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Raiders & Cards QBs: A Bad Joke Told Twice

In 2009, Bruce Gradkowski relieved JaMarcus Russell of his starting duties and led the Raiders to three straight victories, including an improbable come from behind win on the road against Pittsburgh

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: An NFL team has a quarterback problem, so they hand the team over to a young gun who flashed some talent, but never put it all together in the time he’d previously been given.

The punchline of the joke may be the 2010 season for the Cardinals and the Raiders, but no one knows who’ll be laughing yet.  It could be the Cardinals, who may take their division over the media darling 49ers for a third straight year with a quarterback that no one said could win.  It could be the Raiders, who may climb back to respectability, upsetting major contenders and analysts’ safe picks along the way.  It could be the NFL in general, filled with people who’ve probably already started laughing at the idea that these two franchises thought they could fix their problems with Derek Anderson and Bruce Gradkowski.

The Raiders penned their joke with the ink of Jason Campbell’s two-year, $7.74 million dollar contract for being nothing better than a quarterback with an 80.0 career passer rating that completed 60% of his passes, and lost 32 of his 52 career starts.  Bringing Campbell to a team that has no established receivers, a below average offensive line, and a culture of losing and dramatic distractions doesn’t seem like a winning formula.  Campbell is already on the bench because he’s not good enough to play for the Raiders.

Just so Cardinals fans don’t have too much fun laughing at the Raiders’ predicament, let’s review what happened to the Cardinals in 2010 so far in the way of quarterbacks.

First, Arizona handed the keys over to Matt Leinart, a guy whose idea of leadership is to parade around like a perennial frat boy while trying his best not to improve as a professional athlete, despite the opportunity to learn from a guy that rolls out of bed reading defenses.  Leinart went from clear cut starter to just plain cut in less than 10 days.  Even before they dumped Leinart, the Cardinals tried to hedge their bets, but swung and missed on a quarterback that has never started a single game in the NFL, Charlie Whitehurst.  After basically saying “no thank you” to Donovan McNabb, who has a home in Arizona and all but came out and said he wanted to play for the Cardinals, the Cards balked on Marc Bulger, only to sign Derek Anderson, who basically was the best of what was left in the shallow end of the free agent pool.

Like Campbell, Anderson is already faltering by Week 2.  If you hold your head just so, you can already start to make out a steady rumble, which may build perhaps inevitably to a mid-season crescendo. What’s that you hear?  It’s the name Max Hall.

I’m being dramatic, of course.  Derek Anderson hasn’t played absolutely terribly, but poorly enough to get benched if the Cardinals had another viable option, which at this point they don’t.  In the first two games, Anderson’s line reads: 39/72, 458 yards, with 1 TD and 2 INTs for a 66.8 passer rating.  The real problem, however, is his 54.2 completion percentage.  It’s such a problem because, despite Ken Whisenhunt’s insistence that Anderson is improving, you can’t magically make a quarterback more accurate.  You can’t magically make a quarterback develop touch.  The Cardinals may end up with the best wide receivers in the NFL that will never touch the ball.

Something else you can’t teach, though, is courage and leadership, which Anderson has in spades.  It’s something Leinart doesn’t have and would never have been able to give the Cardinals.  So even if the Cardinals finish the season out of contention, Cardinals fans can take solace in the thought that Anderson does care, a lot, and he’ll break his neck trying, which may actually happen if he doesn’t get more protection.  You get the sense, however, that Anderson would do it willingly if it meant a Cardinals victory.  That’s why I’m a Derek Anderson fan, despite his apparent shortcomings.

Gradkowski doesn’t have the traditional quarterback skills that jump off the page.  He’s not a big guy, he doesn’t have that strong an arm, and he isn’t that accurate.  He’s a fighter with tremendous heart and he plays with an intensity that many other players in the NFL either never had or already lost.  Maybe the Cardinals and Raiders don’t have tremendous talents calling the signals, but both will tear themselves apart to get a win for their team.

That’s no joke.


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