategic planning. A lot of NFL QBs, raised in suburbs and used to summering at QB camps, have to learn street jargon to relate to the locker room. Vince had to learn proper diction to relate to his coaches and fellow QBs.

If Vince played any other position but QB, Fisher would love his passion, his athleticism, his commitment to winning and his consummate confidence. But he plays QB, and Fisher can’t stand that when he is explaining a game plan to Vince, and talking about an opponent’s tendencies, he looks into Vince’s eyes and realizes Vince is hearing, "Wocka-wocka-wocka", and Vince is thinking, "If they do that and the play breaks down, I’ll figure something out." So, Fisher wants a new QB.

This article about last year’s 99 yard game-winning drive is illuminating.

What I see here is that Vince rarely audibles, and is supremely confident that he can make any play work. I love this comment from Vince about the 4th and 4 completion to Laveklle Hawkins-

YOUNG: "I knew presnap that's where I was going because Hawk was one-on-one, and I knew from film study that the guy covering him wasn't a great one-on-one guy. You always want to take those matchups. One-on-one, Hawk is going to win most times because of his explosiveness and his good feet."

What? Hawkins is a waiver wire journeyman with 14 career receptions to date. It’s quite possible that Vince has more confidence in Hawkins than Hawkins himself, or even Hawkins’ mother. If "Hawk" really won most of those battles, he would play a lot more and wouldn’t be earning the league minimum.

And there’s this on the game-winning toss with time expired-

YOUNG: "I was going to run it in there, but Kenny's eyes and my eyes started looking at each other, and I know Kenny. He loves the ball up. That's all he preaches when we're doing red-zone stuff in practice: 'V, throw it up to me.'"

Again, what? It’s the last play of the game, everybody is going crazy, and Vince looks up from his scramble from the pass rush to make eye contact with a receiver? This, in a nutshell, shows Vince’s greatness. The game just moves slower for him than for anybody else. It's not his combination of size and speed that makes him such a unique athlete; it's his ability to move and scan a field while an NFL-speed play is happening, and not be overwhelmed or rushed by the pace of the game.

I like to think of Vince as the anti-Manning. Peyton Manning does 80% of his work before the snap, reading defenses and adjusting the play call or order of reads. Vince does 80% of his work after the snap, reacting on the fly and trying to make a good decision from the choices that arise real time during a play.

Can a QB like Vince win big in the NFL? Sure. Joe Montana was far less cerebral, as well as a better athlete, than people like to remember. His coach didn’t mind if Joe didn’t understand the offense, as long as he could run it effectively. The offense was designed to give the QB choices, and Montana was a genius at picking the best ones at game speed.

Vince has had other coaches. Most have had discomfort working with him (Brown can joke about it now). The ones who tried to trust him (knowing that in doing so they were giving him some control of their future) were rewarded with championships.

I don’t know that Fisher can trust Vince enough to get his full effectiveness. It’s too bad. Vince is a unique athlete, and that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. I’m looking forward to the game Sunday. The Cowboys are my team, but I’m really hoping for a winning performance from Vince.