NFL: Does Donovan McNabb's Attitude Cloud Opinions on his NFL Play?

KC ClyburnCorrespondent IIFebruary 6, 2011

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 19:  Quarterback Donovan McNabb #5  of the Washington Redskins on the sidelines against play against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on December 19, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

I hear it all the time, but most recently I heard it on my "10 Reasons Rex Grossman Should Be The Starter Next Season" article.

Upon seeing this, several people commented, "You guys deserve to have Rex Grossman as your quarterback after the way Shanahan treated McNabb. He deserves better."

This seems to be the same argument that was used when McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins from the Philadelphia Eagles. People openly criticized Philly for trading McNabb—and in the division no less—to a rival with a new head coach who was striving to change the culture.

Much of McNabb's time in Philly was met with fans of other teams wondering why Philadelphia seemed to have a never-ending problem with their Hall of Fame quarterback.

Statistically-speaking, McNabb was the best quarterback Philly ever had. He bought them five NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl appearance. He made Pro Bowls. He made receivers that might be lucky to be on other teams' practice squads into quality guys.

And all the while, McNabb handled all the criticism that was hurled at him with dignity, pride and class. He seemed unflappable, even through conservative talk show hosts blasting him, even with fans booing on his draft day and despite being benched for Kevin Kolb, McNabb seemed fine.

In a lot of ways, this made Philly's fans even more annoyed with him.

When McNabb finally came to Washington, the thought was, those days were long gone.

Washington has been longing for a franchise quarterback since Lawrence Taylor broke Joe Theismann's leg on Monday Night Football. Many quarterbacks came and went, but Washington never seemed to become attached to any of them. Often times, the quarterback on the bench was the most popular quarterback on the team.

McNabb was supposed to the be the answer to Redskins Nation's prayers.

He wasn't.

And now there stands a good chance McNabb will be donning a new uniform for his third team in three years. Most people can't believe what has happened, and perhaps for good reason. After all, a quarterback of McNabb's stature deserves better, and if the Washington Redskins won't give him that respect, some other team will.

As former Redskin Deion Sanders would say, "Hold on, player."

There is no doubt that, despite all the adversity he has faced, McNabb has been classy, well-spoken and has appeared to be the constant victim of individuals never really believing in him. But one must wonder, as people who are fans of other football teams, who did not see the Redskins play every week, condemn the team and the coach for their action, if the perception of Donovan "The Football Player" is affected by Donovan "The Man."

Many people will point to McNabb's stats and say he is the second least intercepted quarterback in the NFL, second only to Tom Brady. This stat would be impressive in an offense that worked like the Patriots' does, not the one Andy Reid built for McNabb.

Reid designed an offense that showcased McNabb's strengths and hid his weaknesses. One of his strengths is his big arm; the Eagles love to get vertical and stretch the field.

A weakness of McNabb?

Accuracy. Precision passing has always been a problem for him. This is why Brian Westbrook (and later, LeSean McCoy) became huge pieces of the Eagles' offense because they had an ability to cover up a critical hole in McNabb's game. By utilizing checkdowns and screens instead of the short and intermediate routes a West Coast offense is usually built around, Reid made McNabb look more efficient than he really was.

That fell apart when McNabb came to Washington, in which short and intermediate accuracy were at a higher premium than simply checking the ball down. McNabb was asked to shift his entire way of thinking. Instead of a checkdown, dump-off or short route being his first option, he had to scan the field from the deep ball down to the checkdown. If he wasn't missing wide-open receivers, he was making it hard for his receivers to catch the ball by either drilling it into their hands or throwing it at their feet.

Mike Shanahan loves speed receivers like Santana Moss and Anthony Armstrong, who can be sent deep or make plays after the catch, but with McNabb throwing ground balls and trying to overcompensate for his lack of accuracy with his arm strength by throwing as hard as possible, that left the offense in a stalled state.

"But wait!", some would cry. "McNabb has no weapons, no run game and a bad offensive line in Washington! Of course he can't succeed!"

To which I answer, "When has McNabb ever had a great o-line or a run game or weapons in Philly?"

