With two Eagles preseason games wrapped up, it’s getting to be the time to look at the position battles closing soon. There’s been a lot of takeaways from the games versus the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, both positive and negative. There has been a lot to consider for the numerous position battles for Eagles coaches and management. Yet, one position battle that needs to be towards the top of their minds is the backup quarterback spot.
It’s likely a surprise that they would have to even consider that a position battle, but throughout training camp and preseason it’s become an important decision. General Manager Howie Roseman was the one that coined the term ‘quarterback factory’ and it is time to put full trust and support into that idea.
Who Should Be the Eagles Backup Quarterback?
Marcus Mariota’s Poor Performances
When the Eagles signed Marcus Mariota this offseason, it only made sense. Adding a veteran quarterback who theoretically fits the power run offense for the Eagles and who is also known to be a mentor to young quarterbacks seemed like a slam dunk. Coming off a year with the Atlanta Falcons where Mariota lost his starting role, many still believed he could be a top-quality backup, especially in the Eagles system. However, it just hasn’t panned out that way so far. Mariota has struggled in both games versus the Browns and Ravens in multiple ways. Against the Ravens, Mariota finished 7/11 on completions with 58 yards passing, adding four rushes for 29 yards. Against the Browns, Mariota finished 9/17 with 86 yards and one interception playing the entire first half.
During the Ravens game, Mariota was way too passive and missed several receivers down the field. His conservative play led to drives stalling too often. The quarterback position is hard to play, but the bottom line of quarterback play will always be about hitting the open receivers, which is something he also struggled with versus the Browns. He was missing open receivers all over the field, often over-throwing them. He particularly had a bad interception late in the first quarter where he overthrew a tight end down the middle straight to the Browns safety. All in all, in these two games, Mariota just looked uncomfortable; uncomfortable in the pocket, unsure if he should take off or stand tall, and uncomfortable with the timing and placement when throwing to the receivers. Not only that, but it looks as if some of his physical talent has diminished as well.
In my head I thought “Marcus Mariota sure seems like a nice deeeep stash in superflex in that offensive structure.”
Glad I never tweeted that.
— Jeff Bell (@4WhomJBellTolls) August 18, 2023
Tanner McKee Has Shown a Lot of Promise
Tanner McKee did not have much of any expectations going into this year. McKee was looked at as a promising prospect throughout his career at Stanford University. Yet, the team was struggling in 2022 and McKee and the offense did not have much going for them. McKee finished the year with 2,947 passing yards, with 6.9 yards per attempt, and 13 touchdowns along with eight interceptions. After 2022, McKee fell down many draft boards and became looked at as a late-round flier. Well, the Eagles drafted him as that, in the sixth round of the NFL Draft. Considering that, McKee’s performances have been excellent thus far in the preseason. Against the Ravens, McKee put up 148 passing yards going 10 for 20 with 14.8 yards per completion. Against the Browns McKee was 10/18 with 14.7 yards per completion, 147 passing yards, and one touchdown all in the second half.
In the game against the Ravens, McKee was awesome. First, he showed great poise in the pocket, for someone who is not very mobile, he needs to have great awareness inside the pocket. McKee showed that he can dip, duck, dodge, and slide to be able to get the throw-off. Secondly and probably most importantly, McKee was able to make great throws down the field. While McKee does not possess a particularly strong arm, it’s strong enough to reach everywhere on the field. He also can put a feathery touch on the ball, allowing him to routinely complete back-shoulder passes to bigger receivers with perfect placement. Against the Browns, McKee showed much of the same. He made big throws down the field and was able to quickly read the defense and go through his progressions. McKee has improvements he needs to make, but he has shown some real promise.
Tanner McKee ➡️ Brady Russell for the TD!
— NFL (@NFL) August 18, 2023
Why McKee Should be the Eagles Backup
The specific and gritty style of offense the Eagles run will always make having quarterback depth important. That is why it’s fair to think that the Eagles would be better off with a veteran in Mariota who should be prone to fewer mistakes rather than a rookie quarterback. However, McKee in his performances has barely put the ball in harm’s way and has made significantly more good throws than Mariota has. Yes, McKee lacks the athleticism that Mariota possesses to fit better into the offense. And yes, McKee has been going against the third-stringers while Mariota has faced a lot of second-stringers. But the performances have been drastically different enough in favor of McKee. He has looked sharp, comfortable, and confident for a rookie and it seems clear he is a better player right now than Mariota.
All in all, the Eagles cannot afford any regression and are a team that still expects to be competitive even with a few injuries, even injuries to key players on the team. The bottom line is that McKee can hit the open receivers and move the ball down the field, while Mariota is struggling with that right now. Howie Roseman has expressed his desire to turn the Eagles into a quarterback factory. He has the chance now to fully set that in motion by naming McKee the backup and thrusting him into a pretty important role in his first season.
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