Fresh off a sprained ankle suffered in the Baltimore game, reports out of Redskins Park confirm that Donovan McNabb will miss next weekend's preseason game against the New York Jets. Rex Grossman will start at quarterback.
"I don't think he could go if it was a regular season game," said coach Mike Shanahan, per CSNWashington's Ryan O'Halloran.
This, likely, is a bit of hyperbole on coach's part. Perhaps this would be true if it was a regular season game preceding a bye week against the Detroit Lions, McNabb would sit the week with a sprained ankle. If that regular season game came against the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field, uh, no McNabb would not sit out the game, swelling in the ankle or not. This is the man who once played three quarters against the Arizona Cardinals in 2002 on a broken ankle. Jason Campbell started all 16 games last year on a gimpy ankle. Of course McNabb would play.
Coincidently, the third preseason game -- the regular season dress rehearsal as it is often referred to -- is being played against Rex Ryan's Jets. The number one defense in the NFL last year. The defense which, even if you can break down their secondary with route combinations, can still blow up your plays by finding the weak link in your pass protection unit, and quickly. Rex Ryan's pressure defense got McNabb benched the last time they played, in Baltimore during the 2008 season. There's nothing to prepare for, as the only time that Redskins could possibly see the Jets again this year is in Super Bowl 45. Clearly, keeping McNabb out of the line of fire, and sacrificing Rex Grossman to the wolves, is the proper coaching decision.
We likely will not see McNabb again before the season opener vs. Dallas. And, frankly, there's no reason for him to put himself out there before that. He passed the preseason tests against the Bills, and outside of a badly underthrown deep ball against the Ravens with Anthony Armstrong behind the coverage, has looked the part of the quarterback that the Redskins traded for. He's a veteran, and anyone who thinks he's in need of a tune up or more timing with receivers is overthinking the necessity for the preseason. The number one thing is to make sure McNabb is as healthy as possible for the season.
McNabb's biggest problem might be that the Redskins haven't ever been able to block Dallas nose tackle Jay Ratliff, and haven't changed the interior of the OL since last year (with the exception of Artis Hicks, who replaces Mike Williams). McNabb is very good when throwing under pressure, but there is pressure, which can be caused by Trent Williams giving the edge to DeMarcus Ware, and there's the other kind of pressure: when the opposing defensive tackle splits his double team on every passing play from the shotgun. On those plays, you need your ankles to be strong enough to get out of the pocket, which isn't being made due to a mismatch on the defensive line.
The biggest news here isn't something superficial. It's that McNabb needs to be able to move in the pocket -- and to get out of it -- in order to save his offensive line against the Cowboys. If the swelling on his ankle is bad enough three weeks from now, he may be limited in his capacity to do so. And that could tip the scales of that game in favor of his Cowboys. Of course, with plenty of time to alter the gameplan for that game, the Redskins could take pressure off McNabb by ordering a heavy dose of Clinton Portis on the ground. And thus, this ankle injury to Donovan McNabb is just one more move in the chess game that is the NFL regular season.
And Shanahan's statements on McNabb's health should be read in such a context.