Sunday, December 18, 2005

J. Whyatt Mondesire

The Philadelphia Inquirer runs an interview today with J. Whyatt Mondesire- the Philadelphia Sun editor and local NAACP President who fired some bile at one of the less-troublesome athletes in sports today: Donovan McNabb. Mondesire is no dope surely- but, come on, man. There are only like a thousand million athletes who richly deserve the approbation delivered in his article- and J Whyatt comes up with McNabb?

I think this whole issue is, to quote an untidy high school phrase, about as totally retarded as it gets. I am stunned at the legs it has. I realize it is a slow Eagles season after years and years of bounty- so the press has to find something to write about- and this is a chance for them to do what the press does best- report news while closetly editorializing about how wonderfully enlightened they are. But this is ridiculous.

It is particularly frustrating when you realize that McNabb might be the easiest quarterback in all of pro-football to deconstruct. At this point in his career, he is a clear step behind the two elite quarterbacks in this League: Tom Brady and Manning. But he’s definitely in that next tier. And he’s at the top of that tier too. He is a pro-Bowl player at the most important position in pro-football. With him healthy and productive, the Eagles were a threat to win every NFC Championship for half-a-decade. Without him, they are a threat to win six games.

Is Donovan a stooge for the Eagles’ organization? Should he have backed TO? Does he consciously hide his race in his style of play?

The first question is a canard. The franchise quarterback is always, along with the head coach, the face of any organization. So of course he’s a stooge. He is unofficial spokesman for the entire organization. Should he be more vocal about the play-calling or the talent selection & retention process? I suppose- but it is a narrow window of the excellence. Only one franchise, the New England Patriots, for absolute sure have done the “play football thing year after year” better since Reid arrived. The part about Donovan going to the wall for TO is moronic. If there is a guy in the world #5 owes nothing to, it is TO.

The second question is more esoteric. I honestly don’t know the answer. But if McNabb’s refusal to run the football is your primary evidence that he secretly is embarrassed to be a black quarterback- that is pretty thing gruel. All right, so you think he doesn’t run enough. Fine. But by all accounts he is a fine husband and father, a nice person, gets along with his mom proudly and publicly, kind to the fans, civil to the press, zero problems with the law- and again, a damn good pro-Bowl level player. Even if his style of play is letting his “race” down on Sunday- which I doubt- he sure is doing them proud just about everywhere else.

Lastly, does Donovan run enough? Is it effective NFL strategy to have your quarterback tuck and run at the first opportunity? And I mean run- not roll out, etc. looking for better protection or shortening the throws to your wideouts. Everyone knows that sort of thing helps an offense. I mean: tuck it and go.

I think the answer is two-fold. If your offensive outfit is bad- particularly with wide receivers who can’t get open in the possession game consistently- then I think it does help the quarterback “to look to run”. If you can’t convert 3rd-and-8 the regular way, then it is worth taking a few shots with another approach- running for it. The quarterback’s mobility forces guys out of coverage- giving room to your slot guys and tight ends. Vick’s running with Atlanta two years ago- and McNabb’s with his early Eagles’ teams- were surely pluses. Hey, those teams weren’t getting into the twenties consistently without taking some chances.

But eventually in the League, the quarterback must throw- and throw a lot- to win big. This is a passing League. Possess the ball through the air. Make big plays downfield. The team that wins games between good teams is the team that doesn’t turn it over and throws the ball better.

To win eleven-twelve games and make deep play-off runs, you have to be able to generate every Sunday 270-300 yards of offense through the air, generate passing offense in the red zone (few teams run effectively inside the 20) with few turnovers. Michael Vick has a world of talent- but at some point every season (last year Tampa Bay and Philadelphia) he is presented with a very good, quick, disciplined 12-win team defensive front that can keep him from going utterly crazy- and his twelve completions aren’t enough.

So as your offense matures and you produce weapons that can hurt people, the ten snaps you give up to let the quarterback run are increasingly counter-productive- or at least not productive to the point that they compensate for the downsides. McNabb threw for just about 4000 yards in 2004- so you better be something damn good when you take the ball out of his passing hands. And the downsides hurt better teams more. Quarterbacks get hurt- probably ending your season- particularly painful if you are good. You generate sacks too- which I argue are almost like turnovers. You lose ten yards of field position and almost always have to punt- equivilant to an interception 25 yards down the field. Turnovers, or ipso de facto turnovers, keep teams in games with good teams.

Now that Donovan is a pretty polished passer (completion percentage too low, but he doesn’t turn it over much and generates a lot of big plays from the position) I almost always want to see him throw from the pocket. But had he been healthy this year, yeah, I would have liked to see him run more.