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A Big Mac & DJax to go?

What exactly has

Philadelphia
lost in trading quarterback Donovan McNabb?

Well, for one thing Andy Reid is a head coach with an offensive philosophy that has hardly changed much since his tenure began when McNabb was still a rookie back in 1999. I don’t think his trade to

Washington
will give the Redskins any more of an edge over the Eagles than they would have had anyway. McNabb just gives

Washington
the better chance to execute it.

Washington
has played Reid’s Eagles far, far too many times (22 times) and it’s not like people don’t know what to expect from his team. Much like people know what to expect from a Bill Parcells team or a Mike Holmgren team. If
Washington didn’t know what to expect from

Philadelphia
when they come to town by now, then McNabb surely won’t help them to gameplan any further to be honest. It is standard operating procedure to change the audibles and play-calling nomenclature from season to season, and especially when key personnel get traded (Just ask Jim Callahan about Jon Gruden & Super Bowl XXXVII).

It’s true that McNabb does have superior arm strength to Jason Campbell and arguably Kevin Kolb (more of that later) so

Washington
can increase its options on game day against their rivals. But it’s naive to think that they wouldn’t have done something to address that in the next season or two anyway – with or without McNabb. His arrival definitely bumps the value of Santana Moss – but more importantly for those in dynasty leagues – Devin Thomas and  Malcolm Kelly. Antwaan Randle El is gone (back to

Pittsburgh
) and Moss is 31 this June.
Opportunity knocks. Thomas and Kelly – Mr. McNabb will see you now …


Philadelphia
has lost a leader, a veteran and very good quarterback.

Why did
Philadelphia trade him to

Washington
of all teams? That’s a good question, and I’ll give you two answers:

1) Because Reid is a huge fan – still – of No. 5 and wanted to do him the service of repaying his tenure at the club, his time and effort at the club, and his work and leadership by sending him to a franchise where he thought he could achieve something (i.e. not the Raiders or the Bills)

OR

2) Because McNabb could have made things very awkward for Philadelphia by just sitting tight for the year and playing his contract, which would have forced the Eagles to either:

(i) Franchise him and pay him a lot of money for a player they were not going to start and would’ve cause problems with Kevin Kolb’s contract (see below)

(ii) Walk away with no compensation after a season of unnecessary and unintentional dressing room tension and divisions caused – simply – by him doing nothing other than just “being there.”

Either could be true. Call me a cynic if you like – and I’m not calling Reid a liar or saying McNabb threatened anyone with anything – but I’m more inclined and/or jaded enough to say it’s more a case of what’s behind Door No.2, petrifying the Eagles front office, more than Door No. 1. As Brett Favre has proven – you can send a quarterback anywhere and he can still come back into the division, so why waste time and good will trying to force McNabb somewhere when all the leverage in the world is on his side?

So,

Washington
has taken a massive upgrade at quarterback with a player that knows all three of its division rivals well and is good enough to cover WAS for the 2-3 years necessary to groom an heir apparent. It’s a smart move and it didn’t cost them much when you look at some of the other deals that went down for other quarterbacks this offseason (yes, Seattle, I am looking at you …)

So what did Philadelphia get out of it?

Well, the Eagles actually got at least two things so far as I can tell … and arguably three … Firstly, they saved a $6.2 million roster signing bonus due McNabb in the first week of May. That’s a fair amount of change. The fact I list this first despite protesting being cynical means that I think I probably might be, ah well. Worse things can happen.

Secondly, alarmingly overlooked in most reports, is that Kolb’s contract was up at the end of the 2010 season. This quarterback is the one they have groomed for three seasons and have said all along that he was their future guy. It was the same with Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers’ rookie contract was due to expire and they had said this is our future guy. So what were they going to do? Keep McNabb? They’d have to give him a contract that gave him starter money while simultaneously paying Kolb enough to make him interested in staying as a backup at the club? It was just never going to happen …

What would have been really interesting to see is what would’ve happened if McNabb had won both those games last season against the Cowboys. What if he’d taken them deep into the playoffs or even to the Super Bowl? How would this deal have gone down then? We’ll never know – but pause for thought. This could have been really ugly had things gone differently.

