ASKED IF HE has been consciously calling plays to protect rookie quarterback Nick Foles, especially given a revamped offensive line and the gutting of his skill players by injury, Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg acknowledged as much.

"Sure, absolutely, there's no question about that, especially early," he said. "[But] we are much better right now because they have played together for at least a few weeks here. So we're better that way. All of our players have the mentality that they're going to get better as an individual, as a group, and as an offensive unit. Then, good things will happen."

It has been working, even if the Eagles have not been winning. After the unfortunate first start at Washington - where Foles had to throw too much, and where his play deteriorated steadily as the game progressed - Mornhinweg leaned more on the running game and more on quick, shorter throws, and Foles has been improving with each game.

But the sense you get from Mornhinweg is that the training wheels are going to be gradually removed in the next few weeks.

Me? I'd keep them on.

On the one hand, it makes sense that the coaches want to work a bit on Foles' mind-set now that coach Andy Reid has named him the starting quarterback for the rest of the season. It is entirely reasonable when Mornhinweg says that the thought process will shift.

"Nick and I have talked about that," he said. "All of this progressing and all of that is over now. We are no longer rookies - that's done. We expect to play at a high level consistently.

"Now, having said that, he sure does some things quite naturally. These are some great positives that he has. There are some details . . . and if you get them taken care of through hard work and preparation, then we'll be in great shape and he'll be off and running. That's the point I want to get him to and that he wants to get to where he gets off and running."

But that does not mean they need to change the playcalling. Because he has looked better, and because the offensive line has looked better, it does not mean that Mornhinweg needs to throw them all back out on the high wire for the last month of the season, throwing and throwing and throwing some more.

Everyone will be best served if Foles continues to make progress - and that includes Mornhinweg, even if he were to be fired when/if Reid is let go at the end of the season. Given everything - the lack of explosive weapons, such as injured running back LeSean McCoy and wide receiver DeSean Jackson, as well as the relative inexperience of Foles - progress will most likely occur if the playcaller remains conscious of the need to protect his young quarterback.

The numbers are plain enough. When you look at the first halves of games, it is obvious that the offense has been more balanced in the last two games. In the first 10 games this season - nine started by Michael Vick, before his concussion, and Foles' first start at Washington - the Eagles called 66 percent pass plays in the first half and 33 percent runs. But after Foles struggled against the Redskins, in the last two games, Mornhinweg has called only 53 percent passes in the first half and 47 percent runs.

The NFL is still a league where you throw first and ask questions later, where the points are scored through the air. But when you are breaking in a kid quarterback, and when you have injuries all over your lineup, and when rookie Bryce Brown has shown so much, leaning on the running game here only makes sense.

Foles has been accurate. He has gotten the ball out quickly. Vick held the ball longer and took several terrible beatings. There were games where you wondered how he could survive. Foles has yet to have one of those games. He has not been hit nearly as often as Vick. Some of it is his natural style, and some of it is a more balanced attack exposing him less often.

It is the way they should continue to play it in the final month of this dreadful season. Because if Foles is ultimately going to have to throw the ball more and throw it more downfield if he is going to be a winning NFL quarterback, the key word there is "ultimately."

Here and now, balance makes the most sense.


" @theidlerich