July 22, 2010

QB Theory — Donovan McNabb Could be Redskins Rising Tide

There are two schools of thought regarding the most important position in professional team sports.

Some people believe that acquisition of a Pro Bowl level quarterback is the rising tide that lifts entire NFL franchises.

The rest will believe it—if and when they see it happen to theirs.

QB Theory generally holds that the elusive "Franchise Quarterback" every NFL front office relentlessly pursues makes everyone around him—receivers, offensive line, running backs, defense, scouts, coaches, general managers, owners—better.

He makes a bad team competitive, a competitive team good and a good team great.

A team does not have to have a Franchise QB to be the occasional outlier Super Bowl team (see Ravens, 2000) but does to become a perennial contender or dynasty (see NFL History).

NFL executives certainly know it.

Chicago Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo does.
“I know that there is going to be a lot of talk about [acquiring] a No. 1 receiver,” the Bears general manager said at the time. “[But] it starts with the quarterback. It’s all about the quarterback. You don’t win because of wide receivers. You don’t win because of running backs. You win because of the quarterback.”
So does former New York Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi.
When the Giants traded for [Eli] Manning, a fan wrote Accorsi. "You do not understand the Giants' tradition of defense." "We win championships on defense. Not with quarterbacks. This was a big mistake."

Here is Accorsi's retort:

"You won the NFL Championship in 1956 because of Charlie Conerly was better than Ed Brown(Bears quarterback). You won in 1986 because Simms had the greatest day a quarterback ever had in an NFL Championship game. However, in 1958 and 1959, you had the best defense in the NFL. You had Hall of Famers Andy Robustelli, Sam Huff, and Emlen Tunnell on defense. And you also had great players like Rosey Grier, Jim Katcavage, Dick Modzelewski, and Jimmy Patton. And, you know what happened? The great quarterback-Unitas-shredded them both times. I rest my case."
Consider if you will the quarterbacks who have started games in burgundy and gold in the eighteen long years since Joe Gibbs retired after the 1992 season ...

Cary Conklin, Rich Gannon, Gus Frerotte, John Friesz, Heath Shuler, Jeff Hostettler, Trent Green, Brad Johnson, Jeff George, Tony Banks, Shane Matthews, Patrick Ramsey, Danny Wuerffel, Tim Hasselbeck, Mark Brunell, Jason Campbell.

For the first time in a generation, the Redskins starting quarterback heading into a new season will not be a journeyman, first-round bust, retread, knucklehead or nice guy you wish like hell was as good a football player as a person.

No, in 2010 the revolving door has finally swept in the real thing.

Donovan McNabb.

Scoff if you must—the sports world is a cynical place these days; it will play well at most local bars and message boards. But the truth of the matter is that come Opening Day the Redskins will field the closest thing to a bona fide Franchise Quarterback they have had since Sonny Jurgensen.

Is Donovan McNabb still special? Are his best days behind him at 33 years old? Could be. It would be irresponsible to deny the possibility he could fall off the cliff this year and be suddenly too immobile, comfortable or just plain old to get it done.

But there is as much if not more reason to expect he still can.

The age argument doesn't hold water.  Hall of Fame QB John Elway was several months older than McNabb is now when he became new Redskins Head Coach Mike Shanahan’s quarterback in Denver in 1995. Two years later the Broncos won their first Super Bowl, then went on to become one of just seven teams in modern NFL history to record back-to-back championships.

The raw numbers suggest McNabb is far from done. He is coming off a 2009 season that gives no statistical indication of a man wandering blindly toward the precipice:

    2009 - 14 starts, 267-for-443 (60.3%), 3553 YDS, 22 TD, 10 INT, QB Rating 92.9
          (Avg/start: 19-for-31, 254 YDS, 1.57 TD, 0.71 INT)
    2008 - 16 starts, 345-for-571 (60.4%), 3916 YDS, 23 TD, 11 INT, QB Rating 86.4
          (Avg/start: 22-for-36, 245 YDS, 1.43 TD, 0.68 INT)
    2007 - 14 starts, 281-for-473 (61.5%), 3324 YDS, 19 TD, 7 INT, QB Rating 89.9
          (Avg./start: 20-for-34, 237 TDS, 1.35 TD, 0.5 INT)

Curious about John Elway's numbers prior to the arrival of Mike Shanahan?

