Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

29 Nov 2005

TMQ: Free the Third Quarterback

TMQ this week criticizes the third quarterback rule and the cowardly Lions, and celebrates Harvard football players, even up in Edmonton. Hey, they may have more pros, but Brown has the title.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 29 Nov 2005

50 comments, Last at 01 Dec 2005, 12:07pm by Dave


by James (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 3:40pm


by Drew (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 3:40pm

TMQ does a nice job of answering a question asked in the game discussion threads about the Colts-Steelers illegal-block-intercetion play.

Actually the rule is quite simple and reads, at Rule 12, Section 2, Article 13: "After a change of possession, neither team may block below the waist."

Seems pretty simple. If I had to guess, I'd say this rule is meant to protect people on kick returns.

by JonL (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 3:54pm

RE: Losman

what "b" word is he referring to? brittle?

I hope it's balalaika.

by Tim (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 4:07pm

I think it's B-U-S-T. Or perhaps "Berman", a far greater insult.

by Dave (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 4:18pm

With all the press that Hahvahd alum Fitzpatrick has gotten, I'm surprised no one has yet broken out the ol' Crimson fight song:

"Fight fiercely, Harvard!
Fight, fight, fight!
Demonstrate to them our skill.
Albeit they possess the might,
Nonetheless we have the will.
How we shall celebrate our victory!
We shall invite the whole team
Up for tea! (How jolly!)
Hurl that spheroid down the field
And fight! Fight! Fight!

"Fight fiercely, Harvard!
Fight, fight, fight!
Impress them with our prowess, do.
Oh, fellows, do not let the Crimson down;
Be of stout heart, and true.
Fight for Harvard's glorious name!
Won't it be peachy if we
Win the game? (Oh goody!)
Let's try not to injure them,
But fight! Fight! Fight!"

(T. Lehrer)
(Hope it formats OK...)

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 4:21pm

I love his twisted logic on the Bengals-Ravens game. The fact that Baltimore came back and made a game of it would seem to be a great argument in favor of NOT taking your starters out of the game in the third quarter when the game is still alive. Instead he somehow turns it into an argument that the starters should have been taken out. Weird.

by clod (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 4:25pm

Its not "twisted logic" its a bit piece about how the football gods forced a game out of what should have been a walk in the second half as a result of bad sportsmanship.

by Dev (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 4:25pm

#3: The 'b' word is "Bust."

by NoJo (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 4:27pm


That's what I was thinking. I think that this may be the most striking example we've seen of TMQ twisting any old event so that it fits into one of his 5 or 6 over-used arguments about how the game is supposed to be played.

by NoJo (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 4:29pm

Re 7

I thought that the "Football Gods" were just a metaphor for the "right" way to play the game, not to be taken literally. But the only way for his argument to work is if the "Football Gods" are to be taken as literal.

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 4:30pm

...whereas the football gods obviously have lots of respect for teams who think they have the game in the bag halfway through the third quarter. Which strategy is really more disrespectful to the opponent? I'd have to go with considering the game over when there's more than 20 minutes still to play.

by Steelersin06 (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 4:30pm

RE 2:

I don't think TMQ answered the question at all. If the rule he cites is indeed the one that applies, than the call makes no sense to me. Hartings clearly was not blocking anyone, nor was he trying to do so. He was going for the tackle. On its face, that rule only applies to a "block." Calling what Hartings attempted a "block" seems to me to defy reality. TMQ does not even try to explain the application of the rule to the play. He is just hunting cows with a machine gun by criticizing Madden.

by admin :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 4:30pm

Goddammit Dave, that's in this week's power rankings. You beat the FOX editors by a couple hours. I knew I should have put it in Quick Reads instead...

by B (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 4:43pm

Re #3/8: I was hoping the word was BLosman. as in J. P. blows, man.

by Lev (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 4:46pm

Re: Hartings and rule

My sense based on nothing other than speculation (cue Dierdorf "you just hate to fpeculate") is that the rule is designed to prevent the bowling-ball-into-a-wedge approach, where a wedge forms and you try to bang a big guy into their legs and collapse them all into a big heap -- you have to take on the blockers individually.

So when Hartings went at the legs of the blocker (which he pretty clearly did) he broke the rule. I don't really see the argument that he was trying to make a tackle -- he seemed pretty clearly to be going after the blocker.

by zach (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 4:54pm

It seems more likely to me the rule just exists to prevent injury. It's one thing to cut-block a defensive lineman who was just staring at you from a yard away, and another thing entirely to try to take out the legs of a guy running straight at you from the other end of the field.

by JG (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 5:18pm

While I think that TMQ has a tendency to completely overdue his repetetive ideas, I absoultely agree with the idea of free substitution. I mean, most teams 3rd QB is a guy they want to develop while the #2 guy is (or should be) a veteran emergency player. So what better way to develop a #3 guy than to actually let him in the game once in a while. Just a thought.

by dryheat (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 5:24pm

I think that this may be the most striking example we’ve seen of TMQ twisting any old event so that it fits into one of his 5 or 6 over-used arguments about how the game is supposed to be played.

