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Quick Inside Slant: Week 6

Impressions of the 2015 NFL Season as perceived by a Creative Writing graduate student, part-time amateur stand-up comedian and collegiate intramural flag football legend.

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By: Dustin Fisher

It turns out Elizabeth Hasselbeck’s brother-in-law still has a little left in the tank.

The Backup Plan

Matt Hasselbeck has kept the Colts afloat without Andrew Luck.

Matt Hasselbeck has kept the Colts afloat without Andrew Luck.

I had the misfortune to happen upon J Lo’s 7th worst movie* earlier this week and couldn’t change the channel for some unhealthy reason. I saw that as a sign that I should highlight the backup plans around the league this week. And because every time I try to write about that silly fake punt thing the Colts tried, I start to cry. So who has the best backup plan?

First, let’s assess what that means. First of all, I’m talking strictly about quarterbacks. Backups at running back or safety are really just extra players. They still play in situations where the entire city doesn’t go “Oh crap. That guy has to play now.” But when a team’s starting quarterback goes down, it’s often equivalent to replacing the haunting strings from the Psycho soundtrack with a keyboard set to harpsichord.

Here are a few thoughts regarding how to select a backup quarterback. You want to have somebody that can be easily plugged into the game mid-stream. So maybe that means a smart quarterback, like a Ryan Fitzpatrick type, since the only practice they really get throughout the week is in the film room. Or maybe it means a mobile quarterback who looks like he’s always in a panic back there anyway, like a Johnny Football. And maybe it’s a good idea to have a backup with similar strengths so the playbook looks the same, a la Seattle with Tavaris Jackson. Or maybe it’s better to have somebody completely opposite to throw the defense into a panic, like Vick. And maybe it’s best that teams with young quarterbacks have older veterans to help them (like Kaepernick did with Alex Smith), while teams with veteran signal-callers have young upstarts as their backup (like Alex Smith did with Kaepernick). Heck, I don’t know. But I’m still going to pretend I do.

The following is a list of the 32 backup plans in the NFL, from worst to best, according to a random set of criteria that will change as I type. One thing I will note, however, is that I’m not grading these quarterbacks against each other necessarily, but how well they work as a backup plan for whatever system they are in. Or something like that.

How was Jerry Jones the only person to not see Brandon Weeden would be a terrible backup?

How was Jerry Jones the only person to not see Brandon Weeden would be a terrible backup?

32. Detroit Lions – I’m not saying Matt Stafford is the problem in Detroit, nor am I saying that he’s not, but do you guys remember Dan Orlovsky? When your backup plan is the guy who orchestrated the only 0-16 season in NFL history, with Calvin Johnson on the roster nonetheless, you better hope the starter stays healthy.

31. Dallas Cowboys – Sure, we have the obvious results of the last three games to point to, but I think everybody except Jerry Jones could see this coming. Yes, Weeden was hampered without having Dez Bryant to play with, but he still has the same offensive line and running game. Sometimes you really are as bad as your record. How about we give the pro bowler a shot now?

30. Green Bay Packers – Scott Tolzien is apparently still the Packers backup quarterback. He was also their backup quarterback in 2013 when Rodgers got hurt. And he played so terribly, the Pack tucked their tail between their legs and went back out to sign Matt Flynn, who happens to be a free agent right now, and who will probably get a call again if anything happens to the league MVP again. Because Tolzien is that terrible.

29. New York Giants – It’s no secret that I think Eli Manning is overrated. He’s played eight good games in his career. Still, the Giants would be in trouble if they had to turn to Ryan Nassib. I know this because this is his third year with the Giants and they’ve only let him throw 5 passes. If they weren’t so scared to have him out there, I think they’d put him in the game when they need someone to – for example – just lay down and get sacked. So the fact that I have no idea who this guy is probably isn’t a good sign.

28. Buffalo Bills – I was the starting quarterback for our flag football team once upon a time. Then I recruited a good friend, who also happens to be among the best quarterbacks in the league. That was about 15 years ago. Last year, he was running late so I started warming up when our center came over to tell me that the team voted and they wanted to go with some new guy. When the new guy was told he was starting, he said “Oh, I can’t. My shoulder is all messed up.” So I had to play QB for a bunch of guys I knew didn’t want me. This is like that.

The Patriots have set themselves up to still have the best looking quarterback in the league if Tom Brady were to go down.

The Patriots have set themselves up to still have the best looking quarterback in the league if Tom Brady were to go down.

