Paul Domowitch: Redskins QB McNabb may have edge over Eagles' defense

Donovan McNabb knows Eagles' defense.
Donovan McNabb knows Eagles' defense.
Posted: September 29, 2010

EVERYBODY'S GOT an opinion as to why, of all the football joints in all the NFL world, Andy Reid decided to send Donovan McNabb to one that the Eagles have to play twice a year.

Stupidity has been a popular explanation among the anti-Reid crowd, followed closely by arrogance. A few bleeding hearts like myself thought it might have had a little bit to do with Reid wanting to find a good home for the guy who helped his team get to the playoffs 8 of the last 10 years. Then again, I'm a sentimental sap who still tears up every time I watch Ollie McClellan sink those two underhanded free throws in "Hoosiers."

Tom Heckert worked for Reid for 9 years. He knows his former boss is anything but stupid. Nevertheless, he was more than a little surprised when he found out the Eagles had shipped their six-time Pro Bowl quarterback to the Redskins.

"I was [surprised] because I wouldn't have done it," said Heckert, the former Eagles general manager who left in January to become GM of the Cleveland Browns. "But I don't think they had much else [in the way of offers].

"Even if they had a choice - everybody talked about Oakland - I don't think Andy would have done that to Donovan if he didn't want to go there. He wouldn't screw the guy if he had something else. Plus, Andy's always been a big believer that, I don't care who you have, we're going to be better."

You may choose to call that arrogance. I prefer to call it confidence.

Nevertheless, the question remains: How wise was it of the Eagles to trade McNabb to a team in their own division? And will it come back to bite them in the butt Sunday and/or in the future?

"There were a lot of people who were critical of Andy for making the trade with Washington," said Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, who will work Sunday's Eagles-Redskins game as the lead analyst for Fox. "The way I looked at it is the Eagles want to win as badly as anybody. Why would they trade a quarterback to a division rival if they felt he was going to keep them from beating that team? The answer is they wouldn't. They wouldn't do that.

"Clearly, Andy felt strongly enough about what he had that he was willing to make that trade and not feel that it would adversely impact the Philadelphia Eagles."

But is he right about that? The general consensus of most of the NFL coaches and analysts I spoke with for this column was that if there's an advantage to be had Sunday, it probably goes to McNabb because of his familiarity with the Eagles' defense.

By the same token, Reid raised McNabb from an NFL pup. He knows his strengths and weaknesses. He knows which passes he likes to throw and which ones he doesn't. He knows how he'll react when he feels pressure from his blindside. He knows what he'll be thinking when he sees the Eagles in an A-gap blitz or in press coverage.

"Andy spent 11 years developing Donovan," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, a former Eagles assistant. "He knows the guy better than he knows his own wife. That should come in handy."

Maybe, maybe not, said Jets coach Rex Ryan.

"I think it's an advantage to Donovan because he's seen that defense for a long time," Ryan said. "And he also knows Andy Reid. So not only is he going to be able to help his offense, but he's also going to be able to help the defense. The [Redskins' defensive] coaches are going to have to do the work anyway. But there might be some insight that he can give them as well from just knowing what makes Andy tick."

While Aikman feels there's a benefit for Reid and the Eagles to knowing what McNabb struggles with and being able to attack those things, he thinks there's a bigger benefit for McNabb because of his familiarity with the defense.

"I've got to believe there's a comfort level for Donovan in that he knows these [defensive] players well that he's going to be playing against Sunday," Aikman said. "He's practiced against them and knows what guys play the ball well in the air and who they can attack and create matchup problems with, or what this guy particularly struggles with.

"I think there's more [of an advantage] to him knowing the other guys he's going up against as opposed to the other side knowing one or two things about him.

"The other part is, there's not a lot that Andy would know about Donovan that everybody else in the league can't see by watching 11 years of film as far as what creates issues for Donovan. So I don't know that what Andy knows [about McNabb] is something that a lot of other people don't already know."

Another ex-quarterback, "ESPN Monday Night Football" analyst Ron Jaworski, also gives the advantage Sunday to McNabb.

"I usually give it to the player, especially when it's the quarterback," Jaworski said of player vs. former team matchups. "Donovan is going to know more about the Eagles' defense than anyone, and what they're trying to do. But the question is, what kind of weapons is he going to have to attack the defense?"

At the moment, not very good ones. McNabb's receiving corps pretty much begins and ends with Santana Moss and Chris Cooley. Charles Johnson and Torrance Small probably are looking pretty good to him right about now.

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan likes to use the run to set up the pass, but his running backs are averaging just 3.9 yards per carry. The Larry Johnson-Willie Parker experiment failed miserably, and Clinton Portis is 29 going on 40.

Aikman said Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott probably will make some adjustments to offset McNabb's knowledge of his scheme and players.

"The big thing to me is checks that they make at the line of scrimmage, or when Washington shifts or motions or whatever," Aikman said. "Those defensive backs, they give hand signals and such to let each other know what they're changing to within coverages. I think you would want to change some of that.

"I spent 12 years in Dallas and would know what certain checks were and what our defense would want to get to against certain formations, and when they were going to man coverage and things of that nature. And I think that would be beneficial for me if I were playing against them. You want to change that.

"On the other hand, making those types of changes for one game, sometimes you impact yourself more negatively than you're impacting the player you're trying to influence. So they've got to be careful about that."

Such are the dilemmas you face when you don't trade your quarterback to Oakland.

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