Passan: QB "Battle" a Lock for Anderson

Passan: QB "Battle" a Lock for Anderson

Rich Passan sticks to his guns, making the case for Derek Anderson as the Cleveland Browns starter in 2008. Did Quinn look better in mini-camps? It doesn't matter. What if Quinn looks better in pre-season? It won't matter, according to Rich.

Now that the Browns' Organized Team Activities and minicamp have come and gone, it's time to put one item into perspective.

Barring some sort of catastrophic injury, Derek Anderson will be your starting quarterback against the Dallas Cowboys in the season opener. He'd have to have one foot in cast and the other in a boot to lose the job he so richly deserved last season.

It makes absolutely no difference how he looked in mincamp or in the OTAs. Or how he'll look in training camp and in exhibition games.

When you're coming off a season in which you produce 29 touchdown passes, nearly 3,800 passing yards and lead your team to 10 victories, you deserve to be the starting quarterback the following season. No questions asked.

Any coach who doesn't start a quarterback with that kind of production needs to have his head examined.

Yes, Anderson can be inconsistent. And yes, he sometimes stares down receivers. And yes, he occasionally has problems throwing the short pass. And yes, his mechanics still need some work. The result: 19 interceptions (one for every 28 passes thrown) last season.

Fact is most quarterbacks in the National Football League have similar flaws. Brett Favre, for example, averaged around 27 touchdown passes a season, but also averaged 18 interceptions in his 16 years in Green Bay. When it came to throwing the football, he was fearless.

So is Anderson.

He has a gunslinger's mentality on the field. He believes he can complete every pass he throws. He believes he can fit the football in the tightest of spaces. He brims with confidence. It's not like he thinks he can do something . . . he knows.

That's the kind of confidence coaches love.

Last time I looked, there was no such thing as the perfect quarterback. Most of us thought New England's Tom Brady approached perfection last season, but the New York Giants humanized him in a hurry in the Super Bowl.

Anderson's statistics in his first full season as a starter hold up nicely against similar stats of some high profile quarterbacks.

While evaluating Anderson, most of his critics either ignore or downplay one important statistic. He was sacked just 13 times in the 15 games he started. Sacks are drive killers (yes, so are interceptions) and Anderson's lightning-quick release avoided a boatload of those sacks.

In his first full season, Brady threw 18 TD passes and only 12 interceptions, but was sacked 41 times as the Patriots finished 11-5 en route to the Super Bowl title.

Favre, who became a starter in his second NFL season, threw only 18 scoring passes (and just 13 picks) for 9-7 Green Bay in 1992, but was sacked 34 times. Peyton Manning, as a rookie, threw 28 interceptions, or one every 20.5 passes, and was sacked 28 times as the Indianapolis Colts finished 3-13 in 1998. Drew Brees, then with San Diego, threw 17 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions, but was sacked 24 times as the Chargers finished 8-8 in 2002.

And when Ben Roethlisberger led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 15-1 regular-season record and the Super Bowl championship as a rookie a few years ago, he threw 11 interceptions, or one every 26.81 passes, and was dropped 30 times.

Anderson is still the quarterback who threw 29 touchdowns passes last season. He's still the quarterback with the best arm, by far, on the club. He's still the quarterback who gives the team the best chance to win. And he's still the quarterback in whom the offensive line and receivers have the most confidence.

There was nothing fluky about the Browns' 10-6 record last season. One of the main reasons was the guy who couldn't even beat out Charlie Frye for the starting job at the beginning of the season.

Anderson accomplished this feat while operating without the luxury of at least a decent defense and still squeezed out the 10 victories. With any kind of a defensive presence, who knows how far the Browns would have gone last season.

At this stage, coach Romeo Crennel has no other choice but to stick with him as his quarterback. Without Anderson last season, Crennel would have had to update his resume.

The Browns had hit their nadir in the season-opening blitz by the Pittsburgh Steelers. And it was Anderson who stunned everyone with his where-did-that-come-from season and ultimately saved Crennel's job.

Of course he didn't do it by himself. But he did it with the same lineup with which Frye failed so miserably.

And yet, there are still many fans who wonder how Anderson was able to play so poorly in last season's training camp and yet wind up in the Pro Bowl.

No, he didn't sign a pact with the devil. He just stepped into a win-win situation and played like a veteran even though he was just 24 years old with only three NFL starts in his portfolio.

And he has turned out to be, at least thus far, the most underappreciated successful quarterback the Browns have had since . . . well, since no one. All successful Cleveland quarterbacks have been appreciated at one time or another.

From Otto Graham to Bernie Kosar with the likes of Frank Ryan, Bill Nelsen and Brian Sipe in between, winning quarterbacks have drawn the fans' raves. That despite the fact most of them had imperfections in their games.

Sipe, with his 154-149 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio and Red Right 88 gaffe against the Oakland Raiders in the 1980 playoffs, was not as reviled as Anderson, whose less-than-stellar performance in the second Cincinnati game last season drew near unanimous disapproval from the fans.

Nelsen, like Sipe, was a gambler who loved living on the edge and Ryan, the last Cleveland quarterback to taste championship champagne, was cerebral. Both, however, were not very accurate, Ryan completed just 51.7% of his passes in six-plus seasons. Nelsen completed 52.4% of his throws in four-plus. All they did was win games because they worked with a safety net: A good defense.

If it weren't for the fact a high profile No. 1 draft choice lurks in Anderson's shadow, perhaps his accomplishments last season would be more widely appreciated.

It caused Browns General Manager Phil Savage to say, "DA has played over 1,000 snaps and there's still people that have doubts outside of our building. Brady (Quinn) has played 10 snaps and people are convinced he's the guy. It's really kind of illogical."

It really is.


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