This week, in an attempt to get a better understanding of the Redskins ahead of the Eagles monday night matchup, I had a conversation with CSN Washington's Rich Tandler. You can catch my responses to his questions on CSNWashington.
The Redskins have now seen a half a season of Donovan McNabb... Do you think they'd do the trade again? Are the fans still in favor of the deal?
While it is easy to say that they probably wouldn't have made the deal, given the recent turmoil surrounding McNabb and his 75 quarterback rating, the fact is that, at the time, they needed a quarterback. Jason Campbell is having some modest success in Oakland now but he desperately needed a change of scenery. They could have drafted one but after it became clear that the Rams were going to take Sam Bradford first overall, there was not a quarterback in the draft worth the fourth overall pick. Second round QB's are a crapshoot at best, especially if you need one to start right away. So, yes, I think they do the deal again out of simple necessity. There is no guarantee that any other quarterback they would have obtained would have picked up the offense any faster, especially given that it is new to all of the players on offense, not just the quarterback.
I think most fans are still in wait and see mode. Certainly there is more skepticism about the deal now than there was in April but the general consensus is to give it a full season before judging it. Most are giving him a partial pass since the offensive line hasn't been very good and that besides Santana Moss, who at this stage of his career should be a number two or three receiver not a number one, there are not consistent threats at wide receiver.
The Washington defense is giving up the second most yardage per game in the NFL. So the stats seem to say they're pretty poor, but when I've watched them they haven't seemed so bad. Do the stats give us an accurate representation of the Redskins defense?
No. The biggest thing that the yardage stats don't reflect is takeaways. The Redskins have 19 of them, which is two more than they had all of last year. While the defense has been in the top 10 in terms of yardage the last couple of seasons, the defense had not scored on a return since 2007. This year defensive touchdowns have been the difference in wins over Dallas and Chicago and LaRon Landry's overtime interception set up the winning field goal in overtime against Green Bay. Those are three of their four wins. And the takeaways have been very useful in terms of getting good field position for a struggling offense.
Apart from the turnovers, and the players hate to hear this, it's been a classic bend but don't break defense. Although, as you noted, they are near the bottom of the pack in yardage, they are near the middle in terms of giving up points. The Packers, for example, racked up 427 yards but only had 13 points to show for it and the Redskins won.
In recent years, even as the Redskins have struggled to win a lot of games they've always been an effective running team. Now they bring in a guy famous for good running games in Denver and they can't run the ball. Is it the offense? The line? The backs?
It's Donovan McNabb's fault, of course. Everything is. If there is too much snow in DC this winter, if there is gridlock in Congress, if traffic is jammed on the Beltway, if the cherry blossoms don't appear on time this spring, it's Donovan's fault.
Seriously, it's mostly the offensive line. While it has been upgraded considerably from last years disaster it still is a work in progress, especially when it comes to learning Mike Shanahan's zone blocking scheme. It requires teamwork and timing and while most of the group has been working together since the start of training camp it still isn't there.
And on the rare occasions that line executes well, the backs, primarily Ryan Toran and Clinton Portis, have not always been able to find the cutback lanes. Portis, of course, knows the offense from when he played for Shanahan in Denver but he hasn't played since he went out during the game in Philly. Torain has had some good games in terms of yardage but he hasn't been consistently moving the chains or setting up up second and four. He's learning and he could be the feature back going forward but he's not there yet. (Note: Portis and Torain both could be out this week with injuries. The Eagles could see Keiland Williams, an undrafted rookie, as the main back and a couple of other inexperienced backs in relief.)
It seems to me like there's a chance this game could be won or lost in the first quarter. If any team ever needed a good start in any game it's the Redskins on Monday night. If the Eagles get up early, do you see things completely falling apart for Washington?
While I don't necessarily see things falling apart if the Eagles do to the Redskins what they did to the Colts in the early going last Sunday, it would be very difficult for Washington to get out of a double-digit deficit at any point during the game. When they have been successful this year, the defense has kept it close and the offense has put together one or two quality drives. They just don't have the horses on offense to come back if the Eagles jump to a big lead.
Although an early hole may be too high a mountain to climb (if I may mix metaphores), I wouldn't expect the Redskins to panic. It's a veteran team and they will keep it together and not let things snowball on them. Nevertheless, although the will to overcome a 13-0 first-quarter deficit may be there, the skill, at this time, is not.
Percentage chance McNabb plays for the Redskins next season?
I think it's fairly likely that he stays, somewhere in the 75 percent range. In thinking that, I am assuming that he will become more proficient in the offense and that he doesn't again get benched in favor of Rex Grosmman with the game on the line.
Both sides have a lot of incentive to get a deal done. A second and a third or fourth is a high price to pay for a team that needs an injection of youth and talent. To give up those draft picks for a one and done proposition would have everyone thinking that nothing has changed from the last couple of years when the bumbling Vinny Cerrato, occasionally assisted by Dan Snyder, would toss away draft picks like they were nothing. That's not a good way to run a team, nor is it a good way to sell club seats and luxury boxes.
From McNabb's perspective, if he decides to go the free agent route he will find very limited bidding for his services. With a strike looming and the economy being what it is, very few teams will be looking to add an eight-figure salary to their 2011 payrolls. There has been a lot of talk about Minnesota being a potential desination with Bret Favre probably leaving but after this year, but they will be very wary of bringing in another high-priced quarterback who is a "win now" proposition. With their stadium situation still up in the air, they flat-out may not be able to afford McNabb. He might look to Arizona, where he makes his offseason home, but the Bidwells are not ones to spend a lot of free agents (remember they got Kurt Warner for practically nothing after the Giants discarded him).