The Blame Game

Phil Simms, who I thought was just okay during the Super Bowl broadcast, chimed in on NBC10 Philly yesterday regarding the Eagles neverending quarterback quandary. Now, signal callers in general normally avoid all out trashing a fellow member of the elite fraternity, so Simms’ comments about Donovan McNabb should be taken with a grain of salt. When asked about the two agonizing losses to the Cowboys, here’s what Phil had to say:

I saw a quarterback who did not get protection basically in either game, that was running for his life and if it wasn’t for him they’d probably have sack records down in Dallas. They were around his feet, hitting him, doing everything the whole time. I saw a lot of problems with the Eagles football team and quarterback was way down that list. There were a lot of problems above him. To bring that debate straight to the quarterback is wrong. There were many other factors that caused the Eagles to lose that wasn’t Donovan McNabb.”

Those of us who aren’t McNabb haters would likely concur with Simms. Placing all the blame on 5 is just nuts. Since he gets paid to be critical, Simms offered some criticism as well:

“Do I believe accuracy is a weakness of Donovan McNabb? Absolutely. I think it’s what it comes down to when people criticize him. He does miss open receivers that you’d expect a Peyton Manning and those types of throwers to hit at an extremely high rate. But McNabb brings other qualities. He’s big, strong, works around and he has a powerful arm. He makes a few throws in every single game that only a handful of guys can make in the NFL.”

It is true that Don has one of the strongest arms in the NFL and because of that can make some uncanny throws that most guys couldn’t dream of completing. However, the problem is and always has been those pesky easy passes. Three or four per game can add up to a lot of missed opportunities during a season, and in a sport that’s all about converting on the limited chances you are bestowed, it can be the difference between 11-5 and 14-2.

The pessimist in me says that Don is never going to improve his accuracy. He’s been in the league for 11 years. You don’t just suddenly become a 65% completion guy overnight. In other words, we can expect more of the same in 2010, meaning a couple terrible games and a few others in which he is great one half, inconsistent the next.

The optimist in me believes that Reid and Co. will start to alleviate the pressure on their aging quarterback by running the ball more and better. Maybe if Don isn’t asked to hurl it 40 times a game, he might be a little more relaxed when he does have to drop back. Of course this is wishful thinking because the Birds are a pass-first offense. Problem is Donovan isn’t really a pass-first quarterback.

What do Peyton, Eli, Brees, Brady, Favre, Roethlisberger, Schaub, Rodgers, Rivers, Warner, Romo, Cutler and Palmer all have in common? Each has eclipsed 4000 yards in a season at least once. They also happen to have ten Super Bowl wins an 15 appearances between them.

McNabb falls into a category with the likes of Hasselbeck and Delhomme. Guys who have been to the Big Game once without having surpassed the 4000 yard mark. None of them has made a return trip either. You can certainly factor in missed games due to injury, but Brees, Manning and Favre usually only need 13 or 14 games to hit 4000.

What’s my point? If your quarterback isn’t an elite passer he will need a better than average running attack to offset his limitations. In 2003, Delhomme guided the Panthers to the final game aided by Stephen Davis who rushed for over 1400 yards and eight touchdowns. In 2005, Hasselbeck piggybacked Shaun Alexander’s 1880 yards and 27 scores to reach the title tilt.

Reid has been masquerading Don as being something he isn’t. If you ever saw McNabb play at Syracuse what you witnessed was a playmaking quarterback capable of throwing and running. He was asked to carry the ‘Cuse for four years and he did so, but he wasn’t good enough to make them a national title contender. For that, he would have needed some help, which he never really got.

His career path as an Eagle has been eerily similar. Until Brian Westbrook emerged as a dynamic dual-threat in 2004, Don had very little to work with. One season with Terrell Owens and the last two with DeSean Jackson has provided glimpses of brilliance, but not enough to translate to a championship.

Take Super Bowl XXXIX for example. The Eagles lost partly because McNabb was asked to chuck it 51 times, while the pathetic ground game netted 45 yards on 16 attempts. Sure, Don tossed a couple awful interceptions, but zero help from the backfield made his job that much tougher. It’s not as if the Birds were down by 20 points and had to mount an aerial bombardment to get back in it. The game was tied 14-14 after three quarters.

So, when placing blame it might be wise to look at the philosophy, not just the player. Reid has been asking Donovan to run an unbalanced offense for over a decade. An offense that he’s never really been equipped to run. Maybe Kevin Kolb is a better fit for Reid’s style of play-calling. At this point, it’s too early to tell. Maybe Kolb will get his shot down the road. Or maybe he’ll be with another team in 2011. Nobody knows.

Is Don inaccurate at times? Yes. Does he hold the ball too damn long? Yup. Is he susceptible to long periods of funk? You bet he is. But when you play for the pass happiest coach in the history of the game and you don’t possess the same talent as Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady, it could be that you aren’t the problem.

It could be that the guy in charge is to blame. Unfortunately, he ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.

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Tags: Donovan McNabb Phil Simms Super Bowl XLIV

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