CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 23: Graham Harrell #6 of the Green Bay Packers passes the football against the Cincinnati Bengals during a preseason NFL game at Paul Brown Stadium on August 23, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Let's cut to the quick; Graham Harrell is a lightning rod this preseason. Some stand by him. Some can't wait for the Packers to cut him. Throughout this preseason, he has not really been put in an easy position. He was doubted coming into the year and needed put together some good performances to win over the fan base and media. Unfortunately, he simply has not done that yet. This leaves many, many parts of Packer Nation left asking why. Generally, there are two answers to this question:
1. He doesn't have the chops to be the guy if called upon.
2. The pieces around him are awful and he's set up to fail. (A milder form of this would be that he's not as bad as it looks because the rest of the backups on offense aren't that good.)
So which one is it? No matter which camp you gravitate toward there is one thing that we all can agree upon: the second-team offense simply isn't working.
Let's start with the most reasonable statement: it's impossible to truly understand who is to blame for what. For example, in last Thursday's game, Harrell was sacked when a Bengal defender came free off the line and plowed into him. This could be the fault of the LT, who didn't even think about blocking this guy, leaving Harrell blind to the oncoming defender. It could be the center, for not communicating the right protection scheme. It could be Harrell, for not reading the defense correctly or calling the right protection scheme. It could've been someone else's responsibility to pick up that particular side if a rush came. Only the coaching staff knows the answer for sure, and that's why they are the ultimate judge of who is to blame.
That said there are also some flashes where it seems Harrell is making a poor decision. Another example from the Bengals game, Harrell throws into triple coverage down the center of the field. This is a very dangerous throw and one an NFL QB needs to typically avoid, a thought of mine verified by the color commentator from the Packer broadcast network. Now, Rich Gannon isn't the best color guy out there, but when he points out that the throw is a bad decision by the QB I tend to trust it. I trust it even more when he's paid by the Packers to call that game and still makes that call. Harrell has had moments like this in all three of the preseason games. Worse is that there hasn't seemed to be much growth for Harrell.
Quarterbacks are always judged differently from other players. It's part of the position; they get too much credit when the offense does well and too much blame when the offense stagnates. Right now, the second team offense is stagnating, and so Harrell takes a majority of the blame. Right now, there are some serious questions about his ability to be an adequate backup going into this year. We can try to excuse these three sub-par to straight-up bad performances by shifting blame to other members of the offense, but in the end the buck stops somewhere. On offense, the blame goes back to the QB. Harrell needed to show the media and the Packer faithful that he could adequately lead the offense, and he generally has not done that this preseason.
That said, I fully expect him to be on the roster. Ted Thompson's comfort zone is trusting in his coaches and scouts. He trusts his scouts to find the talent and he trusts his coaches to get that talent ready to play. It's not perfect, but there have been more hits than misses. This offseason has brought about some key departures from this comfort zone, but I don't think there is another move left in Thompson to shake things up again. Thompson rolled the dice on Matt Flynn and it worked out. He rolled the dice on Aaron Rodgers and it paid off big time. Despite his struggles, look for Thompson to roll the dice on Harrell and hope that all works out.
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