A.J. Feeley made the quarterback decision very easy for Andy Reid this week. If the head coach doesn't do some serious thinking about his offensive strategy, however, Donovan McNabb's return won't be enough to save this swiftly sinking season.
It has long been the feeling that play-calling and game-planning have combined to undermine McNabb over the last few years. Yesterday's 28-24 loss to Seattle served two purposes. It took McNabb out of the equation, and it showed that wacko play-calling is the Eagles' single biggest problem.
On a cold and rainy day, as Feeley was throwing four interceptions, the Eagles called a total of 47 pass plays and just 25 runs. That's almost two passes for every rush, even though the uncertain footing contributed to Eagles touchdown runs of 30 and 29 yards.
Something has to change, and now. The New York Giants, who sacked McNabb 12 times earlier this season on another night of mystifying play calls, will be at Lincoln Financial Field this Sunday.
You know Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora are hoping the Eagles pass the ball 50 times. The Eagles would be fools to appease them.
The obvious suggestion would be for Reid to take play-calling responsibility away from offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Trouble is, Reid is likely to call more passes, not fewer.
Maybe Reid should let right tackle Jon Runyan call the plays. Runyan's feel for the game is as good as or better than anyone else's. Besides, he couldn't do worse, could he?
Runyan was clear-eyed and deeply unhappy after the Eagles dropped to 5-7, reliant on the NFC's mediocrity for playoff life. If the Eagles had won the games that were theirs for the taking this year, they'd be 8-4.
"It's not going to be easy," Runyan said. "We're going to need some help along the way. The problem is, we've got to take care of business. We're making it harder on ourselves every week."
It's impossible to list all the ways the Eagles made it harder against Seattle, but the common thread was the offensive approach taken by Reid and Mornhinweg.
On a third-and-1 play early in the fourth quarter, Feeley overthrew tight end L.J. Smith 20 yards downfield. On third and 6 from the Seattle 30 in the third quarter, Feeley threw incomplete for a well-covered Reggie Brown in the end zone instead of working for the first down. David Akers followed that by missing a 48-yard field-goal try - too long an attempt for the conditions. Feeley's third interception was a direct result of the Seahawks' getting pressure on him.
Consider: In a below-par season so far, McNabb has thrown six interceptions in 326 pass attempts. Feeley threw his sixth on his 66th attempt of the season. He finished the day with eight picks for the season - two more than McNabb in less than one-third the attempts.
So much for the quick decisions and greater accuracy. The reality is that, during his career, McNabb generally has made good decisions and completed a high percentage of his passes when he has capable players to throw to. He is far from perfect, but he has made Reid's offense better than Reid's offense has made him.
Last year, Reid and Mornhinweg changed, running more and protecting Jeff Garcia, and it worked. This year, even though McNabb was coming off serious knee surgery and had little chemistry with the team's best receiver, Kevin Curtis, it was right back to the passaholic approach.
Now at least Feeleymania will subside. And forget Kevin Kolb for now. Starting the kid against the Giants or Cowboys while the playoffs are a possibility is out of the question.
"People just get excited about change," Runyan said, "and change isn't necessarily good. It's unfortunate that it's like that."
McNabb has come to represent a decade of being close but not winning a championship. It is a burden he and Reid have shared, but which is gradually being shifted completely onto McNabb's shoulders.
"People are upset that you're not winning Super Bowls," Runyan said. "You're making these runs in the playoffs, and you're not winning Super Bowls. Well, there's about 25 other teams in other cities in this country that wish they had that opportunity. People are just kind of bored with it, but I'll take it every day of the week."
Watching Feeley throw killer interceptions the last two weeks should reinforce how difficult the QB position is to play in the NFL. Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck made it look pretty tough himself.
McNabb is not all the way back to where he was in 2004, and he may never get there. He's still the Eagles' best hope for salvaging this season. If his coaches are smart enough to change, to do for McNabb what they did last year for Garcia, he might actually have a chance.