We’re going to be adding a new weekly feature at OBOD now that the season has begun. Every Tuesday (the players’ off day) we’ll be running a column on the Green Bay Packers’ upcoming opponent for that week. It may or may not touch on the Packers at all, but sometimes, of course, it will. This won’t necessarily replace my weekly humor post, but those won’t be running quite as often.
Why? It’s hard to come up with something funny every week. Who am I, Dane Cook?
(Wait – I’m way funnier than Dane Cook.)
ANYways, this week we will be discussing the Philadelphia Eagles. Enjoy.
With Aaron Rodgers gracing the cover of seemingly every NFL-related magazine on the planet, being touted as everyone’s preseason MVP and sitting at the controls for a popular Super Bowl pick, it’s easy to forget one simple fact:
He was almost universally disliked by Packers fans for the first two-plus years of his career.
His selection in the first round of the 2005 draft made no sense to us, the Packers a playoff team the year before and surely needing help elsewhere (plus, there was that Favre guy that we sort of worshipped). His on-field performance was initially bleak, as well, Rodgers showing little command of an NFL offense and exhibiting poor body language and a tendency for injury.
Then came the 2007 preseason. Indeed, this was the first time we all saw the potential Rodgers had. His performance against Dallas that year, subbing for an injured Favre, gave us even more hope. This – and other things – led Packers management to stick with Rodgers over Favre in the summer of 2008, even with the aging diva doing everything he could to get the team to chuck the youngster aside.
It’s not a move that could have – or even would have – been copied by many NFL teams. A lot needs to be in place to make such a decision.
The Philadelphia Eagles decided they had more than enough in place to copy what Green Bay did two years ago. As a result, they replaced aging quarterback Donovan McNabb with Kevin Kolb in an experiment that officially begins Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field against the Packers (couldn’t have scripted that last part better if you tried).
The situations mirror each other so perfectly, you have to think the Eagles studied the Favre/Rodgers switch with a bit more than a passing interest (no pun intended). Upon doing so, they likely asked themselves the following questions:
- Has McNabb peaked as a player in the same way Favre had?
Answer: Undoubtedly. McNabb was certainly a very good – if not truly elite – quarterback for a long period of time. McNabb led the Eagles to eight playoff appearances, including five trips to the NFC Championship Game and one Super Bowl berth, a loss to New England in 2005.
His play hadn’t necessarily slipped a great deal in recent years, but he appeared to have leveled off, throwing 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2008 and 22/10 in those same categories last year. His completion percentages over that span? 60.4 and 60.3. On top of that, his ability to hurt defenses with his scrambling – a huge part of his success – had gone way down as he totaled just 287 yards rushing over the past two seasons (147 and 140, respectively, again eerily similar).
That would have been more acceptible to the Eagles, I’m guessing, if McNabb was doing well in the postseason. But he really wasn’t, recording just one out-and-out good showing over Philly’s last four playoff games (a 375-yard, three-touchdown performance in the ‘09 NFC title game loss at Arizona). Like the Packers deciding Favre was never going to change, particularly in the postseason, the Eagles decided the soon-to-be 34-year old McNabb was never going to hit another level.
- Had Kolb shown enough in his limited playing time to warrant such a change, the way Rodgers had?
Answer: Clearly. In fact, Kolb – who also sat for three seasons before being named starter – may have shown a little more. In two starts last year for the injured McNabb – another factor in this whole process: McNabb had trouble staying healthy – Kolb completed nearly 65 percent of his passes for over 700 yards, with four touchdowns and three picks. He went 1-1, beating lowly Kansas City but losing to New Orleans. Compare that to what the Packers had seen from Rodgers, which was basically two-and-a-half quarters of regular season football.
Some may laugh when told that a team is going to ditch a proven player for a youngster based off of two games, but in the NFL, two games can go a long way in such decision-making, particularly at quarterback. After all, if Kolb fared that well in his first two games, he’d only get better, right? Not saying I necessarily agree with such a thought process, but that is how it goes a lot of times.
- Is the team going in a younger direction, anyways, making Kolb a better fit the way Rodgers was?
Answer: You bet. McNabb, like Favre before him, sat back and watched as the players he had come to know and be friends with were shipped out in favor of younger models, particularly on his side of the ball. Players like tight end Brent Celek, wideouts DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin and running back LeSean McCoy are all 25 and younger. Think they relate better to the now 26-year old Kolb or McNabb?
Granted, McNabb made that work, at times, much like Favre did towards the end in Green Bay. But make no mistake: There was a gap between Favre and his youthful weapons, all of whom seemed to care for Rodgers much more (probably because he actually talked to them, but that’s just my theory). To read much of what came out of Philly after the McNabb trade – here’s an example – it sounded like a similar story was happening there. Chemistry matters more in the NFL than in any other sport, particularly how a team vibes with its quarterback. The vibe is much stronger with Kolb.
- Do the men calling the shots in Philly have decent enough job security, the way Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy and Mark Murphy had?
Answer: I’d sure say so. Andy Reid and the rest of the Eagles’ front office are well-entrenched. In fact, only Tennessee’s Jeff Fisher (1994) has been running his team longer than Reid.
With that kind of security, Reid is bound to be given some leeway with Kolb. Even if his first couple of seasons aren’t that good, Reid isn’t going anywhere, especially when you consider Kolb is only the second quarterback he’s ever had. Reid would likely get at least one more shot with a new quarterback before the team decided to pull the plug. Think of all the guys Mike Shanahan went through, post-John Elway, before he finally got the boot.
When you’ve built up the credibility of an Andy Reid, you should be allowed to replace an aging player, even one as important as McNabb. Now, if this fails, a good deal of Reid’s credibility goes with it, but he has it now – like Thompson, McCarthy and Murphy did two years ago – and decided to use it. Can’t fault him there.
- Lastly, how will the switch go over with the fans?
Answer: Much better than it did in Green Bay. Though many Philly fans did not like the selection of Kolb in the 2007 draft – I don’t know that many Eagles fans, but a friend of mine is from south Jersey and he does and the guys he knows hated it – many were never really in love with McNabb. Let me rephrase that, actually – a lot of them never even liked McNabb. Despite his many successes, he was always quick to be booed by the home faithful on even mediocre days. Although Philly fans are notoriously brutal to almost everyone, anyways.
That put the Eagles in a much easier position than the Packers were in in 2008, having to ship away the most beloved player in team history. Fans there have not reacted with anywhere near the same brutality as Packers fans did back then. Remember, some of you actually booed Rodgers during the “Family Night” scrimmage that year, a truly shameful display if there ever was one (I guess we do have something in common with Philly fans, after all).
When you add it all up, the timing was perfect for the Eagles to make such a switch. In fact, it was never going to be better, if you really think about it.
The Packers have looked like geniuses for how they handled the switch. The Eagles? Well, starting Sunday, they’re going to find out.