This weekend, the Houston Texans nearly dropped a game to one of the worst teams in the NFL. It was an offensive shootout with little defense to speak of from either team, and the Texans emerged from overtime with the victory.
The other story line that came from the Texans near-miss was the possible end of the Blaine Gabbert era in Jacksonville. After leaving the game early with an injury to his throwing arm, backup quarterback Chad Henne entered the game and threw for over 300 yards and four touchdowns. Henne's spectacular performance may have ended Gabbert's hopes of keeping his job beyond 2012.
Young quarterbacks are difficult to evaluate, especially when those players are installed in poor organizations. Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill are all facing difficulties in transitioning to the pro level.
Cam Newton looked nothing short of amazing in his rookie year, but this season, he's shown little leadership, and the Panthers' 2-8 record reflects Newton's inability to get the job done when it matters most.
Christian Ponder started 2012 with a number of strong showings, but he's cooled off considerably. On the other hand, his team is still 6-4, and firmly in the playoff hunt.
In many cases, teams drafting a quarterback won't know exactly what they have for three or even four seasons. Chad Henne's role in Jacksonville illustrates how backup quarterbacks can speed up that process.
The Jaguars have been awful on offense since Blaine Gabbert took over last season. Starting in week three of 2011 and continuing through last weekend, no other quarterback started for the Jaguars, despite Gabbert's struggles. With Henne now in the starting lineup and Gabbert on IR, the Jaguars will have an opportunity to troubleshoot their offensive woes.
If the Jaguars find that their offense is just fine with Henne, the decision to waive Gabbert in the offseason should be a rather simple and straightforward decision to make. If, however, their offense continues to struggle, the Jaguars will have to ponder the future of the quarterback position.
In short, letting a backup quarterback play can help diagnose an offense's woes. Mike Mularkey made the right decision pulling the plug on Blaine Gabbert, and Gene Smith made the right move putting him on IR. It prevents a quarterback controversy, and it allows the Jaguars to get an unhindered look at Henne for the next six games.
Some of the young quarterbacks I listed above will have fine NFL careers, but a few of them may be busts, just waiting to be discovered. It's in those cases that having a competent backup quarterback is helpful in weeding them out before they cost their team's too much time an effort.