There aren't too many quarterbacks more qualified to speak about No. 1 receivers demanding the football than Donovan McNabb, the Philadelphia Eagles all-time leader in passing yards (32,873) and passing touchdowns (216). McNabb and Terrell Owens notoriously beefed with each other throughout the 2005 season -- the year after the Eagles lost to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX -- about Owens getting the ball.
In 2023, a season after the Eagles lost in Super Bowl LVII to the Kansas City Chiefs, Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Brown had what appeared to be an intense back-and-forth with quarterback Jalen Hurts in their 34-28 win against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2. Brown dismissed the exchange as a "discussion."
"The little sideline discussion," Brown, "I want you all to know that that's what it was, it was a discussion. [This is] a game that we both love, and I want everybody to understand that sometimes emotions run high. That's kind of what happened. That doesn't mean it's the end of the world, that doesn't mean I'm beefing with Jalen."
However, McNabb pointed back to that moment as a primary reason for the Eagles' offensive struggles in their 20-14 upset loss in Week 6 at the New York Jets, a team that was missing its top three cornerbacks: 2022 Defensive Rookie of the Year Sauce Gardner, D.J. Reed and Brandin Echols. Hurts threw a career-high three interceptions in the defeat.
"It's been so inconsistent each and every week and I go back to before the ... I can't say argument or maybe the complaint ... from A.J. Brown about not being more involved in the offense and getting the ball," McNabb said Monday on Philadelphia radio station 94WIP. "I go to that because I've seen it before, I understand it, I know as a quarterback you don't want to be involved in it. But what I'm seeing is, I'm seeing offensive play calls are being more catered to try to feature instead of establishing a tempo and a consistency from running the football, play-action game, quick game to be able to spread the ball around. DeVonta Smith, I don't care what nobody say, he ain't getting involved in this offense."
Brown leads the Eagles with 60 targets to Smith's 45 through six weeks while tight end Dallas Goedert ranks third with 36 targets. Hurts is averaging 36 pass attempts per game this season, up five attempts per game from 2022. He threw the football a season-high 45 times in the loss to the Jets on Sunday, the second-most pass attempts in a game for Hurts in his entire career. McNabb would like to see Philadelphia go back to featuring the ground game to set up shots downfield to both Brown and Smith.
"It goes back to last year, the first year A.J. Brown got there," McNabb said. "Maybe in the first four or five games, DeVonta Smith looked like he was the true No. 1 even with A.J. Brown, and A.J. Brown started getting more features. Now it seems like we're featuring more of A.J. Brown and pulling away from the true run game. We threw the ball over 40 times in that game I believe, right? In the Jets game. That's not our offense. Our offense is getting [running back D'Andre] Swift about 18 touches, somehow in the passing game or running game. Get [running back Kenneth] Gainwell about 12-15 touches and then Jalen gets about five to six carries if it's from a scramble or read option, whatever it may be."
Despite the defeat, Brown did get his numbers. He totaled 131 yards on seven catches, giving him four games in a row with over 125 receiving yards, making him the first Eagles player to do so in team history. Brown's 672 receiving yards are the second most in the entire NFL this season behind only Tyreek Hill's 814, and the Eagles are out to a 5-1 start, tied for the best record in the league. However, their points per game average is down 2.3 points per game (28.1 in 2022 to 25.8 in 2023). There is room for improvement in Philadelphia, but the situation may not be as dire as McNabb is making it out to be.