In consecutive weeks now, quarterback Donovan McNabb has started the game with at least six incompletions. And for a team that throws the ball to the extent Philadelphia does, that's not really a good thing.
Establishing a rhythm has been the Eagles' Achilles heel all season, and Sunday's 36-31 loss to the Giants was no exception. McNabb took a while to get going, the running game never did and, as a result, the Giants nearly doubled the Eagles' time of possession.
"I think in this game it's all about getting into a rhythm, and, unfortunately, in the last three games, it hasn't started in the beginning of the game," McNabb said. "It's important that we start fast but we finished strong, and I guess today wasn't strong enough."
The Eagles actually kicked off the shootout with a DeSean Jackson touchdown run, which came on a direct snap to Jackson with McNabb split out wide, the first sighting of the Wildcat formation this season. But the defense put the Eagles in that position, when Mike Patterson tipped an Eli Manning pass to himself and romped down to the Giants' 9-yard line. Beyond that, the Eagles didn't convert a first down until midway through the second quarter, on another Jackson run.
In combination with McNabb, Jackson was the Eagles' most potent rushing threat, with star Brian Westbrook contained to just 26 yards on 13 carries – one less yard than it would have taken to extend the game for at least another four plays. Sixty-one of the Eagles' 106 rushing yards came on McNabb's broken-play scrambles and end-arounds to Jackson.
But with the Eagles battling from behind most of the game, Westbrook never had the opportunity to establish a rhythm.
"We have to keep the defense off the field," Westbrook said. "I think that in the past what we've done to get our offense going is to run the ball a little bit more, but hopefully we'll do that soon."
When the Eagles did extend drives, they converted big plays early and often. Despite scoring 31 points and gaining 300 yards of offense, they finished just 3-11 on third down, and were unable to succeed on a gigantic fourth-and-one late in the game.
And up until their final three plays, the Eagles had doubled their running choices through the air – 36 passes to 18 runs. But the Eagles ran on those last three plays, coming up one yard short of a chance to win.
"I know how good we are, and I know what we should be doing," head coach Andy Reid said. "We're a good enough football team to win all of these games."
The Eagles eliminated their year-long red-zone drought, scoring four touchdowns and a field goal, which was only attempted because of the first half winding down, in five tries. But the slow-start bug has been croaking for a while now, and it's putting the Eagles behind early.
It was a bit of a catch-22. In keeping with Jackson, the Eagles rode their hot hand, but Westbrook was unable to get going, failing to garner 100 yards from scrimmage for the first time in his last seven games against New York. It was Jackson's 85 yards from scrimmage that topped the Eagles, this time.
"We have been doing a lot of things. There are a lot of (tricks) that we have in there," Jackson said. "It's definitely not good at all, but we still have hope."