'Skins have some explaining to do, plus 10 things to watch for Sunday
Plenty of great games this weekend to mini-dissect. In fact, it's arguably the best weekend of games this year. But we've all been derailed by the Donovan McNabb benching for the unimpressive Rex Grossman in Washington, so that has to lead the weekend news.
In March, Andy Reid couldn't believe there weren't more teams in the NFL interested in trading less than a first-round pick for McNabb. In fact, there was only one: Washington. I've found out recently that the Raiders did not have a viable trade offer on the table; the Eagles could have gotten maybe a fourth-round pick from Oakland for him, but nothing like the offer headed by a second-rounder from Washington. Had the Redskins not come through with their offer, Reid probably would have held on to McNabb and let the best quarterback win the job in Philadelphia this year.
So now it's eight months after the McNabb trade to Washington, and a second highly respected quarterback guy, Mike Shanahan, has spurned McNabb. Whether you like the move or hate it (and I find the timing questionable, certainly, with McNabb having played better than average Sunday in the 17-16 loss to Tampa Bay), the one thing you have to admit is this: Two smart quarterback men have turned thumbs-down on McNabb in the span of nine months. You can defend McNabb all you want, and Lord knows he has his legions of defenders out there, but Reid and Shanahan are in the business of winning football games. Both have been to Super Bowls. Shanahan's won two of them. And both said they thought they could do better than McNabb.
Reid was under tremendous pressure to be right when he traded McNabb within the division. And 13 games into McNabb's Washington career, Shanahan is under tremendous pressure to be right in playing Grossman. My point is: Criticize Shanahan for his handling of McNabb and for thinking Grossman is anything but a backup, and acknowledge that McNabb is hamstrung by poor offensive support, but understand that McNabb bears a prominent role in this too. He's 25th in the league in passer rating, 26th in touchdown-to-interception ratio, 27th in accuracy.
One point you should know: Before the infamous benching of McNabb in the closing minutes of a Week 8 loss to Detroit, Shanahan told McNabb he thought he was so sufficiently hobbled by two hamstring strains that he should sit out the game that week and rest during the team's bye week. That way, he'd have a solid 16 days before he had to go back to practice and prepare for the first game after the bye. McNabb said he felt OK to play, and so he played. He still hasn't been able to be as mobile as the team would like. That has to play some role in Shanahan's decision.
But this isn't a decision I would have made. I'm not on the inside, but Shanahan had to know that his locker room will be roiling over this, and NFL Network's Jason LaCanfora has quoted one unidentified Redskins player as saying the locker room was very angry over it. If you have a prospect you think can be a candidate to play, fine -- play him. But Grossman shouldn't be anyone's starter. Shanahan's going to have some fence-mending to do.
Now four points on the games of the weekend:
In a five-catch, 112-yard, three-touchdown performance against the 49ers, Jackson began to re-emerge as an impact player for the rest of the season and, the Chargers hope, for the postseason. His first touchdown -- a leaping, physical catch against cornerback Nate Clements of the Niners just two minutes into the game -- showed how Jackson is the kind of competitive receiver the Chargers just couldn't replace in his absence.
Pivotal for his future, Jackson has begun to speak to groups in southern California about not doing what he did -- namely, don't drink and drive. He's had two driving-while-impaired arrests as a Charger, which has led to the team not wanting to pay him the big bucks he'd deserve if off-field stuff wasn't factored into what teams pay players. Maybe other teams will see Jackson as a reformed guy when it comes to free-agency in 2011. We'll see. For now, the Chargers have a major weapon for the rest of the season.
No eyes in Nashville will be on the outcome of the Texans-Titans. All eyes, and I'm sure the CBS iso cameras, will be on the matchup between Finnegan and Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson, who brawled when the teams met last month. Finnegan told me he wants to play the role of peacemaker with Johnson. "My hope is me and Andre can just call a truce,'' Finnegan said. "I respect him first and foremost as a football player. I'm sorry that got out of hand.'' Finnegan said he's "not exactly sure what I'm supposed to be sorry for, because I was just playing hard, but if it requires me to say I'm sorry, I will, just so we can move on from this.''
Finnegan also told me he will continue to "quick-jam'' (his words) aggressive receivers like Johnson at the line of scrimmage, and said he thinks the reason he hit Johnson high, apparently causing the receiver to flip out three weeks ago, is because Johnson leaned back at the point of impact, causing his jam to go up around the shoulders instead of the chest. Regardless, look for Finnegan to try to bury the hatchet Sunday when they step on the field together. I'll be interested to see Johnson's reaction. I tried to reach out to him, with no luck, but my feeling is that he's enough of a gentleman that he'll shake hands with Finnegan when they line up across from each other Sunday afternoon.
Bad news for the Eagles heading into the NFC East prize fight with the Giants at the Meadowlands. Chaney, a seventh-round pick from Mississippi State, makes his first career start at the nerve center of the Eagle D -- and all he has to do is be quick enough to chase down Ahmad Bradshaw, strong enough to take down Giant monsterback Brandon Jacobs, and tough enough to take the beating from aptly named Giant tight end Bear Pascoe.
Chaney held the fort last week after middle linebacker and defensive signal-caller Stewart Bradley went down with a dislocated elbow, but starting this week, he'll be a studied target. "He wasn't shy with his calls, and he played physical football,'' Andy Reid said of Chaney's job against Dallas last Sunday. Ratchet it up, kid.
Tight end Dustin Keller's projected line against the Steelers on Sunday:
The Steelers are surrendering a historic 60.1 rushing yards per game, and I don't see Mark Sanchez having much time to get the ball downfield. Be happy you've got Keller in fantasyland if you do.