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Shanahan's reasoning for McNabb benching makes no sense

Can you imagine Bill Belichick sitting Tom Brady with the game on the line?

How about Jim Caldwell benching Peyton Manning in favor of Curtis Painter for a two-minute drill?

I'm sure that's hard for anyone to imagine. Yet, that's the decision that Mike Shanahan made when he opted to sit Donovan McNabb with less than two minutes remaining in the Redskins' 37-25 loss to the Detroit Lions.

Initially, the two-time Super Bowl winner justified his decision by suggesting that his veteran quarterback didn't have enough familiarity with the two-minute offense to effectively operate the package with the game on the line.


The thought of having a franchise quarterback incapable of operating a two-minute offense is ridiculous.

Teams start working on execution of their two-minute strategies during organized team activities, minicamps and training camp, and continue refining their late-game tactics during a weekly practice period dedicated to the drill.

With that in mind, Shanahan changed his tune Monday, saying that McNabb had "cardiovascular endurance" issues due to lingering hamstring and groin injuries that would have made it hard for the QB to handle the two-minute drill with no timeouts. Still, McNabb was healthy enough to start.

Regardless of the reason Rex Grossman was inserted, McNabb's stature as the Redskins' franchise quarterback makes it mandatory that he is in the huddle when the game is hanging in the balance.

Otherwise, you send a message to the team that you lack confidence in the leader and you undermine your chances of having success down the road because you have stripped your most important player of the self-assurance that inspires others to follow him.

Though McNabb is not enjoying one of his better seasons (his 76.0 passer rating is the lowest of his career since his rookie season), he is a six-time Pro Bowler, who has led his teams to five NFC title game appearances. While he has endured a host of criticism for failing to win a Super Bowl, he has amassed 96 regular-season wins during his career, and has routinely led undermanned squads to victory.

That is partially why Shanahan's decision to remove McNabb during the final stages of the game remains so baffling. The Redskins are a hodgepodge of misfits on offense, so McNabb's leadership, poise and confidence were expected to galvanize a unit that is still struggling to find its identity. While he hasn't performed at a Pro Bowl level through the first half of the season, Redskin players have been effusive in their praise of his leadership skills since he arrived from Philadelphia, and his standing as their offensive captain reflected their belief in his abilities.

Shanahan picked McNabb to lead the Redskins back to prominence, but his decision to remove him from the game in crunch time could make him a leader without followers in the locker room.

Here are some other scout's eye observations:

Lions' D-line is stacked

After watching the Detroit Lions dismantle the Washington Redskins, I'm convinced that Jim Schwartz has quietly assembled one of the league's most productive defensive lines. The front line of Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril, Corey Williams and Ndamukong Suh are as talented as any unit in the league, and their hard-working backups (Turk McBride, Sammie Lee Hill and Lawrence Jackson) allow the Lions to attack opponents in waves.

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Ndamukong Suh was simply dominant against the Redskins on Sunday, but were his two sacks and game-sealing touchdown enough to make him the week's top rookie performer?

In looking at the collection of talent that the Lions have along the defensive line, they have ideal pieces in place to disrupt opponents with a conventional four-man rush. Most dominant defensive lines feature at least one pass rusher that commands a double team on an every-down basis, and Suh is that pivotal player.

The rookie possesses a rare combination of strength, power and quickness that makes him nearly impossible to block. After only seven games, he has been such a disruptive force in the middle that opponents are steering the double team in his direction on most downs. That has freed up the rest of the Lions' front line to feast off one-on-one matchups.

Vanden Bosch, in particular, has been the biggest beneficiary from playing alongside Suh. Although he is a high-motor rusher capable of wearing down opponents with his relentless effort and energy, he needs a little help creating penetration off the edge. The Lions have been able to do this by incorporating more stunts (the defensive tackle and defensive end crisscross at the snap to confuse blockers) to create quick penetration for the veteran.

Williams and Avril may not garner a lot of attention, but they are the grunts that make their contributions as part of a collective effort. Once again, the use of stunts free them up to get quick penetration at the snap.

