Analysis

Rich Gannon’s Advice to Running QBs: ‘Don’t Be a Dumbass’

As a former quarterback who did his fair share of running with the football during his own 18-year NFL career, Rich Gannon has a lot of admiration for today’s group of athletic, dual-threat quarterbacks.

He has just one important piece of advice for them:

Don’t be a dumbass.

“That’s what I tell quarterbacks when I talk to them,’’ said Gannon, an analyst for The 33rd Team, who was a four-time Pro Bowler, two-time All Pro and the 2002 NFL MVP. “Don’t be a dumbass. Those guys on the other side of the line are in the business of trying to take you out. The sooner you realize that, the better off you’ll be.

“I always say there are consequences to your actions as a quarterback if you’re going to try and make a living running the football. You’re going to get hurt. I was trained to throw the ball and move around a little bit. The guys on the other side of the line are trained to tackle and hit. In head-to-head combat, they have the upper hand.’’

Gannon, who had 521 career rushing attempts and rushed for 529 yards on 89 carries in 2000 at the age of 35, will be the first to admit that he had a few dumbass moments of his own during his career. For the most part, though, he was a smart runner who picked his spots and tried to protect his body. You don’t last 18 years and answer the bell for 132 starts by playing demolition derby with linebackers and safeties.

“Early in my career, I would never get to the third or fourth progression [in his reads],’’ Gannon said. “I just didn’t have the history and I didn’t have the experience. I also would rely on the fact that I could make a first down by using my legs.

“Eventually, you start to realize those guys on the other side of the line are trained assassins and want to hurt you. When they see a quarterback run with the football, their eyes get as big as saucers. They’re salivating. They can’t wait to destroy you.’’

Which brings us to today’s crop of run-happy quarterbacks. Just four weeks into the season, six quarterbacks already have 30 or more rushing attempts.

Topping the list is the Philadelphia Eagles’ Jalen Hurts, who already has lugged the ball 53 times. That’s a 225-carry pace. The current record for most rushing attempts by a quarterback in a season is 176 by the Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson in 2019. Jackson followed that up with 159 carries in 2020 and had 133 last year, but also missed four games due to injury.

This season, Jackson already has 37 carries and has back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances the last two weeks.

The New York Giants’ Daniel Jones has 31 carries and is tied for third in the league in rushing first downs with 18. The Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen and the Atlanta Falcons’ Marcus Mariota each have 30 carries.

Gannon isn’t against quarterbacks running with the football. He just feels they need to learn how to function as pocket passers. And when they do take off, they need to be smart and avoid big hits.

Risky Business

Gannon points to the Bills’ Allen as a guy whose recklessness as a runner is eventually going to get him hurt. Allen, who is 6’5″ and nearly 240 pounds, runs with a fearless “Superman’’ mentality.

“He’s on the edge of a guy that is going to get hurt,’’ Gannon said. “It’s not if. It’s because of the way he plays. He’s a guy who’s not looking for the boundary and he’s not looking to slide. He’s going to get what he can get, and if it means lowering his shoulder and running into a linebacker or safety, he’ll do it.’’

Gannon said there are three types of quarterbacks in the league right now: 1) pocket passers like Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford; 2) guys who can run but pick their spots and primarily make a living throwing the ball like Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson and Justin Herbert; and 3) players like Allen, Jackson and Hurts, whose running is a big part of what they bring to the table.

Pocket passers have ruled the NFL for many decades. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is loaded with them. But Gannon said pocket passers are at a disadvantage in today’s game.

“They have to beat you with their arm and/or their mind,’’ he said. “They can’t do it with their legs. It’s just not possible.”

The game has changed. It’s more wide open, spread out. You’ve got all of these amazing pass rushers.

“It’s not a negative reflection on who those players are or the greatness of their careers. It’s just, if you’re going to buy a car and you’re 16 years old and I tell you that you can pick out any car you want, and I take you to a Toyota dealership and then I take you to a Ferrari dealership, you’re probably going to say, ‘You know what? The Toyota’s nice, but I think I prefer the Ferrari.

“General managers and coaches are looking for guys with some mobility now. They’re looking for players capable of creating and manufacturing some offense on their own. Guys that can escape pressure. Guys that can extend plays.

“So, the guy that sits in the pocket is limited. He’s going to take a lot of hits. And the guy that runs around a lot is going to get hurt. The question with that group is sustainability. That’s just the way it is.”

Best Kind of QB

Quarterbacks like Rodgers, Mahomes, Wilson and Herbert can run, but also are exceptional passers. Rodgers is going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer because of his passing, but he’s also rushed for 250-plus yards eight different times and has averaged 4.9 yards per carry in his career. Mahomes has reached 20,000 passing yards faster than any quarterback in history. But he’s also rushed for 300-plus yards each of the last two seasons.

