McNabb Injury Has Eagles Looking For Plan B

Ron GloverSenior Analyst INovember 21, 2006

IconI knew it wasn't good when he tried to get up and went right back down...

Then out came the green cart - symbolic of a hearse taking the Eagles 2006 season to a distant hereafter.

There is no amount of optimism that will convince me that this franchise can ever be the same again - at least not for a long time. Whether or not Donovan McNabb can ever regain his form after the torn ACL is going to remain a mystery for the next year, but here's what's not so ambiguous: No matter how many people claim Brian Westbrook to be the Eagles' most dangerous weapon, and no matter how many idiots loved Terrell Owens in midnight green, the truth is that nothing could run without Number Five.
Prior to this season, a lot of people in Philadelphia were saying that McNabb would be in trouble Terrell Owens leading the receiving corps. Donovan proved them wrong. I stated before the season that if McNabb could count on enough solid and dependable weapons, he would find a way to be successful. Up to (and even after) the New Orleans game, he was just that. He took advantage of the deep threat in Dante Stallworth, an over-the-middle guy in Reggie Brown, and a decent possession receiver in Greg Lewis. He worked seamlessly with L.J. Smith and the do-it-all back in Westbrook. His leadership was also top notch - when he dug the Eagles into a hole against Tampa Bay, he was able to dig them out again with the same shovel. 

Ultimately, no matter how you slice it, everything on this team comes down to McNabb. There is no single player (outside of maybe Westbrook) who has caused opposing teams to alter their game plan. So who's going to drive the Eagles into the playoffs? Westbrook? Jeff Garcia? A.J. Feeley? Andy Reid?

The answer is none of the above.

Excuse my fatalist view - but the Eagles have a system that's built exclusively for McNabb: the rollouts, the bootlegs, the routes that are tailor-made for a quarterback of his arm strength and mobility. Everyone else is asked to fill a defined and limited role - it's always been up to McNabb to fill in the blanks.

And that's where this organization has failed.

I'm not going to say that the team needs a star at every position. But championship squads often get it done with depth and preparedness, and more times than not Andy Reid has let dependable free agent after dependable free agent get away - players who could've made a difference right now. 

The Eagle's offensive problems are also compounded by a decaying defensive side; this D is not the same one that proved dominant during the first five years of Reid's regime. It's gotten older, slower, and a lot less reliable. Seventeen points just won't get it done anymore.

And the problems don't even end there. This year Reid needed to bring out a focused team, a disciplined team. Thus far, he has not been able to do so - and it has cost the organization dearly. All of their losses can be attributed either to a lack of focus or a lack of discipline, and as a coach eight years deep into his tenure (in a title-starved city no less), Reid should know better. Dropped passes, flag-kicking, crotch-kicking, and twelve-men-on-the-field penalties are not acceptable in the NFL - especially not when the game and your season are on the line.

Still, there's something that worries me more than the possibility of McNabb never being the same again. If this proves to be the case - if Donovan's really done - can Andy Reid groom another young quarterback?  Keep in mind that the two men's careers fully parallel one another. Reid had time to prepare the offense to cater to McNabb's skills; Donovan was Reid's first draft pick, and together they took football in Philadelphia to new heights.

The face of the Philadelphia Eagles is going to change eventually - the question is how the team will change with it. If McNabb recovers, will the Eagles brass pressure Reid to ditch a pass-first philosophy that has only been successful in the autumn months? Will the organization discover the value of a running game and actually get the type of power back(s) needed to deliver the NFC East? Defensively, are they willing to go out and get solid young players to replace those who are past their prime? Will they draft for now instead of later?

Only time will tell.

For now, here's a note to Andy: You said on Sunday that you now have a chance to look at yourself during the bye week. During the next few months, look again - and look very hard. What you see will determine your future in Philadelphia.