The Lions have been very competitive in most of their games this season, and it has been the emergence of a feisty defensive line that has led the way.

Capers more than makes do

Credit Dom Capers for turning the Green Bay Packers' lack of defensive line depth into an effective strategy for shutting down the New York Jets. The defensive architect entered the game with only a handful of defensive linemen available due to a rash of injuries, so he incorporated a host of two-defensive linemen fronts.

The Packers frequently jumped into some exotic sub-packages that featured two defensive linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs or two defensive linemen, three linebackers and six defensive backs. Though the extra linebackers and defensive backs often bluffed like they were coming on pressures, Capers frequently dropped eight defenders in a three-deep, five-under zone and dared Mark Sanchez to find open receivers down the field.

The key to the Packers' success using the "cover only" tactic was the ability of Clay Matthews to generate pressure off the edge in a three-man rush, and the clever mixing of coverage by Capers. While the threat of Matthews and other rushers caused Sanchez to hesitate at the line of scrimmage, it was the blanket look created by eight defenders in coverage that seemingly confused the second-year pro. He failed to deliver the ball in rhythm, and his inability to deliver pinpoint throws consistently allowed the Packers to limit the Jets' big plays in the passing game by sitting in matchup zones for most of the day.

Garrard benefits from good game plan

David Garrard's big day was keyed by an excellent game plan that exploited the Cowboys' preference for using quarters coverage in the red zone. The coverage, which has the secondary divide the field into fourths, creates a nine-man box against the run, while also providing double teams against vertical receivers. The Jaguars took advantage of the coverage on three of their scoring drives.

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Jaguars quarterback David Garrard threw for four touchdowns, while rushing for another against the Cowboys. Was that enough to make him the week's top quarterback? You decide!

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On their first touchdown, the Jaguars exploited the coverage by aligning in an offset I-formation to the right. They executed a split-belly play fake, which caused Cowboys defensive back Alan Ball to hesitate due to his run responsibilities in the "B" gap. Simultaneously, Jags wideout Mike Sims-Walker, who aligned as the split end on the left side, ran a skinny post behind Ball and easily fielded the throw from Garrard after the play-fake.

The Jaguars also exploited the coverage on Garrard's 9-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. Jacksonville lined up in an I-slot formation with tight end Marcedes Lewis aligned to the right. Prior to the snap, Mike Thomas (who originally lined in the slot on the left) motioned across the formation. Thomas wound up three yards outside of Lewis, and ran a post-corner to the back of the end zone.

On the opposite side, Sims-Walker ran a clear out between the corner and the safety to occupy both defenders in coverage. Lewis paused for a count before running a deep drag across the formation. Garrard simultaneously rolled to his right before lobbing a soft pass to the front corner on the left side. Lewis slipped past Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking after he reacted strongly to the play-fake, and tracked down the pass in the far corner of the end zone.

Each week, teams carry a handful of plays specifically designed to exploit the opponent's preferred coverage, but the Jaguars' executed their game plan flawlessly in thumping the Cowboys.

Smith sparks 49ers

Troy Smith might not be the next Joe Montana, but he seemingly gave San Francisco the boost it needed at quarterback.

His numbers (12 of 19 for 196 yards with one touchdown) won't blow anyone away, but a closer look reveals he managed the game very effectively. Smith threw the ball well off play-action, and had enough athleticism to get on the edge as a run-pass threat. His nifty elusiveness allowed him to buy time for his receivers to get open. His 38-yard scramble and heave to Delanie Walker showcased his improvisational skills.

Although those physical traits were impressive, it is his leadership and confidence that will energize the 49ers' locker room. As a Ravens' personnel man told me last week, Smith's swagger and confidence is infectious. He went on to say that he sincerely believes Smith is a starting quarterback, one who expects to win when he steps onto the field.

After watching him carry the 49ers to a big win against the Broncos, Mike Singletary and his staff could ultimately tab him as the full-time starter.

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