Well, it's time for our almost weekly debate on who should be under center this week for the Ravens as they prepare to host the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. Mind you, this should not be a weekly debate, but due to the fact that both Steve McNair and Kyle Boller have taken a significant number of snaps this season, it seems to endure. While Steve McNair has been the starter all season, his injuries have given the opportunities for Boller to step up to the plate and show us what he's got. What he's got has not been overly impressive, as his stats are not significantly better than McNair's in comparison. However, there are a couple of obvious points to consider when looking at the remainder of the season and beyond into the future of this franchise.
As everyone has seen, especially since the debacle on national TV, McNair plays a lot older than his already-ancient 34 years. His body has been battered over the years and the toll taken has compounded to a point this season that it is just time for him to assume the "Vinny Testaverde" role on this team. Whether or not his injuries subside, his body will not be getting better to the point that he will be rejuvenated a la 38 year old Brett Favre. Favre threw the ball 60 yards off his back foot last week. McNair probably couldn't throw it 60 yards with a running start! "Air" McNair used to frustrate defenses with his strong, accurate arm, his legs and tackle-breaking ability, all of which no longer exist as a threat. Therefore, the defense can blitz all day, knowing that not only can he not escape their pass rush, he won't be able to burn their secondary with long passes. This also makes it difficult to establish the running game necessary to set up what limited passing attack he might lead. Combined, this is why all season long, watching this offense operate has been a painful experience for Baltimore Ravens fans.
As critical as I've been, along with most fans, of coach Brian Billick's playcalling, perhaps he gets a pass because he knows and realizes exactly what we see each week. McNair is basically done and coach knows that if he calls plays for McNair to go downfield, it will just be even more disasterous. That said, then why is McNair still the starter? I really can't give you one specific reason, but perhaps there are around 11 million reasons (as in $11 million salary)!
Kyle Boller may not have the head or even the heart of Steve McNair, but he does have a few things that McNair does not. The first is a live, strong arm that is unafraid to throw the ball upfield. Give Boller credit, he might not have the best accuracy or field presence, but he can throw the ball on a line much better than McNair. The second is that Boller has strong legs and can run the ball when pressured out of the pocket, which can keep the defense on their toes and possibly lead to an open field for big gains or even the uncovered pass receiver due to his scrambling ability. Third is that Boller is obviously much more healthy than McNair, leading to all of the aforementioned items just being even more obvious. Finally, the most important thing related to the rest of the season and future of this franchise is this: While Steve McNair is just getting older and more frail, Kyle Boller at least has a chance of improving. The next eight games could be another test to see if this extended opportunity has proven if he learned something behind the wise, old man he's backed up the past two seasons. Then, this franchise will have a much better vision of where to go in the offseason, be it rebuilding this team behind (another) rookie quarterback, or around Kyle Boller.
Now is the time to find out which fork in the road this team needs to take. Start Boller, move the rookie and former Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State, Troy Smith into the backup role and drop McNair to the third string clipboard carrier mentor position - NOW!