Thirdly, I’m going to come back to that. For now … all I’m going to say is that I don’t have favorites in fantasy football. My father-in-law, when I first started playing, famously told me in my rookie season as a manager that “you give new definition to the phrase ‘What have you done for me lately?'” referring to the revolving door policy I had with my roster. I’d also like to point out that I am invested in neither quarterback involved … where my interest lies is in that I am a DeSean Jackson dynasty owner.

The current theory pervading the fantasy football circuit is that McNabb’s arm leaving town is going to devalue
Jackson as his deep ball production leaves with him and

Jackson
‘s production is a deep threat, home run hitter. I say to you – after looking at far, far too many stats – that I’m not too sure about that… Just not too sure at all … To give you an idea, here’s some passing splits taken from
Sports Illustrated:

Philadelphia passing plays split (with McNabb):



Yds Completions Attempts %age Comp. %age of Offensive Plays
McNabb 0 – 10 118 183 64.5 60.0
11 – 20 49 79 62.0 25.9
21 – 30 5 19 26.3 6.2
31 – 40 5 15 3.3 4.9
41 & over 5 9 55.0 3.0



Philadelphia passing plays to Jackson:


Yds Receptions Targets %age Comp.
Jackson 0 – 10 37 57 64.9
11 – 20 10 25 40.0
21 – 30 1 4 25.0
31 – 40 5 8 62.5
41 & over 4 7 57.1



So would Philadelphia even miss the ability to throw the deep ball all that much? Eighty-six percent of its plays are standard WC fare (1-20 yards). An area which even those that dislike Kolb seem to agree is a strength of his. A lot of

Jackson
’s production seems to be as much post catch and his ability to get free as anything to do with the meager 7.9 percent of plays over 30 yards that get dialed up.

That aside, let’s bear in mind the following stats are also true:



  • Jackson
    led the league in receptions over 41 yards (and tying an NFL record) with 10.
  • Kolb threw a third of those 40+ yard passes in just 2.5 games.
  • Of
    Jackson’s 1,167 yards in 2009, 33 percent of that yardage comprised of yards-after-the-catch (394).


  • Jackson
    is making 6.3 yards-after-the catch, two yards better than his rookie season.
  • Forty-one out of his 63 receptions went for first downs.

So he is still improving. He hasn’t reached his ceiling as yet for one thing. It also is further evidence (as if we hadn’t seen the highlights) that McNabb relies on
Jackson more for the effectiveness of his deep-ball ability than

Jackson
relies on McNabb for his home-run potential.

We already see that it’s shaky ground to assume that McNabb’s arm is linked to

Jackson
’s production. Let’s see what his arm actually looks like outside of the numbers … let’s look at the tape and see how this parleys into productivity:

Week 7 at Washington – 57-yard play – underthrown deep ball, Jackson has to break stride and jog backwards almost to a standstill when he catches the ball. The poor velocity and the pass being short gave the

Washington
defense a chance to get close. I’ll give McNabb the benefit of the doubt here though as almost 90 percent of the yardage on this play was McNabb’s arm, and that’s some distance.

Week 8 vs. New York Giants – 54-yard play – Jackson completely uncovered, had time to jog “side on” to his quarterback for what seems like an eternity before the 30-ish-yard pass finally arrives, only then being able to turn downfield and accelerate away after the catch. Fine with the pass here as there was no pressure on either player because of poor coverage and poor pass rush.

Jackson
runs in the remaining 20 yards.

Week 11 at

Chicago
– Heaved into coverage and short. Much shorter than you’d want. The
Chicago cover player should’ve done better because

Jackson
slows and is running while looking at the pass from McNabb for most of the play before making the catch, then accelerating away into the end zone.

Week 12 vs.
Washington


Jackson
is sprinting down the sideline waving and screaming for the ball. Despite having the time and space to do both? Again he has to decelerate to make the catch because of the lack of speed and placement on the pass, before again finally being able to turn fully downfield and turning on the juice to sprint away for the rest of the yardage on the play.