“That group is the best group,’’ Gannon said. “Guys like Rodgers and Mahomes and Wilson, they run from a necessity standpoint. They’re great in the pocket. They have great arm talent, accuracy and anticipation. But they can get you a couple of first downs every game with their legs.

“Rodgers can still run with it from 10 yards out. He can still make a first down running with the ball. He still has escapability and can make plays outside the pocket. Same with Mahomes and the rest of those guys.

“If you talk to (Hall of Fame general manager and The 33rd Team analyst) Bill Polian and other football people, that’s the guy they want to find. If you can find one of those guys in the draft, that’s what you want.’’

Russell Wilson had 90-plus rushing attempts in five of his first six NFL seasons, including a career-high 118 in 2014, his third year in the league.

But as he’s gotten older, Wilson’s also gotten smarter, averaging just 67 rushing attempts per year the previous four years. So far this season, he has just 13 carries.

“The best quarterback in the last decade at protecting himself is Russell Wilson, bar none,’’ Gannon said. “He’s got such a great understanding of protections. He’s so smooth in the pocket. He doesn’t panic. He knows where his quick throw is.

“And he does an amazing job of using his legs. He’ll get outside. He’ll get outside the numbers. But he gets out of bounds. He doesn’t take any hits to his legs or his head. And he’s the best in the history of football at sliding because of his baseball background.

“When I talk to quarterback coaches, I tell them, grab some Russell Wilson cut-ups and show them to your quarterback.’’

Gannon feels most of the running quarterbacks, including the Bills’ Allen and the Eagles’ Hurts, will run less the more they mature as passers. Jackson, though, is another matter.

Need Lamar’s Running

The Ravens’ offense is built around Jackson’s running skills. It’s the key to their success.

“(Offensive coordinator) Greg Roman deserves a lot of credit there,’’ Gannon said. “They’re created a system of football there that really highlights Lamar’s skill set. They’ve got designed quarterback runs. They’ve got keepers. They’ve got sweeps.

“They’ve got six or seven offensive linemen out there on the field most of the time. Their fullback, Patrick Ricard is 310 pounds. They’ve got big tight ends. They make you put your big-boy pads on to stop the run, and the quarterback definitely is a big part of that.’’

While Jackson’s running ability is one of the keys to the Ravens’ success, Gannon also thinks it’s the biggest roadblock to the quarterback getting a long-term contract done with the team.

He believes the Ravens are concerned about Jackson’s career longevity because of his running, even though they are also encouraging it and building their offense around it.

“As much as they love him, as much as they count on him, I think the Ravens are reluctant to fork over the biggest contract in the history of football to him because they’re wondering how much longer can he play this way,’’ Gannon said.

Running Responsibly

Gannon is certain the Bills have had conversations with Josh Allen about his fearless style of running.

“I’m sure they’ve told him, ‘Look, this is not OK. This is not how we want you to play. We’re not talking about running. We’re talking about running into people and leaping over people. Let’s not do that anymore,’’’ he said.

“I’m a huge fan of Josh Allen’s game. My only coaching point with him would be to be smarter with your body when you run. I think he’s going to play a long time, and I think you’re going to start to see him doing less and less of the running around and running into people.’’

The 225-pound Hurts, who has a fullback body and has deadlifted 620 pounds, does a pretty good job of protecting himself when he runs. He slides. He gets out of bounds.

He’s not a needlessly greedy runner as far as trying to get a meaningless extra yard.

But he still takes an occasional vicious shot, including one to the head last week against Jacksonville as he fought to get across the goal line for a touchdown.

Hurts had 17 carries in the Eagles’ Week 1 win over Detroit. Had 16 last week against the Jaguars.

“I think that (rushing) number will eventually go down,’’ Gannon said. “Watching him this season, he’s playing better from the pocket. He’s more comfortable back there. He has a better understanding of protections and schemes. The game is slowing down for him.

“Each year he plays and gets more comfortable and more efficient and more productive from the pocket, I think those numbers will go down.

“As he gets better in the system, as he gets more and more reps and more of a history of running the flanker drive or double smash or whatever the concept is, he’s going to see that play call against every front and coverage. He’ll see it against two-man. He’ll see it against single-high. He’ll see it against three-deep zone and double-zone and a blitz look.

“He’ll know he has answers for every possible scenario with that play. He’s going to be able to play faster from the pocket.

“And when you’re able to play faster from the pocket, you don’t have to rely on your legs as much. And that’s the whole point of the evolution at that position.”

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