...Or is it? How about the suggestion that the Redskins loosened their coverage on Gates because, having dropped three passes, the Chargers surely wouldn't throw to him again.

Of course not. Why would SD throw to the 90 catch walking mismatch when he already dropped three when Kasim Osgood and Justin Peelle are available?

by Catholic Samurai (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 5:32pm

I guess Aaron and Dave are going to have to have a "slapfight-at-20-paces" fight like they did in the Y2K episode of Family Guy.

by Drew (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 6:04pm

Re 12 and 15

I suppose I must agree that Hartings was not really blocking, so the call may be questionable. However, it also didn't look like he was going for the tackle either. If he was, he whiffed pretty badly, and he probably could have been flagged for tripping. Maybe that's why he doesn't play defense.

by Smeghead (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 6:07pm

Hey, his cheerleader's favorite quote is also the one favored by Angela (the brunette with the schnoz) of Carolina Topcats fame -- "Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, it's measured by the moments that take our breath away."

Do cheerleaders just get issued a crib sheet of half a dozen banal sentiments to choose from, the same way players pick from brand-name, noncontroversial charities to support?

by dryheat (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 6:10pm

#21 And their greatest wish is for World Peace.

by Duane (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 7:08pm

Here's a general football question regarding Harting's block versus tackle, to anyone who's played football at a higher level than I. Is there some ingrained, conditioned response to engage a blocker? It has occurred to me that in some situations a defender engages a blocker instead of attempting a tackle. It looked to me when Hartings made contact with the blocker that he might've been able to get to the ball carrier by declining to engage the blocker.

by Dennis (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 7:09pm

Re #17: There's nothing stopping a team from having their third QB on the active roster. But given the small chance that they would actually want to bring him in and reserve the option to bring back one of the other QBs, teams would rather use the roster spot for a different player.

The reason the emergency QB spot exists is because teams wanted a way to have a third QB be active without giving up a roster spot. So they created the emergency QB spot.

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 7:11pm

"Low Block"
Both times this season I've seen it called the offending player was not "blocking" but taking out a blocker during a play, below the waist.

Once I saw it during an interception this year, and another was during a kickoff. I thought it was Redskins-Seahawks, but it may have been when they played the Bears. The penalty was called on Sean Taylor.

by Kibbles (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 7:37pm

Ah, beaten by #24. Dennis is correct, TMQ's grievance against the active roster and his grievance against the "emergency" QB are actually one and the same complaint. A team could easily make the #3 active on game day, it's just that they'd use him so rarely they deactivate him for a more important player, especially since, with the exception of Cody Pickett, 3rd string QBs don't play special teams (and, to be fair, Pickett's more like a ninth string QB).

That said, I know of at least two teams that activate their #3 emergency QBs every single week. Major kudos to anyone who can identify the culprits.

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 7:47pm

Kibbles (#26 )--

Well, the Steelers have often had Randle-El as their "emergency" QB.

I'm stumped as to the other. Jets? Rams? 49ers? Who else is calling for volunteers from the audience to take snaps for them?

by Kibbles (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 8:10pm

Re #27: Ah, we have a winner. In Pittsburgh, Antwaan Randle-El is the "emergency" QB, and he is activated every single weekend.

The other teams is the Denver Broncos, whose emergency QB is actually Rod Smith (and has been for quite some time, in fact), another player who hasn't seen the game-day inactive list when healthy in almost a decade.

I'd imagine that every team with only 2 healthy QBs on its roster does the same thing. Actually, I'm curious what long-term solution the other teams who only carry 2 QBs PERIOD have put into place. I know Indy, for instance, only has 2 QBs on its roster. I wonder who their emergency QB is. And does anyone else know of any other teams who only carry 2 QBs, and who their emergency QB might be?

by Scotus (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 8:43pm

Re #28: Indianapolis' emergency QB is Hunter Smith.

Which brings up the question: what happens when Indianapolis runs a trick play from punt or FG (where Smith is the holder) formation? Though it rarely happens--the Colts running a trick play, I mean--wouldn't Hunter Smith have entered the game at the quarterback position in such a situation?