Week 14 vs. New York Giants – Underthrown deep ball, Jackson has to decelerate, the Giants cover player almost gets a diving hand to the pass because of McNabb’s lack of either depth or velocity on the pass (if he’d thrown more cross-field than straight down). He accelerates after the catch and runs in the remaining distance.

Week 15 vs.
San Francisco
– Not a bad throw, not in front of

Jackson
, not over his shoulder, slightly behind him, again. If it wasn’t for the other throws I’ve just been watching I’d say I was nitpicking, but because of the other plays it’s just another sign his “cannon arm” wasn’t all that. At least in 2009.

Now go compare that with the small sample we see of Kolb in 2009:

Week 2 vs. New Orleans – 71-yard play. It was a 37-yard pass into space,

Jackson
doesn’t run sideways, decelerate or back pedal. He catches it over his shoulder and in stride and takes it the remaining 34 yards for a touchdown.

Week 3 vs.

Kansas City
– 43-yard play. A 30-yard pass underneath the deep safety coverage delivered into the middle of the field. Not a great pass as

Jackson
has to break his stride to make the catch. The only thing I prefer on this catch to any number of similar ones by McNabb is the velocity on the pass.


No of games Jackson Targets Jackson Ydg Jackson Tds
McNabb 13.5 101 912.5 7.0
Kolb 2.5 19 254.5 3.0


Jackson targets pr/G Jackson Ydg pr/G Jackson Tds pr/G

McNabb 7.6 67.9 0.52
Kolb 9.2 101.8 0.80


This is just the 2009 season – Don’t forget McNabb cracked that rib in the opening week against

Carolina
. Maybe that niggled him more than we thought? Well it’s certainly possible – but let’s look at the 2008 numbers. McNabb put up 3,916 yards. That’s good. Only problem with that is 1,805 yards of that was made up of yards-after-the-catch (YAC). Dumped passes out the back to Brian Westbrook alone accounted for 20 percent of his overall passing production and a two-yard pass to Westbrook isn’t exactly the most technically challenging pass in the playbook that a quarterback can make.

The bottom line then is that he threw for 2,111 yards on 345 completed passes. That means that for every six yards McNabb threw for, his receivers made up five more for him. Any wide receiver with a YAC above 3.4 yards is doing very well, just to put that into perspective. Again lending credence to the numbers above for 2009. When you look at how many completed passes he made on the 30-plus-yard tiers to

Jackson
? When you look at those completed passes on tape as above? You start seeing flaws in his game as not something that is coming and going, but something that is more persistent. He does have a deep ball. It is there … but it lacks the zip and accuracy some people seem to believe is there. I’d certainly say from the tape and from the numbers that the difference to Kolb’s arm in relation to McNabb’s isn’t anything like what I’m reading about. In fact, I suspect that if anything its negligible to the point of even being slightly in favor of Kolb. That doesn’t make him the better quarterback of the two – merely that the biggest knock on him doesn’t appear to hold much water.

Talking of Kolb, then? Could you say that 11 completions from him to
Jackson from 23 attempts for 250 yards and two touchdowns (with longs of 43, 64 and 71 against
Kansas City and

New Orleans
) over 2.5 games is too small a sample size to judge him a success? Absolutely.

Yet it puzzles me that some people are panning him using the same sample size! It’s certainly worth remembering that in those 2.5 games he played (two as the starter) he faced one of the worst (
Kansas City – 27th), one of the (almost exactly) most average (
Carolina – 17th) and one of the best in the league (

New Orleans
– first). So it’s not that bad of a sample spread, as that’s perfect – just the sample size.

