Phil Sheridan | Real McNabb missing, and coaches lost
Here's a different kind of 0-2. There were two primary reasons this, ahem, expert picked the Eagles to win 11 games this season. First: the belief that Donovan McNabb, motivated to show the world that he's still an elite quarterback, would put up huge numbers. Second: the related belief that Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg learned important lessons from 2005 and 2006 about protecting an injured quarterback and balancing their offense.
Here's a different kind of 0-2.
There were two primary reasons this, ahem, expert picked the Eagles to win 11 games this season. First: the belief that Donovan McNabb, motivated to show the world that he's still an elite quarterback, would put up huge numbers. Second: the related belief that Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg learned important lessons from 2005 and 2006 about protecting an injured quarterback and balancing their offense.
The Eagles are 0-2 because your humbled expert went 0-2. Both of those beliefs have turned out to be wrong.
Well, one is half wrong. Watching McNabb this closely for eight years, you just know he wanted nothing more than to prove his critics and doubters wrong. If he believes, as he said on HBO, that he has to do a "little more" than other quarterbacks in the NFL, you just know McNabb was determined to take the field in 2007 and do a lot more.
The problem is that he can't right now. His right knee - blown out a year after surgery to repair injuries to his groin area - isn't healed enough for him to play like the 2004 McNabb.
Look back over McNabb's career and a pattern emerges. The biggest disappointments have tended to come when he had physical problems.
The second NFC championship game loss, the one against Tampa Bay in the final game at Veterans Stadium, came just weeks after he broke his ankle. When the Eagles got off to a bad start the next season, McNabb had a bad thumb. When they lost to Carolina to end another playoff run that year, McNabb tried and couldn't play through a painful injury to his ribs.
In 2005, determined to show the world that Terrell Owens' antics wouldn't affect his game, McNabb got off to a great start. Then that sports-hernia injury got worse and worse, until he finally needed surgery.
Last year, determined to prove he could excel in the post-Owens era, McNabb again got off to a great start. He slipped into a slump, though, in the month leading up to the knee injury that ended his season.
This should not read as a litany of excuses. As Buddy Ryan used to say, durability is as important as ability. If you're not on the field, you're of no use. That's a cold fact of life in this brutal sport.
The point is that McNabb's knee isn't ready for him to play quarterback at a high level. We've seen similar situations involving Carson Palmer and Daunte Culpepper in the last couple of years. Palmer came back quickly and performed better than expected. Culpepper came back quickly and struggled.
Palmer hurt his left knee. Culpepper, like McNabb, hurt his right knee. All three are righthanded QBs. Is that the difference? Or is it just a matter of individual healing time or clearing psychological hurdles?
McNabb practiced without a brace on his right knee Friday. That may say more about what he thinks is wrong than any words could. If you're looking for positive signs, there was the fourth quarter of Monday's otherwise ugly loss to Washington. When the urgency level was up, McNabb looked better than he had up until then.
What McNabb can't control is the coaches' insistence on calling plays as if it were 2004 - or as if this were Madden '07.
It is beyond explanation that Reid and Mornhinweg would repeat the errors of 2005, when a seriously impaired McNabb had to throw 40 to 50 times a game. It was almost cruel, the pounding he took from defenders who were joyfully liberated from worrying about the run.
After seeing Jeff Garcia run a balanced offense last season, this mistake is even more egregious. McNabb isn't right, physically, and asking him to carry the entire offense isn't right, strategically or logically.
"You'd like it a little closer," Mornhinweg said, referring to a balance between the run and pass. "It will get closer if you're ahead or even. . . . That whole fourth quarter [Monday], we were behind, and we got behind by two scores. You're not going to have too many runs in there. It gets skewed."
The Eagles called exactly twice as many passes as runs in the first half against Washington, even though they averaged more than 7 yards per carry. They wound up calling 51 passes and 18 runs, nearly a 3-to-1 ratio, although they didn't trail by more than one score until three minutes into the final quarter.
That's not skewed by the score; it's screwed up by the coaches.
They are failing the quarterback, and the quarterback is failing the team. If that continues, this season will turn ugly pretty soon.