The rules regarding QB substitutions are odd in any case: remember that when the Steelers had Kordell Stewart involved in all sorts of trickery, they had to keep Neil O'Donnell on the field somewhere, usually lined up as a WR if I recall correctly.

by MDZ (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 8:58pm

This is just a logical guess, but I would think that if a player is on the 45 man active roster (like Smith, Randle El etc.) then the team can do whatever they want and sub the QBs freely because they aren't taking advantage of a rule to get around the 45 man roster. I view this as similar to a team being able to use a timeout when a player needs medical attention so that the player doesn't have to miss a snap.

by 10K (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 9:20pm

"He was going for the tackle. On its face, that rule only applies to a “block.� Calling what Hartings attempted a “block� seems to me to defy reality. TMQ does not even try to explain the application of the rule to the play. He is just hunting cows with a machine gun by criticizing Madden."

You mean by hitting the guy without the ball two feet in front of the guy with the ball he was going for the tackle? Uh huh, that's a good one.

Sorry, hitting the guy without the ball is blocking (whether or not it is illegal). Hitting the guy with the ball is tackling (whether or not it is illegal or successful).

Just because there is a remarkable possibility that illegally blocking the lead blocker low means that the guy behind him goes down and is "tackled" that does not make the act of hitting the guy without the ball "tackling."

by EJP (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 9:35pm

If I remember correctly, didn't Hartings bring the ball carrier down? He did go low, but I believe he made the tackle in doing so. If you make the tackle, is it blocking?

by Joey (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 9:38pm

Strangest of all (at least to me) is how teams will keep a third QB and have no interest whatsoever in playing him if the other two guys get hurt. I'd think he was on the roster because he showed at least some potential. But teams routinely sign free agents and instantly make them the starter. That's quite the insult: Not only hasn't the guy played for your team all year, he hasn't played for ANYBODY and he's still automatically deemed to be better than you.

I don't mind TMQ's getting on his soap box, but I wish it was a little taller box than it is. If he expects me to be outraged about starters still being in the game in the third quarter he's in for a disappointment.

by Mike (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 10:14pm

Hartings was trying to do what linebackers are taught to do to fullbacks. He knew the ball carrier had a blocker ahead of him and that he would not be able to tackle the ball carrier easily, so he "blew up" the play by making a pile infront of the ball carrier.

Normally this is done to offensive linemen and fullbacks to clog holes for running backs to go through. In this case it was of the rare open-field variety. It can be interpretted a couple of ways, but "trying to tackle the ball carrier" is not one of them. I don't think "blocking" is the right terminology, but "taking out a players legs to impede the runner" is quite the mouthful, no?

by Ruben (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 10:16pm

Regarding 3rd string QBs and Hunter Smith (is there a name that could be more white?) :
I thought you had to list men as one position, and they could only come on the field in that position (or something).

I remember this question was raised when the Rams signed Eric Crouch, and were planning on using him as a WR/PR, and then perhaps QB, but the latter wasn't permitted.

Speaking of which, does anyone here think he could've struck gold if he hadn't retired? That year, Warner, Bulger AND Martin were all injured at various times.

by CoreyG (not verified) :: Tue, 11/29/2005 - 11:16pm

RE #23:

Often times in ESPN NFL 2k5 members of the kickoff/punting team will routinely turn away from the fielding player to begin a block-fest with a guy they have already ran past, thus allowing the returner huge yardage because they'd rather block than tackle. At first I assumed this was shoddy programming, but it may in fact turn out to be superior design by the 2k5 team.
I have seen the converse as well though, where blocking linemen will routinely run past the most immediate threat to block somebody 5 yards downfield, thus allowing the closer threat to tackle my RB for a loss. So now I don't know what to think.

by Drew (not verified) :: Wed, 11/30/2005 - 12:45am

Regarding 3rd string QBs and Hunter Smith (is there a name that could be more white?)

I gotta go with Brooks Bollinger. Billy Joe Hobert is another good one.

by Dave (not verified) :: Wed, 11/30/2005 - 1:57am

While we're talking about emergency QBs, the Steelers, and the Colts, the third-string (emergency) QB for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1978 season was none other than... Defensive Back Tony Dungy.