27. San Diego Chargers – Kellen Clemens was the backup to Chad Pennington, Brett Favre, and Mark Sanchez for the Jets, that’s how long he’s been around. That’s also how many times he was passed up for a starting job by a franchise that knew him very well. As a Ram, he did pretty average in relief of an injured Sam Bradford, going 4-5 with 8 TDs and 7 INTs. So he’s allegedly a vet who you can plug into the lineup without much hassle. But Rivers tends to make up for some offensive shortcomings in San Diego, and I’m not sure average is going to cut it there.

26. New England Patriots – I think we all know that the Pats live and die with Tom Brady. The name Jimmy Garoppolo doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of opponents. Of course, neither did Matt Cassel, but he finished up a 10-6 season for the Pats when Brady went out in Week One in 2008. So maybe this Janeane Garofalo dude will be OK. There certainly won’t be a drop off in sex appeal.

25. Atlanta Falcons – This is another one I had to look up, and then continue to look up. I have no idea who Sean Renfree is. But he played for the football powerhouse that is Duke, and won a lot of awards for academics and community service before tearing his shoulder apart. He managed to edge out Rex Grossman for this job. All of this kinda says “Hey. Let’s please make sure Matt Ryan doesn’t get hurt.”

24. Denver Broncos – Speaking of not knowing who guys are, I couldn’t pick out Brock Osweiler from a lineup of just Osweilers. Actually, who could? Still, with that defense, the team is already winning in spite of Peyton Manning, so perhaps it doesn’t much matter who plays quarterback this season.

23. Cincinnati Bengals – AJ McCarron has a good habit of finding his way onto good teams. And yes, he won a lot of games in college, but so did Matt Leinert. So that argument is poppycock. Before Andy Dalton started playing like he and Peyton switched bodies like Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman in another bad movie, I may have ranked this backup plan a lot lower. But clearly, it looks like anybody is a big step down from the Irish Assassin (watch, it’s going to catch on).

Is it possible that the Bears got Jimmy Clausen as their backup quarterback to prevent fans from constantly calling for Jay Cutler to be benched?

Is it possible that the Bears got Jimmy Clausen as their backup quarterback to prevent fans from constantly calling for Jay Cutler to be benched?

22. Chicago Bears – I don’t know anything about money, as Sallie Mae will attest to, but I’m pretty sure it would have been worth it for the Bears to keep Josh McCown as a backup after the awesome year he had in relief of Cutler a couple years back. And when you have a QB as benchable as Cutler, it’s nice to have a backup people can get excited about. Jimmy Clausen is not it.

21. Oakland Raiders – Derek Carr is a pretty exciting new quarterback who looks like he could finally exorcise the memory of JaMarcus Russell. So why couldn’t they just get one of those old veterans to help bring him along. Somebody like Kurt Warner was to Eli Manning. Instead of getting Matt McGloin, the quarterback who barely started for Penn State during the dark years. Well, maybe they can learn together. Or something like that.

20. St. Louis Rams – Case Keenum was originally undrafted in 2012 and then was passed back and forth between Houston and St. Louis like a hot potato for the last two years. He was 0-8 as a starter for the Texans in 2013, in one of the most tragic dumpster fires of a season any team has ever had. But he’s backing up Nick Foles, who isn’t exactly out of anybody’s league.

19. Baltimore Ravens – Speaking of that dumpster fire, some guys are just better backups than they are starters. Matt Schaub is certainly one of them. If Flacco goes down for a few games, Baltimore probably won’t soil their collective britches. But I’d personally like to see him take some new guy under his wing. Somebody like Derek Carr. And maybe the Ravens could find someone else that Flacco can mentor for four years and then just give away to help rebuild another franchise.

18. Miami Dolphins – Matt Moore has been around this franchise longer than Tannehill. He originally came in to back up Chad Henne. Once Henne left, he was in an internationally televised three-way battle with Tannehill and David Garrard on HBO’s Hard Knocks. Garrard was named the starter and immediately got hurt and retired. Possibly the same day. Anyway, Moore was close to having gotten the starting job back then and the way things look this season, he may get another chance.

17. Jacksonville Jaguars – Speaking of Chad Henne, he landed over in Jacksonville backing up the always-playing-from-behind-fantasy-stud Blake Bortles. This team seems hardly relevant and I don’t know that it matters who they have at any position, so this backup plan can fall right in the middle of this list, if it’s cool with all of you.

16. San Francisco 49ers – Blaine Gabbert was the original Blake Bortles, and he now finds himself backing up the guy who was selected in the same draft 26 picks later. I don’t remember him playing very bad for Jacksonville, but again, it’s not like you could tell. I’m kind of curious to see how good he is, as I’m sure 49ers fans and players and coaches probably are too. My guess is that we will before Thanksgiving as Kaepernick completes his transformation into RG3.

