Commentary

Time may be running out for McNabb

Coach talks about fixing veteran QB's mechanics, but isn't it a bit late for that?

Originally Published: September 30, 2011
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

This wasn't the Mike Shanahan train wreck of 2010. For that, Donovan McNabb can be thankful.

Leslie Frazier didn't question McNabb's physical conditioning or insult his mental acuity Wednesday, but Frazier did throw the red flag at his quarterback when he said the coaches were going work with McNabb on his mechanics.

The man is 34 years old and has been throwing a football in the National Football League for 13 seasons, and he still needs to work on his mechanics? Really? Shouldn't McNabb have mastered the basics of the five-step drop sometime during his rookie year?

[+] EnlargeLeslie Frazier
Bruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireLeslie Frazier's suggestion that Donovan McNabb needed to work on his mechanics was not especially welcome news to the veteran quarterback.
More and more, McNabb has become that guy who is attractive for what he did a few years ago, not for who he is today. In a dizzying 18-month span, McNabb has been cast off by the team that drafted and nurtured him (Philadelphia), run off by the team that traded two draft picks for him (Washington), and now put off by the team that needs him (Minnesota).

Asked on Wednesday whether he indeed needed to work on his mechanics to improve his accuracy, McNabb said, dismissively, "No," as if he found the mere suggestion preposterous -- which, knowing McNabb, he did.

Minnesota is 0-3, and after blowing three double-digit halftime leads, there is ample blame to go around. Frazier has not exactly distinguished himself as a tactical mastermind. He and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave have managed to turn their $100 million man, Adrian Peterson, into an invisible man in the second half, ignoring the time-proven philosophy of running the ball to protect a lead. The offensive line hasn't kept defenders out of McNabb's face. The defense has surrendered an average of 22 points in the second halves of games.

And the front office did not adequately replace Sidney Rice.

The Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of this team from the first half to the second is unprecedented. The Vikings have outscored their first three opponents -- San Diego, Tampa Bay and Detroit -- 54-7 in the first two quarters. They have gone into halftime with a 10-point, a 17-point, and a 20-point lead. After the break, Minnesota has been outscored 67-6. Two measly field goals -- one against the Buccaneers and one against the Lions -- is it. That certainly is not all McNabb's fault.

There is, however, plenty of evidence that McNabb is not exactly lighting it up, either. His 58.0 completion percentage is the third-worst in the NFC, and it plummets to a league-worst 37.5 on third down, where McNabb is only 9-of-24, including just 1-for-11 in the second half. He has been unable to sustain drives because he can't convert on third down, and as a result the defense wears down because it is spending an inordinate amount of time on the field in the second half.

Against San Diego, Minnesota's defense played nearly 21 second-half minutes. Against Detroit, it played more than 20 minutes.

McNabb's accuracy has always been an issue. In Philadelphia, he would routinely throw at his tight ends' feet, where they could only fall down to catch the ball. Although McNabb could throw the ball as far, if not farther, than anyone in the league, hitting a receiver in stride was not his strong suit. You could argue that, aside from Terrell Owens in 2004 and DeSean Jackson at the end, McNabb didn't have great receivers to throw to in Philadelphia, and that is true, but he also did not help the receivers he did have to be great.

In Minnesota, McNabb doesn't have an Owens or a Jackson, either. Michael Jenkins, a former first-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons, is good running short and medium routes. Percy Harvin is trying to find his niche in Musgrave's offense. Bernard Berrian seems to have no rapport with McNabb, who targeted him four times against Detroit, including twice on third down. Berrian caught nothing.

One of those throws was a classic McNabb mistake. On third-and-14, McNabb went deep to Berrian, who had slipped a step behind his defender and had a clear path to the end zone, but McNabb overthrew him by at least 5 yards. A touchdown there would have given the Vikings a seven-point lead with 4½ minutes to play. Instead, they lost by three in overtime.

So now, as the Vikings prepare to play the winless Kansas City Chiefs, the talk has turned to McNabb's mechanics. Frazier doesn't seem like a man who plays games or tries to send messages to his players through the media. It is most likely he went into great detail about McNabb's footwork simply because he was asked questions about it. "We just want to make sure that we're launching the football from the right point, we're taking the proper drops, that our feet are where they need to be," Frazier said. "Those are some of the points of emphasis."

McNabb didn't dismiss the idea of self-analysis, but he said he does not think he needs to change anything about mechanics. "I think the thing about it is when you're critical of yourself and your play, you just look at your reads, you look at how fast you can get the ball out," he said. "Obviously, you look at footwork and things of that nature, but that's not just at my position. That's from everyone."

Except they're not talking about everyone in Minnesota. They're talking about McNabb. If he doesn't get things turned around soon, they might not be talking about him at all.

Ashley Fox covers the NFL for ESPN.com.