Shanahan back to jerking around QBs

Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan’s twisting logic over why he benched quarterback Donovan McNabb(notes) not only sounds like a sham, but also makes a mockery of some earlier logic he used in training camp with a similarly high-profile player.

For those with short memories, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth(notes) was repeatedly forced to take a conditioning test at the beginning of camp to prove he was in adequate cardiovascular condition. Haynesworth was the only Washington player who had to do it. Without doing a blow-by-blow account of that situation, here’s a quote from Shanahan in July explaining why Haynesworth was singled out.

“That’s part of being in the offseason program,” Shanahan said. “You don’t have to take the test [if you show up in the offseason]. There’s a certain percentage of workouts that you’ve got to be here, and if you’re in that percentage, you don’t have to go through the conditioning test because we knew you’re in good shape. You had done this test in a lot of different running drills along the way.”

So how is it that McNabb is now suddenly out of shape? By this statement, McNabb was in shape at the beginning of training camp. He then went through training camp and has been practicing all season.

Yet suddenly he can’t get enough breath to call two plays in the huddle and then carry them out?

Though Shanahan’s son, Kyle – the Redskins’ offensive coordinator – tried to provide clarity Tuesday, the more likely explanation is that the strategically-brilliant-but-management-challenged Shanahan is yet again mishandling a quarterback situation. Ever since John Elway retired after Shanahan and the Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowls, Shanahan has been searching for another great passer. His search has been an interesting study in management techniques.

In 1999, he upset numerous Denver veterans when he made second-year man Brian Griese(notes) the starter at the last minute over Bubby Brister. After four seasons, Griese fell out of favor and Shanahan acquired Jake Plummer(notes). After four seasons, Plummer fell out of favor and Shanahan acquired Jay Cutler(notes), eventually yanking Plummer on a Thanksgiving Day road loss against the Kansas City Chiefs after telegraphing the move to the media.

Privately, Brister, Griese and Plummer will tell you that Shanahan jerked them around.

Now, it seems as if McNabb is becoming the latest member of the Shanahan’s Society of Disillusioned Quarterbacks. Eventually, however, the common denominator in this group is not something about their ability. Rather, it’s who’s managing them.

McNabb was sacked six times before being replaced Sunday.
(Paul Sancya/AP Photo)

In short, if Shanahan wants to maintain credibility with players, he needs to start being straight about what he’s doing. He can’t say something as ridiculous as his explanation on Sunday that Rex Grossman(notes) was better prepared to handle the two-minute drill than McNabb – McNabb could be signed five minutes before a game and he’d be a better option for a two-minute drill than Grossman ever will be – and change the story the next day.

Like so many coaches who are challenged to deliver a message (see Brad Childress with Randy Moss(notes)), Shanahan should have been man enough to tell McNabb exactly what was wrong. The fact is that McNabb hasn’t played that well this season. He has seven touchdown passes and eight interceptions and his quarterback rating of 76.0 is the worst of his 12-year career since he was a rookie. The offense has been held to less than 20 points in five of eight games.

Some of the issues are on McNabb and some are on the fact that the team around him is limited. The Redskins’ offensive line is a work in progress (seven sacks against Detroit is bad). The running back position not only was a joke in the offseason (the retread collection of Clinton Portis(notes), Larry Johnson(notes) and “Slow” Willie Parker(notes) was absurd even then), but also it has become a MASH unit now with Ryan Torain(notes) being the latest one to go down.

Wide receiver is little better, led by the vastly overrated Santana Moss(notes). He’s the NFL’s version of Donyell Marshall, who produced stats because he mostly played on bad teams that had nobody better. The only skill position player worth much is tight end Chris Cooley(notes), but it’s not like he’s some world-beater like Antonio Gates(notes).

Fact is, Shanahan is making McNabb the scapegoat of a mediocre season (as if 4-4 at the midpoint of the season wasn’t enough of an improvement for the Redskins). As quickly as Shanahan put together this collection of veterans, now he wants to tear it all apart. Here’s a prediction: By this time next year, McNabb is going to be playing for the Arizona Cardinals, and the Redskins will be on to their next solution under Shanahan.

The problem is that Shanahan needs to find a plan he can stick with, a plan he can truly stay with so that he can show off his immense skills as a play caller and game manager.

To put it another way, Shanahan needs to get his plan in shape.


Corrente “interferes” with offenses

For those who pay close attention to officials, there is a disturbing trend going on with the crew led by Tony Corrente. The crew seems hell-bent on rewriting the rules on pass interference. In particular, Corrente & Co. have fallen in love with the idea of seeking out offensive pass interference situations.

In two games over the past three weeks, Corrente’s crew has called three offensive pass interferences (OPI’s), a somewhat rare call in the spectrum fouls. On Monday night in the Houston-Indianapolis game, the Corrente crew called an absurd OPI on Colts wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez(notes). It was so bad that ESPN game analysts Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden were practically dumbfounded.