     1994 - 14 starts, 307-for-494 (62.1%), 3490 YDS, 16 TD, 10 INT, QB Rating 85.7
     1993 - 16 starts, 348-for-551 (63.2%), 4030 YDS, 25 TD, 10 INT, QB Rating 92.8
     1992 - 12 starts, 174-for-216 (55.1%), 2242 YDS, 10 TD, 17 INT, QB Rating 65.7

Curious about Elways subsequent years with Shanahan?

     1998 - 12 starts, 210-for-356 (59.0%), 2806 YDS, 22 TD, 10 INT, QB Rating 93.0 (SB title)
     1997 - 16 starts, 280-for-502 (55.8%), 3635 YDS, 27 TD, 11 INT, QB Rating 87.5 (SB title)
     1996 - 15 starts, 287-for-466 (61.6%), 3328 YDS, 26 TD, 14 INT, QB Rating 89.2
     1995 - 16 starts, 316-for-542 (58.3%), 3970 YDS, 26 TD, 14 INT, QB Rating 86.4

I received the following email from a friend and fellow long-time NFL and Redskins fan. It reminded me how easy it has been to assimilate the fact the Redskins have a quarterback.  It also struck me as a good jumping off point to invoke QB Theory, let the non-believers vent before the season gets started and take a look at what I believe McNabb’s impact will be out of the gate.

From my good friend, Loyal Skins Fan and reticent blogger:

Okay....I'm just gonna say it now....the Redskins are gonna do very well this season. I don't think anyone out there (and I've been reading a lot of material) is really putting as much value as should be on the arrival of McNabb. Having that quality QB back there is enough to turn EVERYTHING around.

With or without Haynesworth.....this team is going to improve dramatically. The running game will benefit....the receivers will suddenly look like they belonged all along.....the defense will deliver turnovers cause they'll be fresh from not having to support the offense anymore than necessary. The OL will be vastly improved simply from having a guy back there who knows how to move around or stay put in the pocket when necessary.

I'm getting very excited.

Here was my down-and-dirty reply:

I think the Redskins will do better earlier than people think, and McNabb will be the main reason.

Defenses will have to approach the Redskins new offense with a little respect out of the gate, given the reputations of both McNabb and [Mike] Shanahan, and won't be able to pin their ears back and sell out to rush the QB like they have in seasons past.

We saw a little of that in Zorn's first season, and the Skins O looked pretty good as they sprinted out 6-2. Problem was, once the league started getting a book on Zorn, Campbell (and company) didn't have the gas/horses/smarts/whatever to answer, adjust and raise their game.

The league will get a book on this years' offense by midseason too ... and that's when we'll see the real difference between Campbell/Zorn and McNabb/Shanahan.

The former lacked the ability to adjust on the fly and raise their games.

The latter, through their careers to this point, have proven they can. Whether or not they still can we’ll find out, but until proven otherwise, defenses will have to assume the worst … leaving fans reason to hope for the best.
So does all of this guarantee Donovan McNabb will have an extended late-career coronation march like John Elway and lead the Redskins to multiple championships? Of course not. QB Theory exists in the real world.

But here's what it does mean ...

Unless McNabb has stepped on the proverbial banana peel and gotten old over the course of this past offseason, QB Theory non-believers who follow the Washington Redskins may very well be about to have their worlds shaken up.

An entire generation of Redskins fans to whom the list of names above represent “Redskins quarterback” are about to get their first look at the difference between "just-another quarterback" and a legitimate Pro Bowl level quarterback. And more importantly (not to mention rewardingly), at what such an acquisition can quickly mean to the fortunes of their franchise.

