Netflix’s newest sports docuseries, Quarterback, suggests that playing QB is the hardest position anyone can play in a team sport. The filmmakers might be right. But the history and drama packed into the position is so complicated that boiling it down to a TV show means missing the complications and details that make the position so difficult, at least in the first season.
Quarterback follows three QBs — the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, the Minnesota Vikings’ Kirk Cousins, and the Atlanta Falcons’ Marcus Mariota — as they progress through the 2022 NFL season. But unlike Netflix’s biggest sports series, Formula 1: Drive to Survive, the football-focused series struggles to bring out the human side of the elite athletes; we see them at home with their kids, but never get a sense of what that means for them on the field. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to fix Quarterback and help it go from OK to great.
Pick more interesting players
Games are won by putting the best guys on the field. Quarterback season 1 doesn’t do that. While the show’s main coup was landing Mahomes, the 27-year-old Chiefs quarterback/prodigy, the rest of the cast pales in comparison. The aggressively fine Cousins and Mariota, a player who lost his starting job midway through last season, are inevitably lost in Mahomes’ shadow. A second season of Quarterback would benefit from a more intriguing, more successful cast of QBs. Also, just a bigger one. More players being followed with cameras would give more opportunities for more interwoven storylines and fast-footed edits. Here’s one suggestion: Get the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen on this show along with Mahomes so we can see their continuing AFC shootout and rivalry. Or follow an exciting but volatile rookie like Anthony Richardson from the Colts so we can follow him from the first days he steps on the field.
Let the in-game footage tell us a story
The NFL is famously protective of game footage, which makes it pretty exciting that Quarterback gets to use footage from last season. Unfortunately, the show often uses it as a crutch for its episodic narratives, forcing together unrelated games and condensing them into montages instead of building natural tension that the games create. A doc like The Last Dance is a great example of what’s possible when given access. Don’t show us a game-winning touchdown drive with audio from the field; let Cousins or his coach meticulously walk us through how they made the comeback happen and point out the details in the plays we might have missed.
Let the QBs cook
This point is closely tied to the one above, but the best moments in Quarterback are the ones where the production staff coaxes one of the QBs to go deep on one game, play, or decision. Quarterbacks aren’t always the most charismatic, insightful storytellers — as the show points out, Cousins has been interesting and emotional exactly once in public and it instantly became a meme — but they do know football better than almost anyone on the planet. When the players just talk down-and-dirty football, they light up. Listening to the differences in how Kirk Cousins and Patrick Mahomes approach comebacks, or hearing Marcus Mariota try to pull himself out a rut mid-game, is exactly the kind of insight that separates the show from just being a big-budget fancam.
Combining those interview segments with the actual NFL game footage could result in sports analysis you can’t get from a panel show on ESPN, no matter how many former players they include. Moments like seeing Mahomes go deep on the tics or tells he notices while watching his opponents on film, and how that helped him score a touchdown or win a game, is insight only a player could provide. Even if the QB lineup in season 1 is lacking, all the subjects seem perfectly personable and ready to deliver on what Quarterback does best. Patrick Mahomes isn’t himself when he’s driving a camera crew around; he’s himself when he’s breaking down defensive coverages or talking about the intricacies of offensive play calling.
Focusing more on the games would also allow the show more room away from the players’ personal lives, which are great color for the series, but feel old and repetitive just a few episodes in.
Let the teammates shine
As anyone who watches football might expect, Quarterback actually includes quite a bit of its QB stars talking up their teammates. Receivers, tight ends, running backs, linemen, coaches, and trainers all get key shoutouts that make their lack of participation in the show a little confusing. Hearing Justin Jefferson talk about how he ran a route to help Cousins out, or Travis Kelce explain how Mahomes improvises, would have deepened the explanation of how teams win games and what behind-the-scenes relationships made it all happen.
Quarterback is in a complicated position right now. For all its issues, it’s still a pretty entertaining show that has moments of big payoff for fans who only understand the 2022 season on a surface level. Mahomes breaking down a game-winning drive or seeing Cousins fight through a myriad of injuries is fascinating when they narrate it themselves. But those moments are the exception right now, rather than the norm.
The good news is Quarterback is also exactly where any NFL team would want a promising prospect to be: successful early, despite its many mistakes, but with plenty of room to grow.