INDIANAPOLIS - It's a good thing these preseason games give NFL coaching staffs a better idea of who should make their football teams, because they provide no clue as to what to expect when the games start to count in a few weeks.
If commissioner Roger Goodell is looking for evidence to shorten the preseason and prolong the regular season, he could use the Indianapolis Colts' drab 23-15 win over the Eagles last night at Lucas Oil Field as Exhibit A.
"All in all, it was a really poor performance," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "We had way too many penalties and not enough intensity. The first half, we had nine penalties, and that's unacceptable. We have to tighten things up and then we have to get guys back healthy."
The Eagles' titular first-team offense had just one projected starting lineman - center Jamaal Jackson - and was also missing starting tight end Brent Celek and running back Brian Westbrook.
By the middle of the first quarter, the Eagles were without fullback Leonard Weaver, too. Weaver left with an injured left knee.
If Donovan McNabb and company didn't appear to be in midseason form, it was probably because of the company the quarterback was keeping.
In one quarter of work, McNabb completed five of seven passes, including a perfectly thrown 39-yard touchdown strike to DeSean Jackson on second and 19. But even the significance of that was tainted because Jackson ran past the Colts' Matt Giordano, a backup free safety.
That, however, was the Eagles' only offensive highlight during McNabb's time on the field, and things got worse for the visitors once the reserves came marching in.
"You are just trying to recognize the defense," McNabb said. "You focus on the front and the coverage, and you give your guys an opportunity to make a play for you. It was the coverage we wanted, and DeSean did a great job of getting over the top, which made my job a lot easier."
On the possession before the touchdown drive, the Eagles received a grim reminder of the importance of the left-tackle position, which was occupied by Tra Thomas for more than a decade.
Jason Peters, of course, is supposed to replace Thomas, and Reid is on record as saying the team's top free-agent acquisition is "the best left tackle in football."
Reid has said no such thing about King Dunlap, who played in place of the injured Peters last night.
Dunlap was responsible for the Eagles' offensive lowlight when he allowed veteran defensive end Dwight Freeney to get around him for a sack, forcing a fumble by McNabb.
Instead of getting at least three points out of a drive that started at the Indianapolis 24-yard line, the Eagles gave the ball away when the Colts' Keyunta Dawson recovered the fumble.
"Not being able to capitalize is just not going to get the job done," McNabb said.
Reid said he is worried that he won't know about his football team in some areas because of injuries, and the offensive line has to top that list. McNabb understands the coach's concern.
"You can't be [happy]," McNabb said. "Two weeks left in the preseason and you have to be ready for the regular season. If you don't have your guys out there practicing and getting that chemistry and bonding, you can't really grasp how you're going to be in that first week."
Former Temple star Adam DiMichele provided a bright spot by firing a 21-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson with 26 seconds left.
The Eagles' defense had far fewer injuries or excuses for surrendering touchdowns on two of Indianapolis' three possessions with Peyton Manning and his arsenal of first-class weapons.
Only cornerback Sheldon Brown and defensive end Trent Cole were missing from among the Eagles' projected defensive starters, although it was obvious that such was the case.
Manning, with little pressure from the defensive line, led the Colts on a 12-play, 81-yard drive on the game's first possession.
The Colts quarterback completed seven of 10 passes for 70 yards on the opening drive. Manning's most impressive completion came on third and 10 from the Eagles' 18-yard line, when he brushed off pressure from defensive end Jason Babin and found running back Joseph Addai for a 15-yard completion to the 3-yard line.
Cornerback Asante Samuel missed a chance for an end-zone interception on first and goal, then was beaten by Anthony Gonzalez in the right corner of the end zone for a touchdown on the next play.
The only positive moment for the Eagles' defense came on the Colts' second possession, when Babin, who played a solid game in place of Cole at right defensive end, sacked Manning and forced a fumble that was recovered by Akeem Jordan at the Indianapolis 24-yard line.
Immediately after the Eagles gave the ball back on the McNabb fumble, Manning connected with Reggie Wayne for a 76-yard touchdown. Wayne ran right past cornerback Ellis Hobbs, who appeared to be confused about the defensive coverage.
Last night's game ended too late for this edition. For coverage, go to http://go.philly.com/eaglesEndText