McNabb feels for young Raider QB's woes

October 17, 2009 7:52:05 PM PDT
Before he tries to beat the Raiders, Donovan McNabb wants to give some advice to Oakland's struggling quarterback. McNabb plans to pull JaMarcus Russell aside Sunday before the Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) play the Raiders (1-4) and impart some veteran wisdom from a player who has plenty of experience dealing with booing fans, media skeptics and just about any other kind of adversity an NFL quarterback can endure.

McNabb wants to make sure Russell stays positive despite a rough start to his third season that has raised serious questions about whether the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 draft has become a draft bust.

"Understand that every quarterback in this league has been through some sort of struggle, but believe that you can pull yourself out of it," McNabb said of his advice. "The guys around you have to make plays. ... Not all the negative aspects of what's been going on should fall on JaMarcus because it's a team game."

McNabb heard the boos before he even signed his first NFL contract as Eagles fans booed his selection over Ricky Williams in 1999. He has been questioned by the demanding Philadelphia fans for much of his career despite leading the Eagles to five NFC title games and one Super Bowl.

And this from a quarterback who has made it to five Pro Bowls and won 65 percent of his starts.

"The thing about it is the boos can turn to cheers instantly with a couple of completions or a touchdown throw, or the offense comes back out and picks up positive yards, pick up a first down," McNabb said. "That easily can change to cheers. You have to know that as a player in this league. You get tired of it, yes, but you can do something about it and that's just by going out and playing your game."

Just imagine how the famously fickle Philadelphia fans would react to Russell, who is going through one of the roughest stretches any quarterback has had recently to start this season.

Russell was already the target of boos almost from the start of his last home game, a 23-3 loss to Denver on Sept. 27. After struggling some more in two straight blowout losses on the road, Russell can probably expect more of the same this week.

"You wish they could be more supportive," Russell said. "We're already down in the dumps and that doesn't make it any better. The best thing for that is just have them come together with us. It was crazy for me. I had never really been in that situation before. You just have to pull out of it. A lot of people are fed up over the course of a year but the only thing we can do this week is make some plays and hopefully it will go the other way."

Russell said he looks forward to the pregame advice from McNabb, saying he still gets a little awestruck when he meets quarterbacks he grew up watching.

Russell was supposed to be a quarterback younger kids looked up to when the Raiders drafted him first overall in 2007. They hoped that his big arm would revive the vertical passing game in Oakland that owner Al Davis loves so much. Russell barely played as a rookie because of a lengthy holdout and wasn't allowed to throw deep much last season.

That has all changed this year as the Raiders are tied with Green Bay for the most passes thrown at least 21 yards downfield, according to STATS LLC. But Russell has completed just two of those 25 attempts, a 57-yard touchdown to Louis Murphy in the opener and a 28-yard completion to Todd Watkins the following week, while throwing three interceptions.

But despite all the struggles, the 42.1 completion percentage, the 47.1 passer rating and the four straight games with less than 200 yards of offense, the Raiders are sticking with Russell for the foreseeable future.

"To junk what we're doing would be ridiculous," passing game coordinator Ted Tollner said. "We know it's sound, we have to keep working at it so we can be more productive. Are we happy about the production now? Obviously, no. But we believe we will make progress and be productive and we're going to stay the course.

Russell has gotten little help from an offensive line that has backups starting in three positions and allowed six sacks last week, two rookie starting wide receivers who have dropped five passes and a running game that hasn't gotten going.

"We have to do everything we can to help him," tight end Zach Miller said. "The quarterback takes all the glory when you win but also all the flack when you lose."

And right now there has been too much losing in Oakland. The Raiders have dropped three straight games by at least 20 points for the first time in team history. They are an NFL-worst 25-76 since the start of the 2003 season and Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce said that playing the Raiders last week was like a scrimmage.

"Right now we're kind of the laughingstock of the NFL," defensive end Greg Ellis said. "This isn't anything new. Teams have been that way before. New England wasn't always winning Super Bowls and Dallas wasn't always the team they are. It goes in cycles. When you're in that down cycle, you got to fight and claw to get back out of it and that's what we're doing here right now in Oakland. We got the talent to do it and that probably makes it more frustrating. You look around and you have a talented bunch of guys, you're just not winning the games. That's frustrating."

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