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Friday, January 16, 2009

McNabb's benching-then-revival: Correlation or causation?

The Eagles are favored in the NFC Championship Game. After Week 12, that seemed impossible. The Birds were 5-3 this year heading into a Sunday Night game against the almighty Tom Coughlin and the New York Giants. That night, McNabb threw 3 TDs and 1 INT in a losing effort. He led his team to 31 points against the VAUNTED New York defense, and only a phantom facemask penalty and a misinterpreted rule prevented McNabb from knocking off the champs and thrusting the Birds into the race for the NFC East. The next week, McNabb struggled against the Cincinnati Bengals en route to a 13-13 tie. The city of Philadelphia nearly collapsed into itself after this game, failing to realize that Cincy's pass defense ranks in the top 10 in yards-per-attempt allowed. Combine the above-average Cincy D (who took NYG to OT as well) with a very windy day and a coach who absolutely refused to run the ball, and it's not surprising at all that McNabb struggled (1 TD, 3 picks, on 58!!!! attempts).

The following week was Baltimore. McNabb played half the game against the league's 2nd ranked defense in yards-per-attempt allowed. Andy Reid benched him at halftime of a 10-7 game, setting Kevin Kolb up for disaster (Birds were outscored 26-0 when McNabb was not in the game). Many many fans called for McNabb's permanent removal after this game. Just as many were calling for Reid's departure. Personally, I was 100% against the removal of McNabb, because I thought it was absurd to get rid of a 32-year-old premier QB based on 6 quarters of poor play against two top-10 pass defenses. As for Reid, I was less adamant, but I wasn't necessarily opposed. For one, I thought the benching of McNabb was an extremely poor decision. The Eagles were 5-4-1, fighting for playoff position, and Reid decided to throw Kevin Kolb to the wolves that are the Baltimore Ravens secondary in a game where they trailed by three points. But, Reid, despite his brutal playcalling at times, has proven he is one of the best coaches in terms of weekly preparation in the NFL (if not the best, over the past decade).

McNabb started the next three games after the Baltimore disaster and ravaged the Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants, and Cleveland Browns for three decisive victories. After a goof-up at FedEx Field, he recovered to handle the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17 to earn another playoff berth for the Birds. He played well in Minnesota and New York the past two weeks to lead the Birds to the doorstep of the Super Bowl once again. Over the 7 games played after his benching, McNabb has thrown 12 TDs and 3 picks, while the Birds have gone 6-1.

Almost every football 'analyst' has credited Andy Reid's benching of McNabb for McNabb's revival. They conveniently forget the fact that McNabb struggled against two top-10 pass defenses before the benching, then benefited from only having to face two top-10 pass defenses over the next seven games. And, one of those two defenses was Washington, the team that dealt the Birds their only loss since the benching (the other was Dallas).

Just because Reid benched McNabb and then McNabb started to play well doesn't mean he played well because of the benching. Maybe he just played well because he got to face a bad Cards' defense, an overrated NYG defense, and some team from northeast Joe-hio. I'm not saying that McNabb wasn't more motivated from the benching (how could he not?). But, I certainly don't think McNabb would have played any worse had he not been benched.

Also, Tampa Bay easily could have beaten Oakland in Week 17, and Andy Reid would have been VILLIFIED by these same media members for benching McNabb in a 10-7 game, because it killed their playoff hopes.

Call me crazy, but I think McNabb played like a good QB after the benching because...he's a good QB.


Scott Graham said...

Good ol' Adam Ant.

For me, Andy Reid = the NFL version of Charlie Manuel (roughly). They're both large & largely considered great off the field motivators/ coaches. However, I see that get destroyed most times with their in game decisions. I was one of the more adamant people who wished to remove Andy due to his HORRENDOUS play calling. Wildcat pass with DeSean Jackson 3rd and goal from the 7 (would a defense really expect a wildcat run by a 100 lb man in this situation?). This happened after our little win streak following the pitiful 2 game stretch. I no longer wish to see Andy Reid leave, as I have come to remember how good of a coach he is off the field, I just want better plays being called. I was never in favor of benching/ removing McNabb for next season. He can still win a lot of games given the right situation.

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