Friday, March 30, 2012

A Modest Defense Of Donovan McNabb...

A lot of hay has been made over Donovan McNabb’s comments concerning the potential drafting of Robert Griffin III, and many around here have noted that it carries the sting of bitterness regarding McNabb’s tenure in Washington with Mike and Kyle Shanahan. As usual, one of the places this sort of commentary takes place is within social media. On Facebook, I caught this status from friend and colleague Mike Ptomey:

I responded and we had a little back and forth…

I don’t quibble at all with the notion that this has the feeling of “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”, but it’s the football aspect that I do. However, my own eyes told me that while Westbrook was important to those Eagle teams, he didn’t “prop up” McNabb. As a result, I decided to do a little digging into the numbers for further proof; this is where being a baseball-stat nerd comes into play, although this is football. I wanted to see if Brian Westbrook made any discernible difference in the passing numbers of Donovan McNabb over the course of their overlapping careers in Philadelphia.

McNabb was drafted in 1999, and while he started a handful of games then, it was in 2000 when he was the unquestioned starter. Westbrook was drafted in 2002 and played a little bit, but 2003 was the first year of solid contribution. Thus, we are going to compare the eras of 2000-2002 (without Westbrook) and 2003-2009 (with Westbrook).

McNabb from 2000-2002 (42 games – he missed six games in 2002 with a broken leg)

826 Completions - 1,423 Attempts (58.0%), 8,887 Yards, 63 TDs and 31 INTs

McNabb from 2003-2009 (94 games – missed parts of 2005 and 2006 with injuries)

1,869 Completions - 3,107 Attempts (60.2%), 23,038 Yards, 145 TDs and 62 INTs

At a per game rate

2000-2002: 19.7-33.9 Passes, 211.6 Yards, 1.50 Touchdowns, 0.74 Interceptions

2003-2009: 19.9-33.1 Passes, 245.1 Yards, 1.54 Touchdowns, 0.66 Interceptions

The largest discernible difference between those two sets is in the yards per game – which suggest that it is not Brian Westbrook who made the biggest difference, but the fact that in 2000-2002, McNabb didn’t have wide receivers who could run after the catch. Quickly, name the wide receivers to whom McNabb threw in 2000-02. I would be willing to bet you didn’t know the names Torrance Small, Na Brown, Charles Johnson, and Chad Lewis, while some might be able to name James Thrash and Todd Pinkston.

Starting especially in 2004, he did have receivers that could run after the catch – Terrell Owens, Kevin Curtis, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and even guys like Greg Lewis and Reggie Brown.

This is not to say at all that Westbrook didn’t have an impact. He was very much an integral part of the offense – he caught 389 passes from McNabb in those seven seasons, at a clip of 3,473 yards and 31 Touchdowns. Westbrook accounted for 20.8% of McNabb’s completions, 21.4% of the Touchdowns, but only 15.1% of the yards. This in a way reinforces the previous point that the receiving corps was the biggest difference between the two eras; throwing to a running back has always been a feature of the Andy Reid offense, regardless of who the quarterback or running is.

It is indeed true that Donovan McNabb was a bad fit in Washington, but it (in my opinion) wasn’t entirely his fault. One thing we’ll never know is whether or not the Ultimate Leader1 and the Boy Wonder2 ever actually wanted #5, or whether the Owner3 forced McNabb on them. Once they got him, it was clear it would be the “system” way, or the highway. That kind of thing might work in college, but in the NFL, it’s a talent-driven league, no matter how much “scheming” gets done.  McNabb does come off as a completely needy and scorned ex-girlfriend, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that, in his time in Philadelphia, he was the greatest quarterback the Eagles ever had.


1 Mike Shanahan
2 Kyle Shanahan
3 Dan Snyder

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