Friday, January 12, 2007

Garcia vs. McNabb? Not even a question.

While the NFL season is rife with ridiculous comparisons and commentary, nothing has bothered me as much as the ludicrous assertion that the Philadelphia Eagles are a better team with Jeff Garcia than they are with Donovan McNabb. Look, I'll grant you the fact that the Eagles are a team transformed – six straight wins leaves the current squad looking nothing like the team that even the most fervent of fans had left for dead following McNabb's injury and a blowout loss against Indianapolis. Hell, I'll even go so far as to say that the loss of McNabb is ultimately why the Eagles have seen such a change in their fortunes… but not because Jeff Garcia brings anything to the table that Donovan does not.

At first glance, my stance may seem paradoxical… it isn't. First, let me clarify that this isn't an attack on Garcia – he's played inspired, efficient football since he took over the team. In reality, the Eagles have succeeded because of the adjustments made in offensive play calling since McNabb went down. Sure, it's obviously helpful that Garcia isn't a Detmer brother, but committing to the running game is what has turned Philly's season around. This is partially because Brian Westbrook is a should-be/would-be Pro-Bowler who averages 5.1 yard per carry, but there’s more to it than that.

Think about this: the first few losses of the season were characterized by close defeats in games where teams came from behind to win. Why did this happen? Because the Eagles did not run out the clock! The Eagles had the ball less than their opponents in 7 of 9 games McNabb played, a stat that drops to 2 of 6 with Garcia. Average time of possession over the first 9 weeks of the season is a solid 4.5 minutes less than in weeks 10 through 16 (27:06 to 31:36). It might not seem like a big difference but, over that same stretch, I can’t be the only one who has noticed the defense playing loads better. Seems like keeping the defense off the field keeps them fresh enough to make big plays, which in turn leads to wins. Apparently, if you run the ball, you kill the clock and prevent the possibility of ridiculous comebacks while giving your defense a chance to breathe. Who knew?

So, what does the Eagles success in recent weeks come down to? Simple football logic. Essentially, it took a season ending injury of a pro-bowler for Andy Reid to sober up and stop drinking the Martz kool-aid of run/pass calling. Any way you slice it, Garcia is a perfect backup who knows the system and plays a smart game, but he’s still just that: a good backup.