Dear Coach Shanahan,
I know you’ve dreamed about shaking President Barack Obama’s hand. You’ve dreamed of leading the Redskins to the White House...with the Lombardi Trophy in your grip.
Your ultimate goal is to bring a championship to our nation’s capital, and now you have a quarterback who can make that happen: Mr. Donovan McNabb.
Way back in 1995, when you took the Denver Broncos’ head coaching job, the great John Elway was dealing with the same “big-game underachiever” stigma that McNabb is facing now.
Of course, Elway had lost three Super Bowls that he and his Broncos were expected to lose. McNabb, meanwhile, has lost four NFC championship games. He and his Eagles were favored to win three of them. Elway was 5-1 in AFC championships. McNabb is 1-4 in NFC title games.
Donovan McNabb is not John Elway.
But Donovan is indeed looking for validation with a world championship, just like Elway was when you arrived in Denver. Elway couldn’t win it alone. McNabb won’t be able to either. But your exceptional track record with the Broncos suggests you won’t depend solely on McNabb to bring a Super Bowl to D.C.
Let’s think back to Denver. Clearly, running back Terrell Davis was the difference maker. He led the NFL in rushing yards from 1996 to 1998. Davis took the heat off Elway and helped him win two Super Bowls...without having to do it all by himself.
You, Coach, have always been a proponent of a strong running game. In your 14 seasons in Denver, your Broncos finished in the top five in the league in rushing yards nine times; the top two four times; the top 10 in 12 seasons. Simply remarkable.
But as you know, a consistent running game is a luxury that Donovan McNabb never had in Philly. Sure, Donovan had the dynamic scat-back Brian Westbrook, but never a feature running back who could shoulder the offensive load.
The Eagles ranked 20th or lower in the league in rushing attempts in seven of McNabb’s 10 seasons as a starter. Only once over that time did the Eagles rank higher than 16th in attempts. These statistics aren’t surprising, since Philly coach Andy Reid has the highest pass percentage of play calls of any coach in NFL history.
But now McNabb is with you in Washington. When asked about your offensive scheme in his initial Redskin press conference in April, Donovan said, "It starts with the run game. I know probably a lot of you from Philly don't know much about that run game. But we will run the ball here."
Clearly, Donovan’s looking forward to handing the ball off more so than in years past. McNabb’s receiving targets will also be good enough if he doesn’t have to throw the ball 40 times per game. That’s where a half-decent running attack comes into play.
What about the veteran running back trio of Larry Johnson, Willie Parker, and Clinton Portis? Well, it could be very challenging to appropriately distribute each back's playing time in a way that will keep each veteran happy while also keeping his legs fresh. Any way you look at it, you’re going to need a young running back in the next year or so.
Fresh legs were always a commodity during your Bronco tenure. In the years following Davis’ sensational stint, Portis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Reuben Droughns, and Tatum Bell all rushed for over 1,000 yards in a season as a Bronco. But Portis is the only one of those backs to have any success anywhere besides Denver.
Clearly, your offensive lines set the stage for your running backs.
Your Broncos consistently had one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, and the O-line is clearly your biggest concern for Washington in 2010. Losing starting guard Mike Williams for the entire season is a bad break right from the get-go. You’ll really need rookie offensive tackle Trent Williams to play like a guy deserving of being the fourth overall pick in last April’s draft.
The building of a formidable O-line in Washington will be crucial to giving your quarterback time to throw and also your running backs space to show their talents.
Your commitment to the running game and offensive line helped your Broncos win 91 games in your final 10 seasons in Denver. But quarterbacks Brian Griese, Jake Plummer, and Jay Cutler didn’t have the big-game experience and winning pedigree that Donovan McNabb has.
The only thing you were missing during those post-Elway years was a polished signal caller.
Of course, Redskin management needs to ink McNabb to a contract extension. Your team won’t be championship-caliber in 2010. But 2011 and 2012 could bring a lot of potential if you set out to build the Skins the same way you made the Broncos a consistent winner.
How great it must have felt, Coach Shanahan, to be a champion in January ’98 and ’99 with the Broncos: to send the Mile High City, virtually, a mile high.
Of course, Washington D.C. isn’t located exactly 5,280 feet above sea level. But what’s the difference? With Donovan McNabb, you’ve finally been reunited with a quarterback that can take you the distance.
Here’s hoping the Shanahan-McNabb Era in D.C. is a massive failure all the same.