Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Quarterback Quiz: Philadelphia Eagles

Sorry for the delay, but my last few days have been booked solid -- class, and working when I'm not in class, and running around looking for another job once I get done temping at the college bookstore, and doing all this on a bad foot. I am finally back to continue with the Quarterback Quizzes, and with the Eagles will conclude both the NFC and the AFC East. Only six more divisions and twenty-four more quarterbacks to go! Huzzah.

Philadelphia Eagles (8-8): Donovan McNabb

McNabb is roughly the NFL equivalent of MLB's Rich Harden, which is to say, a phenomenal talent who just can't seem to stay healthy long enough to actually put it into gear for sustained stretches. That's unfair to McNabb, as he's actually played more than one game at a time without breaking something and has been very good when he does, but it's also fair to say that he has durability issues. He missed only two games this year, but six the year before that, almost half the season in 2005, and although he got in a few almost-full seasons in 2004 and 2003, he yet again missed six games in 2002. Seeing as the season, after all, is only sixteen games long, that's a sizable chunk of time. He led the Eagles to Super Bowl XXXIX in 2004, but Philadelphia was only 6-10 the following year. They rebounded to 10-6 in 2006 and then fell to break-even 8-8 this year.

The funny thing was, there were none of these durability questions for McNabb at the outset of his career. A four-year starter at Syracuse University, he started every game for the Orange, amassing a 33-12 record and a whole slew of awards and accomplishments. He was drafted second overall in 1999, otherwise amusing because Philly's responsible and intelligent fans booed the decision -- they wanted the Eagles to pick UT running back Ricky Williams. Yep, the one who loves him some Mary-Jane. Then again, no one had ever doubted the brilliance of Philly fans before, so it was totally out of character for them to do that, of course. Also, nobody has a 20/20 hindsight glass, otherwise the world would be a lot different, but I enjoy laughing at those Mensa Philly fans' expense.

When healthy, McNabb possesses elite-level talent. His ratings for the last four years (in reverse from this year) are 89.9, 95.5, 85.0, and 104.7 (the last coming in 2004, the Eagles' NFC championship season, where they lost 24-21 to the Patriots in the Super Bowl. McNabb threw for 30 completions, 357 yards, and 3 TDs, but also was responsible for three killer interceptions, including a Hail Mary in the endzone in the last seconds, and got sacked four times). He's good about maintaining a high number of TDs to a low number of INTs (19/7 this year, and 18/6, 16/9, and 31/8 for '06, '05, and '04). His 3,324 yards total this season was his highest since his elite '04 campaign, and his third-highest overall. He also doesn't get picked often -- he trails only former Steeler Neil O'Donnell in picks-per-passes ratio, averaging an interception once every 46 attempts. And despite being sacked 12 times in one game this year (against the Giants, and six of those were by Osi Umenyiora) he has generally good control of the ball, with only nine fumbles (and three of them in that disastrous Giants game). Nobody has doubted that McNabb has the physical skills to compete at the highest level, but all the injury concerns make it unclear that he'll be able to stick around a great deal longer.

Of course, McNabb also has the misfortune to be playing in front of some of the most obnoxious and crass fans in the NFL, who routinely launch calls to have him cut when they think he's not living up to their standards. After McNabb had to miss the Patriots game in Week 12 (due to an injury incurred against the Dolphins) and backup A.J. Feeley turned in a fine performance (27/42, 345, 3 TD/3 INT, 83.9 rating) the Philly sports media was predictably rife with calls for McNabb to step aside gracefully and cede the job to Feeley. The very next week against the Seahawks, Feeley completed 19 of 42 attempts, threw one TD and four interceptions to record a miserable 30.0 rating, and the media backtracking almost left carpet burns. McNabb has patiently stuck out nine years in front of this carnival of sports wolves, who are just as (if not more) vicious as the ones in Boston and New York, and while he has the tools, the longevity is a question. As of now, McNabb still expects to be taking snaps for Philly in 2008, but the problem with fragile quarterbacks is that they constantly break and then you have to play your pick-machine backup for long stretches at a time. After 2001, McNabb signed a $115 million, 12-year contract with the Eagles, so he could be around as late as 2013, but it wouldn't hurt the Eagles to see what's out there in case he goes down, again. A team with A.J. Feeley as the starter isn't one that can compete in the NFC East, a team with a healthy Donovan McNabb is -- but that's the question.

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