Is Green Bay the best D in the NFC? Why was McNabb benched? The editors debate.
Athlon's Steven Lassan, Nathan Rush and Braden Gall debate five burning questions for Week 9 in the NFL:
1. Why was Donovan McNabb on the bench for the final drive of the Redskins' loss to the Lions?
Steven: I don’t buy any of reasons coming out of the Washington camp. This seems to be Mike Shanahan trying to send a message to Donovan McNabb. The veteran quarterback’s numbers aren’t great this year, but Washington is in the mix for a playoff spot and I’m not sure why McNabb is taking a lot of criticism for what’s going on with this team. The Redskins have a questionable offensive line, a weak receiving corps and unproven running backs. Why didn’t Washington put a claim in for Randy Moss? Shanahan may not want McNabb back next season, but he’s a much better option than Rex Grossman if the Redskins want to threaten for the NFC East title.
Braden: This is one of the most puzzling coaching moves I have ever seen. And the excuses are even worse. Conditioning? For a quarterback? Seriously? Knowledge of the offense? A 12-year potential Hall of Famer vs. Rex Grossman? Seriously? Plus, McNabb already has one fourth quarter two-minute game-tying drive this season against the Packers, so we know he still has it. Is this Mike Shanahan flexing his muscle to prove a point, even if it's to his own detriment? Maybe if McNabb had any receivers or running backs helping him out, he could accomplish something. My gut tells me that there is more to this than anyone is letting on. I am staying tuned.
Nathan: Donovan McNabb’s “cardiovascular endurance” was not up to the standard of the great Mike Shanahan. Now, had this been the Super Bowl and Andy Reid was coaching, McNabb would have been allowed to run the slowest two-minute drill in history. But it looks like Shanahan is making McNabb his new Albert Haynesworth — alienating his most accomplished and highest paid offensive player just like he did with his All-Pro, $100 million man on defense. Making matters worse, backup Rex Grossman fumbled away the game to Lions mauler Ndamukong Suh, who high-stepped into the end zone for his first career TD. Expect the Shanahan-igans to continue and to continually backfire. Let’s put it this way: If the players in D.C. had been allowed to vote on their coach on Tuesday, I’m sure the incumbent would have lost.
2. Was grabbing Randy Moss the right move for the Titans?
Steven: I don’t understand the move by Tennessee. I understand Kenny Britt’s injury is a concern and most defenses aren’t exactly scared of Nate Washington or Justin Gage. This move should also help Tennessee’s running game get on track. However, if Randy Moss was disgruntled about getting the ball in the past, is he really going to be content with a team that averages 26 passing attempts a game – one of the lowest totals in the league? Adding a questionable attitude to the mix as the Titans make a playoff push doesn’t make much sense, and the cons outweigh the pros in my opinion.
Braden: It all depends on Moss. He has clearly shown that he refuses to apply himself, and until he does, he will remain irrelevent in the NFL world. Moss has been targeted 47 times this season and made only 21 catches for 313 yards in eight games. Right now, he is having a bigger impact on Randy Moss Motorsports — where all he does is sign the checks. Jeff Fisher is a players' coach who can handle most headcases, but this is a team that doesn't need any headaches/complications when trying to battle Peyton Manning or Arian Foster for the AFC South crown. Maybe the Kenny Britt injury is worse than the team is letting on.
Nathan: Anyone who has watched how defenses cover Randy Moss (with safeties playing 20-to-30 yards deep) and Chris Johnson (with eight or nine in the box) should be able to do the math — this is a great move for the Titans, at least in theory, on paper and on Madden. The key will be the catering service. If Nashville rolls out food good enough for Randy’s dogs, everything should be fine. He did, after all, get what he was after — a playoff contender with a superstar running back (CJ2K also happens to share an agent with Moss), two QBs who can go deep and a players’ coach in Jeff Fisher. Plus, he finally gets a bye week. But remember, Randy is the ultimate frontrunner. When things are good, he’s great; but if things turn sour, look out.
3. Who had a worse week, Brad Childress or Wade Phillips?
Steven: Brad Childress. The first mistake was spending a third-round pick for a receiver who has a questionable attitude in the middle of the year. By waiving Randy Moss, the Vikings are without a No. 1 receiver, a third-round pick, and Childress’ approval rating in the locker room continues to plummet. Wade Phillips certainly had a bad week, but the Vikings/Moss dealings helped to push Dallas’ struggles away from the spotlight – at least until they get blown out by Green Bay this Sunday.
Braden: No doubt it is Phillips. Here is a quote from the Cowboys' head coach this week: "If I knew what to do, I would have already done it." Sounds like he is done in Big D. A blowout loss to Jacksonville at home is atrocious. A close loss on the road against the team with the best record in the NFL, despite the off-the-field issues, isn't even in the same area code.
Nathan: Brad Childress wasted a third round pick, upset his owner and divided the locker room with his unilateral move to waive Randy Moss just a month after trading for the future Hall of Famer. Wade Phillips was already done. This week, Childress joined him on the lame duck boat back to coordinator town.
4. Who has the best defense in the NFC?
Steven: I’ll go with the Giants. This defense ranks second in the NFL against the pass, third against the rush and ranks among the best in sacks. Although Mathias Kiwanuka is done for the rest of the year, the line is in good shape, especially with the improvement of first-round pick Jason Pierre-Paul.
Braden: The New York Giants are currently leading the NFC in total defense with 263.3 yards per game. The only other NFC team allowing fewer than 300 ypg is the New Orleans Saints. Chicago and Green Bay are one and two in scoring defense in the NFC. Green Bay leads the NFC in sacks (24.0), is second in INTs (12) and leads the NFL in 4th-down defense (2 of 12 converted against). The Packers also have the NFL's sack leader Clay Matthews, who could be the most relentless defender in the league, and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson. It comes down to the Giants and Packers, and if the Pack doesn't lose any more starters to injury, Dom Capers' group could be the best in the NFC. Which may not be saying too much, actually.
Nathan: I still have a lot of fear and respect for the Giants’ Big Blue Wrecking Crew NASCAR package pass rush. Pressuring the quarterback has a ripple effect — lost yardage on sacks, hurried throws on pressures, inaccurate passes, turnovers, etc. There’s nothing more valuable or dangerous than a front four that collapses the pocket, strip-sacks and celebrates turnovers on a regular basis.
5. What is the best throwback jersey in the NFL?
Steven: I’m really a fan of any throwback jersey, but there are three that stick out as ones I would consider the best. The Eagles jersey worn on opening day against Green Bay this year, Pittsburgh’s throwback jersey with yellow helmet and New England’s white helmet and red jersey setup they wore against Minnesota.
Braden: I absolutely love the baby blue Houston Oiler uniforms. I love the old Patriots uniforms they wore this weekend against Minnesota. I may also be the only person who likes the old version of the Rams, Bucs, Seahawks and Broncos uniforms. The Buffalo Bills white helmets and red buffalo silouette are very strong as well. But nothing will ever top the powder blue San Diego Charger uniforms.
Nathan: Some of my favorite football memories are watching Barry Sanders on Thanksgiving, spinning and sprinting in an all-silver Lions helmet and a plain Motown blue throwback jersey with nearly-gray numbers. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I miss watching Barry Sanders on Thanksgiving — when he happened to be wearing a Detroit throwback jersey.