(Cue Twilight Zone music.)

by Steve Sandvik (not verified) :: Wed, 11/30/2005 - 4:12am

When Mike Tice played for Seattle in the 80's, he was the disaster quarterback for a while. I think Ken Easley (as hard hitting a safety as ever there was, for those of you too young to remember) was for a year or two also--that would have been entertaining.

by usedbread (not verified) :: Wed, 11/30/2005 - 4:59am

Sweet Nullified Play: Tennessee cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones lined up as a flanker, took an end-around handoff running right and then reversed field...

this play was interesting because Jones was supposed to start one way, then reverse field. Why don't offensive coordinators plan more plays on which the runner reverses field, and the blockers know this is coming?

now correct me if im misreading this(inebriation has a habit of causing this), but isnt that what, in common parlance, is known as a reverse?

by Kibbles (not verified) :: Wed, 11/30/2005 - 6:23am

Re #40: Nope. To be a reverse, the ball actually has to change from one player's possession to another's.

Let's say the QB gets the snap, runs 7 steps back, and then hands off to a WR who is running from the right side of the formation to the left side of the formation. This is called an end-around. Now, let's say this WR, as he's running from right to left, hands the ball off to a DIFFERENT WR running from left to right. This is called a reverse. Now, let's say that the coach is a moron, and so the play isn't done yet. Instead, the WR running from left to right hands off to a THIRD different WR running from right to left again, back in the direction of the original WR. You now have a double reverse, possibly the worst play in football history.

Also, if the QB takes the snap and rolls out of the pocket to the right and hands off to a WR running from right to left, that's a reverse. The key here is that the QB is actually running directionally, rather than just dropping back as if to pass. The ball goes from a player running one direction to a player running another direction, and is a reverse.

If a player changes direction without handing the ball off, that's referred to as reversing the field. It's a very common tactic in high school and college, where the elite athletes are much faster and more athletic than the average athletes, but not very common in the NFL, since all athletes are so fast that reversing the field is usually a blatant invitation to get hit for a loss.

by dryheat (not verified) :: Wed, 11/30/2005 - 9:55am

It seems there is some confusion on the role of the emergency QB. The emergency QB, assuming he's inactive), can come into the game at any time. However, if he comes into the game in the first three quarters, the first and second string quarterbacks can't return. Which is why you've seen inactive QBs like Dan Orlovsky and Matt Cassell taking snaps in garbage time.

TMQs thinking about this 53 man roster the wrong way. Think of it like the NFL has a 45 man roster. Some years ago, the league decided that teams with large injury lists were at a severe disadvantage, as unless they released the injured players, they would be caught shorthanded. With 22 starters, reserves, and specialists, 45 roster spots don't go far. The Patriots, for example, would be playing with about a 30 man roster right now unless they started releasing players. The 8 player inactive list was conceptualized to allow for injured players to not upset a team's competitiveness.

by Andrew (not verified) :: Wed, 11/30/2005 - 12:07pm

Kibbles #26:

The Eagles emergency #3 QB is Long Snapper/3rd Tight End Mike Barturm, who is also the emergency Kicker. He's active every game.

by Jerry Garcia (not verified) :: Wed, 11/30/2005 - 1:37pm

3rd string QB... Brooks Bollinger... you see what his qb rating was after sunday night?

Pretty impressive - sure it was the saints, but impressive none the less considering the hits he has taken (both in the games and in the media).

by Keith Cockrell (not verified) :: Wed, 11/30/2005 - 10:48pm

Um. Wasn't that third quarterback rule changed a few years ago? I think any of them can be used in the fourth quarter (and when else would you use your third qb?)

by Harris (not verified) :: Thu, 12/01/2005 - 12:32am

Re: #35

Former Giants QB Dave Brown?

by Travis (not verified) :: Thu, 12/01/2005 - 1:02am

Re #26:

The Jets' emergency QB is Doug Jolley, the starting tight end.

by Kibbles (not verified) :: Thu, 12/01/2005 - 3:32am

Man, this is good stuff. While I would never wish any harm on any NFL QB, I would LOVE to see a non-QB taking snaps as an emergency QB.

The Jets season is over, anyway. They have nothing left to play for, except a high draft pick. I think it's time that they tried to see what they have in Jolley, don't you?

P.S. This is why I love Football Outsiders. Who here thinks that anyone on the CBS Sportsline message boards would know that Mike Bartrum was not only the emergency QB, he was also the emergency kicker?

Heck, who here thinks anyone on CBS Sportsline would even know that Mike Bartrum was Philly's regular long-snapper? I think Football Outsiders is the only community I've ever seen where the members could name their favorite team's starting long-snapper. The Denver Broncos, and it's Mike Leach, for the record.

by Mshray (not verified) :: Thu, 12/01/2005 - 9:56am

Me too, Kibbles.

And where else would someone not only quote Tom Lehrer but actually post the entire lyric?

by Dave (not verified) :: Thu, 12/01/2005 - 12:07pm

Long snappers rule. You gotta love seeing a 6-3, 250 pound guy wearing an interior lineman's number.