The season continues. The 49ers are ahead. A sizable task exists, and through the frustration and the anger and the disappointment, the focus to turn it around remains. With the news that running back Brian Westbrook has two fractured ribs, of course, the road to the playoffs becomes more challenging. Westbrook wants to play in San Francisco on Sunday, and that remains to be seen if he can go.
Meanwhile, there are many other things to ponder. How is Andy Reid going to fix this 2-3 team? Is he ready to make some changes in personnel? Philosophy? Play calling? We are going to find out on Sunday, a pre-bye game that has historically given the Eagles fits. This team, at 2-3, can ill afford fits.
It's all about winning, or else. That is the mentality the Eagles must have -- the players in their preparation for the game and the way they conduct their business on Sunday and every other game day for the rest of the season, and the coaches, who have to throw caution to the wind and create success with X's and O's.
Coaching is getting the most scrutiny right now. How the Eagles have gone from 38 points in the opener to 30 points (by the offense) in Week 2 in Dallas to what trickled down and became the performance Sunday against Washington is the most mystifying question of all. Yeah, the defense was pushed around on Sunday and Jim Johnson certainly has some work to do on that side of the ball, but the way the offense has bogged down is most alarming.
Add in the Westbrook injury and, yeah, the offense has to come a long way between now and Sunday. I say the Eagles have to go for broke here. If it means they have to line up DeSean Jackson to take a direct snap and play a single-wing formation -- similar to what Miami has done with Ronnie Brown -- hey, I'm all for it. If it means Donovan McNabb has some designed runs in the game plan, put 'em in.
The Eagles have to form an identity offensively. It all begins by winning the line of scrimmage, by establishing a running game, and by correctly using the personnel.
With or without Westbrook, the Eagles need to run the ball. They have Correll Buckhalter, a good between-the-tackles slasher who is capable of carrying the football 20 times a game. They have Lorenzo Booker, who really has proven nothing so far here other than there are questions about him, but Booker deserves some touches to see if he can utilize his speed to provide a change of pace.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has always talked about running the football efficiently, answering the question of balance in the run/pass game by stressing the importance of making the runs count, however many are called. Fine. I'll buy it. But the Eagles aren't anywhere close to efficient on offense when they call a running play.
Part of it is a mentality. The big offensive line needs to be rewarded and given a chance to play some power football. Too often, it seems, the Eagles have run so little in quarters one through three that in the times when a run is called in the fourth quarter in the goal-to-go situations that have been so dreadful that there is no push, no fire, no burst coming off the ball.
McNabb's game has to change, too. In the first two games, he was a pinball in the pocket. McNabb broke tackles, kept his legs moving, ran when he had the chance to run. Lately, there has been absolutely no threat of the scramble. Washington even played man-to-man coverage and the secondary turned their backs on McNabb, something the Redskins would have never done in the scrambling-McNabb days earlier in his career.
I know McNabb is banged up, but all parties insist that McNabb is healthy enough to execute the offense. Well, part of the offense, part of every NFL offense, is having a quarterback who can put some pressure on defenses with his legs. McNabb isn't putting any pressure on defenses with his legs.
Then there is the receiving corps, which needs to be, as Andy Reid says, put in better positions on the field to make plays. McNabb needs to share in this piece, too. He need to throw with confidence to his receivers and allow them to make plays and catch and run. I haven't checked lately, but I bet that the Yards After Catch statistic, one category in which the Eagles have always ranked high -- in large part because of Westbrook's receiving ability -- is not where the coaching staff wants it to be after five games.
And what about the personnel packages themselves? Doesn't it seem like the Eagles are shuffling receivers in and out on nearly every play? Maybe the Eagles need to cut back on the mixing and matching of receivers and keep Jackson on the field as much as possible and try to feed him the football. He is clearly a big-play maker whom the Eagles need on the field with the ball in his hands. Kevin Curtis could play on Sunday, and when he is ready to go and shows he is at full strength, he needs to play a lot. Reggie Brown has had a couple of pretty good games since his return and needs some time, too.
It sure is going to be interesting to see how Reid and his players react. Everyone, I hope, understands the urgency of the situation now. The road to the playoffs is a tough one, and the Eagles have already left too much litter on the pavement.
So changes are needed, whether they are mental or physical or philosophical. Remaining static is going backward at this point.