With as many teams that have invested high draft picks in quarterbacks over the last five seasons, the Philadelphia Eagles have had a much different problem – they've had too many to keep happy. In 2009 when Michael Vick was released from Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, he signed on as the No. 3 QB with the Eagles. Showing he had the talent to be an elite QB again, the Eagles traded Donovan McNabb to Washington and gave his starting job to Kevin Kolb. When Kolb went down early in the 2010 season, Vick took over and was so electrifying head coach Andy Reid had no choice but to keep him as the starter. When Vick signed a long-term extension, the Eagles were paying starter money to two quarterbacks. That doesn't fly in the NFL and Kolb was traded to Arizona. As the Reid castoffs reunite for the first time since both left Philly, the battle between McNabb and Kolb is this week's key matchup.
McNabb's exodus from his volatile existence with Eagles fans, who booed him mercilessly, didn't go as hoped or planned. The choice of the front office, he was not only traded for, but inserted as the starter. It never seemed to sit well with new head coach Mike Shanahan. Shortly after signing a lucrative contract extension, Shanahan benched McNabb in favor of journeyman Rex Grossman. It was clear McNabb's career was over if he didn't land with another team.
Enter the Vikings. Looking to postpone throwing rookie Christian Ponder onto the field, the Vikings signed McNabb to a team-friendly contract and gave him the starting job. The results have been far less than expected. His first pass was intercepted and things haven't improved much since. While his passer rating has improved every game (47.9, 83.8, 86.7, 88.5), it hasn't translated into wins. At a time when the NFL has posted the four most prolific passing weekends in the history of the game, McNabb has thrown for just 680 yards – a paltry 170 yards a game.
There is a growing sentiment that if McNabb doesn't turn things around quickly, he will be pulled and replaced by Ponder – an admission that the signing was a mistake and that his problems have been essentially self-inflicted – unable to complete long passes and many of his deeper throws being virtually uncatchable because they're either too high, too low or too far away from the receivers to be pulled in. McNabb enters Sunday's game with a lot of pressure on him because, although both he and head coach Leslie Frazier have remained in public lockstep in maintaining they have confidence in the offense with McNabb in charge, you get the feeling that patience is running out – it already has with Vikings fans that have been accustomed to erratic and mediocre QB play over the last several years (save 2009).
The problems have been similar with Kolb, but in reverse order. The Cardinals have lost their last three games, but, like the Vikings, have had the chance to win all three of them in the fourth quarter, but have failed to execute. Just as much of the blame for the Vikings struggles have been laid at the feet of McNabb, the same has been true with Kolb. Like McNabb, his weekly passer rating has been trending. Unlike McNabb, it's been heading in the other direction.
While McNabb started horribly and has slowly inched his passer rating higher, Kolb started out like gangbusters only to regress badly. His passer rating has dropped each week (130.0, 92.5, 69.6, 67.9). After throwing four touchdowns before he threw an interception, since that point in Week 2, Kolb has thrown one touchdown and four interceptions.
The primary difference in Kolb's situation is that he is likely to retain his starting job even if he stinks out the joint. The Cardinals invested heavily in Kolb after passing on the QB draft class of 2011. He's in it for the long-term. But, the Cards aren't likely to continually accept diminishing returns on their investment.
When NFL teams struggle, blame is typically assigned in two places – with the head coach and the quarterback. It isn't a coincidence that the NFL doesn't keep stats on win-loss records among anyone other than QBs and head coaches. You would have to either do an extensive Google search or do the math yourself to determine the won-loss record of the Vikings when Adrian Peterson or Jared Allen has started. You can find that same information on head coaches or quarterbacks with two clicks of a mouse.
As it stands, McNabb and Kolb are both on thin ice – McNabb because his improvement has been too slow and hasn't translated into victories and Kolb because his performance has regressed with each subsequent game. Between the two of them, they have lost seven of the eight games they have played with their new teams and both are under the gun to come up big this week – making this a matchup to watch Sunday that could end up having significant implications for the rest of the season.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Key matchup: Battle of the castoff QBs
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