Does anybody else remember that Tavaris Jackson was a terrible starter for Seattle, was traded to the Bills, then cut before re-signing with the Seahawks to compete with Brady Quinn to be Russell Wilson's backup?

Does anybody else remember that Tavaris Jackson was a terrible starter for Seattle, was traded to the Bills, then cut before re-signing with the Seahawks to compete with Brady Quinn to be Russell Wilson’s backup?

15. Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs apparently have a guy named Chase Daniel as their backup. Or Daniel Chase. Either way, he came into play two Week 17 games against the Chargers in the last two years and went 1-1. And the numbers for this undrafted guy are somewhat on par with Alex Smith, drafted first overall (ahead of Aaron Rodgers) once upon a time. Just sayin.

14. Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks have gone the route of “let’s try to get a similar playing style so we don’t have to change the playbook.” And it will probably work well for them if Tavaris Jackson needs to come in for a few plays or a game or two. But if Russell Wilson goes down for the season, I’ll be they’ll wish they had Matt Hassellbeck or Jon Kitna back. Heck, maybe they can pull Trent Dilfer off of TV so we don’t have to hear him talk anymore.

13. Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers apparently thought so little of Landry Jones, they decided to sign the media cancer that is Michael Vick mere days before the season. And after some speed bumps, he seems to have found his footing in the offense, having led the Steelers to a surprising last minute victory in San Diego. I guess if you get 11 days to prepare for a game, you can catch up your backup quarterback a bit.

12. Minnesota Vikings – These guys have decided to stick to the “get a veteran to lead the young guy” plan. They cut ties with Matt Cassel after Bridgewater showed he could handle himself toward the end of last year. So they brought in veteran Shuan Hill who has played well in stretches for the 49ers and the Lions, having once beaten out Alex Smith for the starting job in San Fran. It’s also nice to see the undrafted Terrapin end up playing for the same squad who gave him a shot to start his career 10 years ago.

11. Philadelphia Eagles – Once again, some guys are just much better backup quarterbacks. Mark Sanchez played pretty well for the Eagles last year after Nick Foles was injured. Quite frankly, I felt like he was outplayed by Matt Barkley in the preseason, but if the preseason had any relevance, the Eagles would be 6-0 and Sam Bradford would be on his way to Canton already. I’m just glad they had the guts to cut Tim Tebow. I really wish he was better.

10. New Orleans Saints – Well, we’ve already seen Luke McCown perform pretty well this season, and not just in those Verizon commercials. He almost pulled out a win against the undefeated Panthers. In any other year, most people would be a huge step down from Drew Brees. Luke is reminding the world there are two career backup McCowns in town.

When your backup quarterback who isn't even that good is clearly better than your starting quarterback, who was actually supposed to be the original backup to the franchise player that is now the backups backup.

When your backup quarterback who isn’t even that good is clearly better than your starting quarterback, who was actually supposed to be the original backup to the franchise player that is now the backups backup.

9. Cleveland Browns – Speaking of McCowns, Josh has the unenviable job of starting ahead of a guy named Johnny Football. The word “football” is in his name! How can you compete with that? Josh has always been a very competent backup, as he proved two years ago in Chicago when he outplayed Jay Cutler. But when handed the keys to the car last year in Tampa Bay, he managed to get his team the first overall draft pick. Fortunately, the starting quarterback for the Browns carries with it about the same expectations as being a backup elsewhere. Basically, what I’m saying is that the Browns have two backup quarterbacks. If McCown gets hurt or starts to underperform (again), they can always bring in Manziel to play a little street ball.

8. Washington – For starters, Colt McCoy is certainly a serviceable backup. When whatever the hell happened last year happened, McCoy came in and won a Monday Night Football game against the Cowboys. Many people said he should be the starter, including me. But I mostly have them ranked this high for having the guts to not only bench JaMarcus Griffin the third, but to stick him way back on the depth chart behind McCoy. Remember how we all kind of looked at whoever else was in the room with us when Washington drafted Kirk Cousins in the fourth round of the same draft that they mortgaged their future to take RG3 second overall? Doesn’t seem so dumb now, right?

7. Arizona Cardinals – Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton played the game of injury one-upsmanship in Phoenix last year, while the team still somehow managed to get to the playoffs with Ryan Lindley. Carson Palmer is playing Top Five quality quarterback this year, but Drew Stanton managed a 5-3 record last year on a team that seemed to be quarterback-proof. And I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that these guys both don’t get injured the epic way they managed to get paid vacation last year. And in case they do, they traded for the aforementioned Matt Barkley, making this the first time I’ve ever heard of a trade for a third-string quarterback.