One of the things McNabb was credited with in his time in Philadelphia was taking average (at best) receivers and turning them into above average guys. The only receiver I can name off the top of my head he threw the ball to in Philly was Hank Baskett, and I guarantee you, I do not remember that name because of his football prowess.

Freddie Mitchell, Todd Pinkston, L.J Smith and Greg Lewis weren't what one would call a top tier receiving corps. None of them have done much since leaving Philly, and with good reason as they all aren't very talented. 

People tend to look at the recent years and the additions of receiving talents such as DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant, coupled with tight end Brent Celek and frown down their noses at the Redskins receiving corps. But for a long time though, McNabb had worse than average people to throw the ball to, and in his career, the only truly great, tall receiver he ever had was Terrell Owens...and we all know how that ended.

The Eagles o-line has, at best, been slightly above average. For the most part, McNabb was perfect in hiding how bad the offensive line could be with his mobility before Reid molded him into more of a pocket passer.

And Reid has become famous (and damn near hated) for his almost bold refusal to run the football.

This is not the same as it is in Washington; in Washington, the shoddy o-line couldn't open big enough holes for running backs, leading to an over-reliance on passing the ball.

In Philly, with running backs like Westbrook and McCoy, who seemingly could take it to the house anytime they touched the ball, the fact that Reid refused to run the ball (often leaving his quarterbacks out to dry as teams blitzed and pressured at will without the threat of a running game) seemed ludicrous.

Coming to a team that actually wanted to run the ball and take the pressure off him, but simply couldn't, should've been an upgrade. But when McNabb was called upon to win football games, he simply could not do it.

His flaws were exposed in Washington, which led to a clash of wills between the quarterback and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. It's fashionable to say Mike Shanahan took his son's side in the feud. In fact, McNabb's agent implied much of the same thing in an inflammatory press release following his benching at the end of the season.

The younger Shanahan has been painted as a villain who wouldn't adjust his offense to McNabb's style of play. Sports analysts (people who actually get paid to do their research and look at film) quickly clung to that statement, as did a majority of other fans who never watched the games. For example, Smith claimed Kyle Shanahan refused to implement elements into the offense McNabb was more comfortable with, such as the aforementioned screens and checkdowns.

This is a blatant lie.

The game film and even game highlights demonstrate the exact opposite.  Wide receiver screens, running back screens, checkdowns and even the shovel pass were all added to the offense in the wake of McNabb's first benching, perhaps even before then (as early as the Lions game), if not earlier. Watching the Tennessee Titans game, it seems as though all they did was run screen passes and the like all game, and it worked for a week because the Redskins hadn't run it.

Then they played the Giants the next week, and despite some weakness in their secondary, again they tried screen passes, but it was a no-go. This was despite the Redskins' offensive line actually managing to buy him time to pass.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers game seems to be the game everyone points to as the game that should've solidified Donovan as the guy.  While he finished the game with respectable stats, there were at least three passes that should've been picked off—and would've been had it not been raining—, and more of those passes were thrown directly as his player's legs.

McNabb is an 11-year veteran, but at times he looked like a rookie, not a veteran, composed, poised quarterback.

During the Giants game, McNabb executed a play-action bootleg. Despite the first down marker being less than a yard away from where he was standing, he took what seemed like forever to simply run for the first down and keep the drive alive. He looked down field, unable to find someone open, before he finally stepped across the first down marker and kindly fumbled the ball upon being tackled. McNabb had miles of grass in front of him and could've run for a big gain, but instead made a rookie mistake.

McNabb has consistently been talked about amongst the elite quarterbacks in the league. This despite the fact that, in his 12-year career, he has only had a completion percentage above 60 percent twice. He has never thrown for 4,000 yards or more in a season. He ranks fourth all time in career interception ratio, but that doesn't take into account the throw aways, the checkdowns and the footballs not even his own receivers could catch.

Are we grading McNabb fairly, or are we grading him on a curve? Does the fact that he's a nice guy influence and impact the way we think about him on the field?

I think so.

