The question came from a confident reporter, though the motives were unclear. It had to do with Rex Grossman and why he didn't end up playing in the Washington Redskins' preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leaving John Beck to play the entire first half. Perhaps the reporter legitimately wanted an explanation. Perhaps he knew the answer and was just looking for a quote to fill his story or his soundbyte. Perhaps he just felt like he needed to be the one to step up to ask the question someone else probably would have asked.
No matter what, it was a question with an obvious answer, one Shanahan provided.
"Rex had 53 passes in preseason. John had 27," Shanahan responded, via CSN Washington.
In giving this incredibly obvious quote, Shanahan stumbled upon the biggest irony of the Redskins' great quarterback battle of 2011. Despite all the hints Shanahan dropped through media proxies, despite the reports that the "fix" was in for Beck, despite Beck's own supreme confidence over the summer, can we really say Beck and Grossman had equal opportunities this preseason?
Technically, I guess the answer is yes. With 21 passes on Thursday night against the Buccaneers, Beck closed the gap to 53-48. Beck didn't exactly impress with those 21 passes, completing only 10 of them. One of those passes was intercepted, and two more probably should have been. It was easy for many to jump to the conclusion that Grossman won the job without doing anything.
But let's think about this a little more. On Thursday, Beck played with a bunch of backup wide receivers and running backs. His line was the first-team line, but the people catching his passes and picking up blitzes against him were novices. It's not the kind of situation that Beck will ever deal with when he's the starter. A quarterback is so dependent on those around him, and the players around Beck on Thursday were far from ideal.
"Anytime you don't go with your first units and you try to separate people -- receivers, running backs, offensive lineman -- sometimes it gets a little ugly," Shanahan said in the same video.
Let's be charitable and consider these half-reps. Here's how you score the preseason quarterback battle:
- Grossman: Two quarters of reps vs. Pittsburgh, two quarters of half-reps vs. Indianapolis, four out of six first-half drives vs. Baltimore, including the two-minute drill.
- Beck: Two quarters of reps vs. Indianapolis, two quarters of half-reps vs. Tampa Bay, two drives vs. Baltimore.
When you look at it that way, Grossman had more legitimate chances than Beck. Now, granted, some of that is nobody's fault. Beck certainly would have played against the Steelers had he not suffered a groin injury in camp. But it's still a reality worth considering when trying to make an informed decision.
Now, consider the reality that Beck needed more than just the same amount of reps as Grossman for us to get a handle on him. We largely know what Grossman is at this point. The preseason game against the Ravens pretty much said it all. When he got into a rhythm, Grossman was fine. When his rhythm was broken, he was erratic. This is what he was in Chicago five years ago and it's what he is today. Beck, on the other hand, has barely played in his NFL career, a point that has been driven home so many times that it's not worth regurgitating.
The conspiracy theory is that Shanahan knows Beck is his guy and only purposely played Grossman more to disguise Beck to his opponents. Maybe that's the case, and we all know Shanahan displays that kind of megalomania sometimes. The more likely scenario, though, is that the sample of reps Beck got in preseason is too small for us to really know if he is worthy of being the team's starting quarterback.
If Grossman is your pick to be the Week 1 starter, that's fine and logical. Just know that your logic, on some level, still rests on the same known vs. unknown quandary that was there at the beginning of the preseason.