Mike Glennon was clearly better than Tampa Bay's last two starting quarterbacks but is not a great backup for Jameis Winston.

Mike Glennon was clearly better than Tampa Bay’s last two starting quarterbacks but is not a great backup for Jameis Winston.

6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Despite his record, Mike Glennon has showed each of the last two years that he gives the Bucs a better chance at winning than their starter did (Josh Freeman in 2013 and Josh McCown in 2014). Sure, Jameis Winston is different purely because he was the #1 overall draft pick, but if he gets hurt and Glennon once again comes in and looks better than the starter, I wouldn’t be surprised to see whatever injury it is linger around longer than normal.

5. Tennessee Titans – Zach Mettenberger came in last year when the Titans realized Jake Locker wasn’t the answer. Turns out neither was Zach Mettenberger. But I like Charlie Whitehurst being added to this crew to give Marcus Mariota a veteran to turn to. Not only is he an excellent quality backup, but his nickname is “Clipboard Jesus.” And that’s worthy of a Top Five Backup Plan.

4. Indianapolis Colts – If Whitehurst is Clipboard Jesus, Matt Hasselbeck is Clipboard Buddha. Everywhere he goes, he is good for three wins. Whether you play him for three games or 13 games, he’ll get you three wins. This is what makes him a great Backup Plan, but not such a great Starting Plan. The Colts have already used up two of those wins early, so I’d try to hold off on using him again until close to playoff time.

3. Carolina Panthers – Derek Anderson came in last year and looked like he might steal the job from Cam Newton. That’s how good he was. He also inflated Greg Olsen’s stats so much, he went in the fourth round of most fantasy drafts this year. But what I really like is that the Panthers are hedging their bets with their backups. Not only do they have Anderson, the savvy vet who likes to hang out in the pocket, but they got Joe Webb, in case they just want to plug in somebody with the same relative skill set for a few plays or whatever. This is the only team in the league who managed to activate every kind of Backup Plan I talked about in the beginning. Good for you, Carolina.

2. New York Jets – I’m starting to wonder if maybe one of those savvy Jet veteran players paid IK to punch Geno Smith in the face. Maybe they drew straws or something. But the minute that happened, their team got instantly better. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been all over the place and has conducted himself with the kind of grace that makes me root for him to be a starter in this league. Especially for a winning team for once, and especially especially over a guy whose teammates want to punch him in the face. Good for you, Ryan.

No matter who the starter is in Houston, the backup is always the better option, which is the sign of a great backup quarterback.

No matter who the starter is in Houston, the backup is always the better option, which is the sign of a great backup QB.

1. Houston Texans – Watching Bill O’Brien try to decide who is going to be his starting quarterback week to week is like watching my college roommate decide which unwashed pair of boxers to wear. They both stink. He’s just trying to guess which stinks less. And this team earns the top spot on this countdown because it seems like he’s always wrong. No matter which guy starts, the other guy is always the better option. In fact, I’d say that if Ryan Mallet gets all the first team snaps one week, they should bench him after one possession for Brian Hoyer. If nothing else, that will make for some great TV, because who doesn’t like to see a big pouty face on the sidelines all game?

* – According to Rotten Tomatoes, The Backup Plan is rated at an 18%. There are actually six movies worse than that (Gigli – 6%; The Boy Next Door – 10%; Feel the Noise – 12%; Monster-in-Law – 16%; The Wedding Planner – 17%; Jack – 17%).

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Dustin Fisher is a writer, comedian, storyteller, and stay-at-home dad. Follow along with his dad blog at http://daddyneedsanap.com/ or buy his first book, Daddy Issues.

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Dustin Fisher is an amateur standup comedian, storyteller, freelance writer, and stay-at-home dad, all of which are just better ways of saying “unemployed.” He worked in the area of collegiate recreation for the previous 14 years at UMBC, Miami University and the University of Baltimore. There, he became somewhat of a folk legend on the flag football field and actually got paid to play fantasy football. Dustin is currently in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore seeking a Masters degree in Creative Writing. He has made contributions to various publications including The Good Men Project and the Baltimore Fishbowl. For more about Dustin, check out his stay-at-home dad website, Daddy Needs a Nap. Dustin lives with his wife and daughter in New Carrollton, MD in a house surrounded by too many trees to get the Dish Network.

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