The fact that Mike Shanahan has gone from respected, Super Bowl-winning coordinator and head coach to pariah and egotistical nepotist in a matter of months proves it. This is not the first time Shanahan has benched a quarterback; it happened to Mark "Bubby" Briester, it happened to Bob Griese and Jake Plummer. This is not some new, odd behavior that manifested itself when Shanahan became head coach of the Redskins; this is history. 

Shanahan even hinted as much before the Tampa Bay game, saying he wanted an opportunity to evaluate Grossman and John Beck, and you can bet your bottom dollar that if Grossman had struggled, Beck would've finished the season as the starting quarterback.

This isn't new territory for the head coach, and dare I say, had any other quarterback suffered the same fate—say, former Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell—no one would complain. Campbell was ridiculed and chased out of town, despite the fact that he continued to improve during the course of his career.

The same things people say are true of Washington now—lack of receivers, lack of a running game, bad o-line—were true when Campbell was quarterback. But despite it all, Campbell was blamed solely for the Redskins' down seasons. Despite the fact that he actually improved statically when the Redskins went 4-12, 'Skins fans practically begged for a new quarterback.

Now we are back at the same position, and the same things that could not be helped when Campbell was quarterback, and the same things that were unfairly put on his shoulders, are now placed on everyone else's. What was once all Campbell's fault, is now everyone else's fault.

This is not an indictment of McNabb. Quite the opposite. I want McNabb to succeed. I want him to get his Super Bowl ring, I want him to finally prove his detractors, even myself, dead wrong.

I'm just not sure he can do it in Washington.

The mistake the Redskins made was in getting rid of Campbell and hoping they could make a quick run at the playoffs. The team needed to desperately rebuild, and it would've been a far better move if the Redskins had retained Campbell's services, brought in Rex Grossman and seen if they could develop former Redskins quarterback Colt Brennan into something. They should've started the process that should've begun when Campbell was drafted in the first place; building up around him.

Instead, they find themselves back where they started. No quarterback and all sorts of uncertainty.

But don't claim the Redskins deserve their misfortune because of how Mike Shanahan treated McNabb.

Shanahan's biggest mistake was not benching his quarterback for bad play. It was lying about the reasons why. When McNabb's first benching occurred during the Detroit Lions game, Shanahan came up with a set of bogus excuses. He introduced the term "cardiovascular endurance" into the football lexicon, then claimed Grossman knew the two-minute offense better than McNabb (which, in all honesty, it's possible he did). 

What Shanahan should've said, simply, if he had to say something at all, was, "Donovan didn't play well. For one, we wanted to keep him healthy, because the offensive line struggled a bit. But after that play where he threw into triple coverage, I felt as though I wanted to give Rex Grossman his opportunity to see what he could do."

Bam. Simple.

By trying (in a weird way) to protect McNabb, Shanahan painted himself as a fool.

McNabb's poor play cost them the game versus the Indianapolis Colts. If it hadn't been for a superhuman, record-tying performance by DeAngelo Hall and a false start penalty caused by McNabb's inability to quickly relay the play calls, the Redskins would've lost to the Bears. McNabb's late fourth quarter interception throwing into triple coverage cost the 'Skins the Lions game long before Grossman came in and fumbled the ball on his first snap. 

Shanahan was not going to do something different than what he had done in the past just to save face. I don't think he particularly cares what the media thinks of him, so long as he's winning football games, and the fact of the matter is, McNabb wasn't helping the team win. The games the team won, they won in spite of McNabb, not because of him.

I have nothing but respect and admiration for Donovan McNabb "The Man." He is a consummate professional. No one would complain if he finally flipped his lid and told the many coaches, fans and analysts who doubted him to screw off. He's a class act, and a locker room presence that has bought a lot of stability to the organization.

But it's not McNabb's attitude that lost him (another) starting job. It's his play on the field. Fans would do well to separate the guy that McNabb is from the player he can be.

McNabb still has something left in the tank, a tiny bit of greatness, on a team that's better than the Redskins. The Redskins will get on with or without Donovan, and Donovan will likely be successful with another team.

But I will warn whichever other team  that is to be careful and wary of being happy to have Donovan "The Man." Because if Donovan "The Football Player" doesn't show up on the field, you could have as much success as the Washington Redskins did this season.


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