Talking of which? What about the interceptions? That’s a truly terrible ratio (4:3) on the 2.5-game sample …

It certainly is. Any quarterback without sufficient starts under his belt is going to cough it up for a pick or three – just ask Mark Sanchez. I’m not a big believer in saying, “Yeah but if you ignore this stat or that stat then this is true.” They’re stats. They did happen, so deal with it. So I don’t think you can ignore the 4:3 touchdown:interception ratio. I do, however, think that you should put all stats into context …

All three of those interceptions came against

New Orleans
in Week 2. When you are losing 41-22 and you have just over 1:10 left on the clock in the fourth quarter, and in the first full start of your career, I don’t mind you throwing a pick-six going for a touchdown. Heck, if you weren’t going for a touchdown and the opposing defensive coordinator wasn’t expecting you to try for some respectability then I think I’d be a lot more worried! The same is even more true when you have seven seconds left in the fourth quarter and your team is now trailing by over 25 points now. The first pick? Yeah, no question, it’s on Kolb. The

New Orleans
defense does well, but it’s on the quarterback.

So in context? First start, last minute, trailing badly? I’m happy that two of those interceptions aren’t a big deal as he only gave up one interception all game. Against the same defense that kept Peyton Manning to a 333-yard, one-touchdown, one-interception stat line? A line of 391/2/1 until the last minute and change of the fourth quarter and trailing by almost 20 points by a QB in his first full start to the best team in the league is pretty respectable if you ask me.

Is he the “second coming” in Philly? No. He is not. Is he better than a lot of media I’m reading? Yes. He will make more mistakes like he did in the final minute against New Orleans, I’m sure, but I don’t think he will be putting up Sanchez-esque like mistakes (12:20 TD:INT ration in 15 starts) either, despite the fact he’ll be on a pass-heavy rather than the run-orientated offense he was.

So does this make McNabb a bad quarterback? No way!

He’ll not turn it over easy; he’s seen some of the most aggressive defenses in the league in the NFC East and he’ll make his reads and make his adjustments. He’s seen it all before. He’s still sharp enough on his throws to be a huge upgrade over Campbell or any rookie that might be incoming. It’s just that the

Philadelphia
wide receivers have pace to burn and they need a quarterback that can snap the ball in front of them – regardless of where they are on the field. They can make plays all on their own provided they get the ball earlier and faster. They have to slow to a near stop and make adjustments continually? It kills their momentum and generates less chance for a home run hit as defenses get time to adjust and compensate. I think it’s a great acquisition for the Redskins, and whoever the guy that coach Mike Shanahan might draft in to backup for McNabb as a project will be in the enviable position of having both a fabulous mentor (on- and off-the-field) but also the time to develop. Like Kolb. Like Rodgers. Like Tom Brady and Tony Romo did for a season.

Kolb’s limitations aren’t his arm strength, it’s his inexperience. When I look a Philadelphia, I see a team without a powerful, reliable running game (no clock control), a quarterback who will make mistakes as he learns (both of which mean it’s a team that will play from behind sometimes and will always have to play to score) and a team that will pass before they run.

That’s almost a perfect fantasy storm.

Let’s look at what other franchise personnel in the league have to say about

Philadelphia
’s moves over the years:


“One AFC team that did a study of other teams’ personnel decisions said the Eagles fared better than any team in the league in knowing when to keep players and when to cut them loose. He said very few players other than guard Bobbie Williams in 2004, wide receiver Terrell Owens in 2006 and safety Brian Dawkins last year have left Philadelphia and gone on to prosper elsewhere.

“Another NFL executive pointed out that this is why the Eagles deserve the benefit of the doubt on a deal that sent quarterback Donovan McNabb to

Washington
,” ESPN wrote.

Earlier I said

Philadelphia
gained two, arguably three, things out of this trade. I gave the two already and said I’d get back to you with the third, and so I will:

“Hi. My name’s James Elvins and I believe that Kolb will improve not only Jackson‘s numbers but the whole PHI offense”

I know Philadelphia fans aren’t the most patient; I know fantasy managers aren’t the most forgiving either, but I believe the Philadelphia franchise is a better one for the long run and further that we will see short term benefits as early as next season.

He’s not a No. 1 QB, not yet – he’s got all the growing pains to get through that comes with being a new starter first – but he’s not a million miles away. And he’s closing fast.

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