In the game earlier this season between the New York Jets and Broncos, the Corrente crew made two OPI calls. They also made a bad pass interference call against Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie(notes), a questionable defensive holding call against Drew Coleman(notes) and an awful personal foul call against safety Jim Leonhard(notes) on a sideline hit.

How bad was the Leonhard call? Here’s perspective: It came in the same week that James Harrison(notes) was fined $75,000 and both Brandon Meriweather(notes) and Dunta Robinson(notes) were fined $50,000. In other words, with the NFL willing to throw out fines like Halloween candy, Leonhard wasn’t docked a dime from his paycheck.

The greater point to all of this is that NFL teams are noticing the huge gap between Corrente and the rest of the officiating crews. The situation has become so obvious that sources from three teams claim they run specific practice drills the week before playing in games where they know Corrente’s group will be working.

This is not good for the games. While there will always be subtle differences between officials because they are, after all, human, there shouldn’t be a gap in the way they do their job.

To put it another way (and use a baseball example): It’s one thing to interpret a strike as starting at the top of the letters or the bottom of the letters. It’s another thing to say the strike zone starts at the shoulders. Right now, that’s what Corrente’s crew is doing.

Top five
1. New England Patriots (6-1):
I have zero confidence that the Pats will stay here. Too many bad indicators in the numbers.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2): They waste a lot of early downs trying to run when they should throw more often.
3. Indianapolis Colts (5-2): Eventually, the putrid state of the running game is going to hurt this team at a really bad time.
4. Baltimore Ravens (5-2): Two games coming up in five days is not a good thing for a defense that’s showing age.
5. Green Bay Packers (5-3): Nice win against the Jets, but finding consistency with this team is still a big challenge.

Palmer’s Bengals have lost four straight games.
(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Bottom five
28. Cincinnati Bengals (2-5):
Sadly, it’s the same old Bengals. For some reason, QB Carson Palmer(notes) isn’t getting it done right now.
29. Dallas Cowboys (1-6): Jerry Jones says he’s embarrassed. You mean it took this long to get to that point? Really?
30. Carolina Panthers (1-6): The clock struck midnight and Matt Moore(notes) turned back into a pumpkin … just in time to get carved up.
31. Denver Broncos (2-6): There is a reason Kyle Orton(notes) gets great passing stats. Nobody is afraid of him throwing it.
32. Buffalo Bills (0-7): The way the Bills have lost the past two weeks is like water torture. How long can this team keep fighting the results?

This and that

During a series of conversations with current and former Vikings on Monday, one of them talked about how he once had a conversation with the great Bud Grant, who led the Vikings to four Super Bowls during his tenure. Grant talked about how he liked to hire assistant coaches and others who he didn’t know particularly well outside of knowing that they were good and successful. “How do you get new ideas if you hire only people who are your friends?” the player recounted Grant saying. That’s a great point that so many people in all businesses, not just football, fail to understand.

While this may end up being Jets defensive end Jason Taylor’s(notes) last season in the NFL, reports of his imminent retirement are a bit premature. While it’s true that Taylor has signed with Creative Artists Agency to handle a lot of his off-field endeavors, the reason is not that Taylor is ready to jump immediately into TV or movies. Rather, it’s the result of a long-time relationship between Taylor and CAA rep (and former NFL defensive end) Trace Armstrong, who Taylor has known and been close friends with since they first played together in Miami in 1997. Armstrong recently helped get Taylor some TV appearances during the Jets bye week. That said, Taylor’s decision to go with CAA is not a good sign for agent Gary Wichard, who Taylor still has as his player agent. Wichard, who is under investigation for his involvement with former North Carolina defensive lineman Marvin Austin, was the one who lined up Taylor for his “Dancing With The Stars” gig in 2008. Wichard had big plans to get Taylor lined up in the movie industry after football was over.

Former NFL coach and current ESPN analyst Herm Edwards has a theory on why so many teams (Miami and San Diego have been particularly bad this season) are having problems with special teams. “You see so many teams cutting veteran backup players to save money, all of sudden you have all these young guys on your roster,” Edwards said. “They’re not very good at special teams to begin with. Look at San Diego, they let go of Kassim Osgood(notes), a Pro Bowl special teams guy, because he gets a contract and now their special teams are terrible. You have young guys and then you get a couple of injuries and those young guys have to play offense and defense, which makes your special teams that much worse. It’s a cycle, a bad cycle.” The Chargers have had four punts blocked this season and had three returns against them for touchdowns. That has overshadowed the fact that their offensive and defensive rankings in important categories like yards per play (6.3) rank near or at the top of the league.

From the Something Has To Give Department: Miami (4-0) and Tampa Bay (3-0) are undefeated on the road this year. This week, they travel to play Baltimore and Atlanta, respectively. Both home teams are sporting 3-0 marks in their friendly confines.

Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Nov 2, 2010