The Redskins, at long last, have checked the biggest NFL box there is.

Reason to be optimistic? Damn straight.

Ask the guys who put pro football teams together for a living.


Greg Trippiedi said...


If QB theory holds, doesn't that suggest that the Redskins will struggle to take down the truly elite quarterbacks in the NFC East again?

McNabb has done some nice things since remaining (relatively) healthy over the last three years, but he hasn't exactly kept pace with Romo or Eli in too many statistical categories going back to 2007.

Seemingly, the best shot the Redskins have would be for QB theory to be bunk, at least if just for 2010.

Good read and excellent food for thought,


Mark "Om" Steven said...

Thanks for the read and comment, Greg ... and that's certainly one way to look at it. I think I'd probably argue the opposite, though.

Way I see it if you're in a division with two other elite QB's (exactly where Romo and Manning fit into that assessment would make interesting discussions in and of themselves), you better hope you have one yourself if you want to keep pace.

Plus, if QB Theory holds, the Redskins defense will benefit from having McNabb aboard as well, leaving them better equipped to try to kick some Romo/Manning tail.

QB Theory and bunk should never be uttered in the same sentence, btw. This is serious stuff we're talking here.

* offseason grin *


Lizkauai said...

Hi Om- Long time!

Anything can happen and I remain an OPTIMISTIC BELIEVER that the Redskins will have a banner year.

Nevertheless- I also subscribe to Tandler's pov:

"One reality that pretty much flew under the radar during OTAs and minicamps was McNabb’s performance–he did not exactly shine while running the offense. His passes frequently fell to the ground either as a result of McNabb throwing to the wrong spot, or going to the right area but misfiring. The Washington offense was far from appearing to be a well-oiled machine."

"Now, part of the reason that this wasn’t discussed much is that it was somewhat expected given McNabb’s lack of experience in making such transitions. But such excuses will end when training camp starts. If too many passes are hitting the ground during 11-on-11 drills at Redskins Park, or if McNabb doesn’t look sharp in preseason games, the pressure to fix whatever is wrong will be ratcheted up several notches. An 11-year veteran is expected to have a highly compressed learning curve, regardless of his past history in having to deal with change."


Mark "Om" Steven said...

Hey Liz,

I agree with Rich as well, a lot IS expected of Donovan. Rightly so--he's a big time Pro Bowl veteran QB. I don't think his POV and QB Theory are mutually exclusive though.

I'm not worried about what might look like a deliberate learning curve for McNabb at this point. Everyone around him---the new OL, the receivers, the coaches---are all in learning curve mode too. I'd frankly have been more surprised had Donovan come out looking sharp and dialed in. I'd have wondered if maybe it wasn't a sign things were being kept uber-vanilla, or that a false sense of security might be in the offing.

And I haven't forgotten how in each of Jason Campbell's years as incumbent, we'd hear glowing reports of how in command and dialed in he looked at this time of year. I think I kinda like that Donovan's going through an actual building process with his new team.

We'll get a little bit of a sense of his command in preseason, but even that won't necessarily be an indicator of how he and the offense will look come opening day. I won't start to get worried about Donovan until about midseason if what I'm seeing doesn't look like a Pro Bowl veteran slowly but surely getting things dialed in and the offense starting to flow.

One thing we DO know today ... this is going to be one helluva ride.

Fred said...


Thanks for the article, good read even though I disagree with many parts of it.

The most glaring fallacy IMHO, which can be demonstrated statistically is:

"Defenses will have to approach the Redskins new offense with a little respect out of the gate... and won't be able to pin their ears back and sell out to rush the QB like they have in seasons past."

The time of possession stats clearly falsify that idea:

Redskins ToP 2009 reg season = 29:01 (21rst place)
Eagles ToP 2009 reg season = 28:14 (28th place)

Mark "Om" Steven said...


Thanks for the read/comment. I've only had one cup of coffee this morning though--can you explain your logic on the statistical dissaproval thing? I can't connect the dots you followed rom A to B on that one ...