For release weekend, Nov. 17-18
GOLDBERG ON FOOTBALL: Bashing high-profile QBs a new art form
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AP Football Writer
This week's targets in the ``bash the quarterbacks'' game are Alex Smith and Eli Manning.
Manning doesn't deserve it. And both he and Smith are likely to get off the hook this week - Smith is injured and Rex Grossman is back as Chicago's starter. He's always No. 1 in the QB bashing pecking order.
Quarterbacks are the highest-profile players on any team and are credited with a disproportionate role in a team's success - or failure. Football people know it's more complicated than that and most QBs just bank their fat paychecks and accept the criticism.
``It happens after a loss sometimes,'' Manning said after a rash of Eli bashing following the Giants' 31-20 loss to Dallas last week. ``You never know when it is going to happen or what is going to cause it or what strikes it up. But it is out there.''
Funny that no one gave Manning much credit for his team's six-game winning streak. That success was attributed to a defense bad enough to give up four TD passes to Tony Romo last week. And few noted this was a rare week in which Eli was better than his older brother Peyton, who threw six interceptions in San Diego.
All Giants fans know is that their team lost to Dallas and that Romo was better, so it must be Eli's fault. Never mind that the 53-man Cowboys are better than the 53-man Giants.
One reason Manning and Smith take such heat is that they were the top overall picks in the 2004 and 2005 drafts. Beyond that, Manning cost the Giants a raft of other draft picks. Had they stayed where they were, they could have had Ben Roethlisberger or Philip Rivers.
By contrast, Romo was an undrafted free agent, and Tom Brady, the NFL's best QB, was a sixth-round draft choice. In other words, they are stars when they weren't even considered real prospects coming out of college.
Right now, Manning is just a ``good'' QB (or reasonably good) and Smith less than good.
Smith, in fact, has regressed after a decent 2006 season with Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator. He's also had a separated shoulder and disclosed this week that he has an additional injury to his arm. So he will sit this week and Trent Dilfer will start for the 49ers.
But scouting and drafting in the NFL (and all sports) is rarely more than an educated guessing game. John Unitas was signed off a Pittsburgh sandlot and Joe Montana was a third-round pick whom Bill Walsh, a QB genius, had to be talked into taking.
Manning's biggest fault against Dallas was incurring three delay-of-game penalties in the second half and producing only three points after the game was tied at 17 at intermission.
Conveniently forgotten were:
-He drove the Giants the length of the field after the Cowboys went ahead 24-17, but a holding penalty on Chris Snee, coach Tom Coughlin's son-in-law, negated a touchdown. There wasn't any Chris Snee-bashing this week because he's just a guard. And Coughlin said he was sending a tape of the call to the NFL because he disagreed with it.
-Manning made some brilliant throws, including a perfect 29-yard completion to Jeremy Shockey at the end of the first half that put New York in range for a field goal that tied the game.
-The Giants' offense, as run by coordinator Kevin Gilbride, is one of the NFL's most complicated. That makes audibles take longer to call, which is what happened on the delay penalties.
Smith's problems were dissected Monday night on ESPN by Ron Jaworski and Steve Young, two of the most astute ex-quarterbacks on television. Indeed, Jaworski spends much of his week breaking down tapes. They noted there have been so many first-round busts at quarterback because scouts are often ex-players who didn't play the position and are enamored of, in Jaworski's words: ``guys who can throw the ball 70 yards from their knees.''
There's something to that. The guy who made that kind of throw is said to be Kyle Boller. But he was scouted personally by Brian Billick, Baltimore's coach and a noted offensive guru who has had little success with QBs, including Boller.
Gil Brandt, the longtime personnel director of the Cowboys and the NFL's scouting consultant, says Jaworski and Young are two of his favorite QBs and two of his favorite analysts. But he disputes their theory, suggesting that, if anything, quarterbacks are overanalyzed by head coaches, coordinators, quarterbacks coaches, general managers and other personnel experts.
Jaworski, correctly, said one of Smith's problems is three offensive coordinators in three NFL seasons. Clearly, his injuries are another; Smith himself suggested that maybe he shouldn't be playing.
Earlier this year, Jaworski weighed in on Eli Manning very favorably, saying during a Giants-Falcons telecast that he had him ranked as the NFL's eighth best quarterback. ``Eighth???'' asked an incredulous Tony Kornheiser, ESPN's non-expert. ``Eighth,'' repeated Jaworski.
There are stats that validate that.
s a spike.
He's also been knocked for his lack of leadership, most notably by former teammate Tiki Barber. Yet current teammates, most of them happy to have Barber out of the locker room, say Manning is totally in charge of the huddle.
His biggest sin is not being Peyton. Or Brady, Romo or Brett Favre, another QB who dropped through the first round and even was traded away by his first team, the Falcons. But he's having a better season than Rivers, for whom he was traded after he was drafted by San Diego, a team he said he didn't want to play for.
And he's certainly not Ryan Leaf, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Cade McNown, Jim Druckenmiller or any of the other first-round quarterback busts.
The general consensus now is that the top five QBs in the NFL are Brady, Peyton Manning, Favre, Romo and Carson Palmer. Only Peyton and Palmer were high picks. Next in line is Roethlisberger. But how far behind is Manning?
Ron Jaworski thinks not far. Tony Kornheiser seems to think otherwise.
Which one knows more about QBs?
DIRTY DOZEN: The top six and bottom six teams based on current level of play:
1. New England (9-0). Going on 19.
2. Dallas (8-1). Tony Romo gets more impressive each week.
3. Indianapolis (7-2). Injuries taking their toll, but played heroically last week.
4. Green Bay (8-1). Ryan Grant is providing a needed running element.
5. Pittsburgh (7-2). Could beat out battered Indy for a first-round bye.
6. Jacksonville (6-3). Should get David Garrard back this week.

27. Baltimore (4-5). Pathetic against the Bengals despite having a backup QB who can throw 70 yards from his knees.
28. St. Louis (1-8). Favored on the road against the 49ers.
29. Oakland (2-7). Cal might be the best team in the Bay Area.
30. New York Jets (1-8). Didn't play, so didn't move down.
31. San Francisco (2-7). Scary thought: Patriots have their first-round pick, which could be top three.
32. Miami (0-9). Time to look at John Beck.

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