I wanted to write this post after the game ended on Sunday night, but I thought I'd give myself a day or so to reflect. Today, I spent 8 hours driving or floating my way back to Brooklyn, and those 8 hours of soul-searching left me feeling no different than I did right after the game.
As much as it pains me to say this, Donovan McNabb should not be the Eagles quarterback going forward. Jeff Garcia's success last season, and A.J. Feeley's success over the past game and a half have finally proven that fact to me. While Donovan will always have a warm spot in my heart for the 4 consecutive NFC Championship appearances, 1 Super Bowl appearance, countless gutsy performances and classy manner in which he held one of the toughest jobs in sports, it's time for this team to move on.
In no world is A.J. Feeley a better athlete than McNabb. In no world is A.J. Feeley a better quarterback than McNabb, based on skills alone. You can't say Feeley is a better leader, he hasn't had to prove he can lead yet. That being said, A.J. Feeley is the best option the Eagles have to play the quarterback position for the rest of this season. Next year, it's going to have to be Kevin Kolb.
We all saw what happened when McNabb went down last year. Jeff Garcia took this team on an unbelievable run to the playoffs, and through the Giants into the second round. Everyone talked about how gutsy he was, and how he was a natural leader, and how he inspired his teammates. At the time, I said a QB controversy for this season was ridiculous. The Eagles' O scored plenty of points when McNabb was under center, and I think most of the credit for the late-season run belonged to Brian Westbrook. This year, I'm singing a different tune altogether. I think the reason Garcia succeeded last year, and the reason Feeley has succeeded so far this year goes back to something Bill Walsh said years ago when he first created this offense. The QB doesn't really matter. All he has to be able to do is go through his progressions and make accurate, timely throws
This offense is designed to confuse defenses, and be run systematically. QBs are given three or ever four options, if one isn't there they check down to the next option. McNabb doesn't go through these progressions, in some cases, other times he goes through them too quickly. If Kevin Curtis isn't open on the deep out pattern, he immediately checks down to Westbrook out of the backfield, never looks to the opposite side to see if Reggie Brown has broken free. I've blamed a lot on the Eagles receivers this season, and I think I owe them an apology. They're open when Feeley's playing, they were probably open when McNabb was playing as well, he just didn't have the patience in the pocket to find them, or he was locked on to one guy, then checked down. This is hard to quantify without having the game film in front of me, but every week the replays seemed to show Reggie Brown breaking wide open and McNabb never even looking his way.
This brings us to the second part of the equation: delivering accurate, timely throws. McNabb cannot do this. He just can't. How many times does he bounce passes at the feet of wide-open receivers? If this was a strict vertical passing offense, that would be fine. You miss a couple guys, you make up for it with a deep bomb, but this is not that offense. This is a West-Coast offense, which utilizes high-percentage short passes as a substitute for a running game. Missing wide open guys kills drives. That 6-yard hook on 2nd down has to be completed to make 3rd down manageable. When it's bounced, you're stuck in third and long situations. The offense gets guys open for short gains in the passing game, having a QB who can't deliver the ball is just stupid, to be honest with you.
A.J. Feeley played a great game on Sunday night, a great game with two huge mistakes, but a great game nonetheless. The difference between what he did and what McNabb has done thus far this year is that Feeley played within the offense, and delivered the ball where it was supposed to be, when it was supposed to be there. That's all you need to do as a QB in a well-designed West Coast offense. When you take Brian Westbrook into consideration, the QB's job should be that much easier.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying McNabb is finished and he should retire. I'm not saying he won't go somewhere else and make the Pro Bowl next year. I'm definitely not saying that A.J. Feeley is a legit starting QB in this league. What I'm saying is that playing Feeley at QB is the best option the Eagles have to effectively run their offense for the rest of this season. The offense doesn't play to McNabb's strengths, and McNabb can't bend his style into the offense.
Obviously, this begs the question: Why was McNabb so good in this offense for so long? The answer is pretty simple. When McNabb was mobile, he made plays with his feet. He'd either pick up huge chunks of yardage running the ball, or he'd escape pressure and cause the defense to scramble. The only year he really dominated from the pocket was the Super Bowl year, when T.O. was at wide receiver. With T.O., McNabb could air the ball out and score from anywhere on the field. He didn't have to play within the offense and painstakingly put together drives when he had a deep threat like that. This year, he doesn't have his legs or his consistent deep threat, all he has is this ingenious offense. Unfortunately, he's the wrong guy to run it.