It was just one preseason game. And while the fan base and the media tend to overreact, one way or the other, coaches never do. As he answered questions for more than 20 minutes on Monday morning, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg pulled no punches as he reviewed the Eagles' performance in the preseason opener against Pittsburgh.
"I was extremely disappointed in more than several things, so we have a lot of work to do to be an efficient and dynamic offensive football team," said Mornhinweg.
To be fair, and accurate, Mornhinweg also pointed out one more than one occasion how pleased he was with many aspects of the performance, notably the play in the second half with quarterbacks Nick Foles and Trent Edwards on the field, and with the fact that the Eagles came back to win the game. Everyone likes to win the game, you understand.
The starting offense was ineffective in its six snaps and the second-team with quarterback Mike Kafka didn't get anything going and now Kafka is injured and Vick barely escaped serious injury and the left tackle situation seems to be all up in the air and ... yeah, the tension is rising among the fans.
Not for Mornhinweg. Nope. No way. He's been down this road many, many times. Even in the good times, Mornhinweg's press conferences have the same "hard work" refrain. He strives for perfection, understanding that nobody attains zero mistakes for the duration of the season. And Mornhinweg knows enough of his personnel, and trusts his time-proven scheme enough to understand where the offense is in the "process" of preparing for the regular season which, by the way, begins on September 9, and not August 13.
"Some of the younger players are doing an excellent job of the hard work on the field," said Mornhinweg. "Some of the young players are highly skilled and then the key is their preparation and the hard work in the classroom, and they're doing that. Many of our veterans are right on track, and I'm pleased with that part of it.
"Again, we've got a lot of hard work left to do."
Mornhinweg is one of those coaches who meets questions head on and turns the negative slant into a positive. When asked about left tackle, and the situation suddenly confronting the Eagles with King Dunlap moving ahead of Demetress Bell on the depth chart, Mornhinweg praises Dunlap and the group of options at left tackle, rather than lamenting Bell's fall from the first team.
With Kafka likely signed for the remainder of preseason with a broken bone in his left hand, Mornhinweg praises rookie Nick Foles and suggests that, somehow, Kafka won't miss much while not playing in these next three games.
When asked about Vick's pocket presence, Mornhinweg acknowledges that Vick must "improve" but that he has already made positive leaps and bounds and that if it had been a regular season game, Vick would have worked the pocket differently rather than taking a sack on a play when the receivers were covered down the field.
You get the idea, and the message: There is no reason to be negative right now. Realistic, yes. Negative, no.
The fact is, the Eagles always seem to have their bumpy moments in the preseason. While we expected the offense to come out flying against the Steelers, the Eagles gained nary a first down in two possessions and then retired safely into the night. Maybe lost in the high expectation was the fact that neither tight end Brent Celek nor wide receiver Jeremy Maclin played, and that the offense ran a bunch of vanilla plays and that six plays isn't a whole lot to evaluate.
That said, there is every reason to demand more. The Eagles should have a strong offense, a versatile attack. There are some legitimate questions right now about this group, as I will attempt to address right here.
- Who is No. 2? Kakfa is going to be the second-string quarterback here unless Foles performs out of his mind and Edwards keeps leading fourth-quarter comeback victories. Mornhinweg insists that there is "competition" and that it's legitimate and that the Eagles still have three preseason games to go. I think this, though: No way are the Eagles going to carry four quarterbacks on the roster. They can't keep four there, plus a glut of defensive linemen, a long-snapping specialist, an extra wide receiver, etc. The 53-man roster is firm, no budging and that's that. The Eagles like Kafka a lot, despite the interception he threw the other night. It was a mistake, Mornhinweg said turning the tables on the negative, from which Kakfa will learn.
- How much has Vick progressed in the pocket? On his third "anniversary" as an Eagle, Vick is the subject of questions. It is clear that defenses are going to try to come hard after him, try to crowd him and look to keep him in the pocket. No question that Vick has to work the pocket better. It has been a priority in the offseason and in preseason. And he is improving. Sometimes, though, mistakes are made. Rest assured that Vick has been schooled on that sack against Pittsburgh with extensive film review.
- How concerning is the left tackle position? Well, if you don't believe in King Dunlap or Howard Mudd, then you're probably really concerned. But the Eagles happen to like Dunlap a lot and he's the starter right now at left tackle. The Eagles also happen to like Demetress Bell a lot, too, and Mudd is going to work overtime with him and get him on track. Remember how many times Mudd moved the pieces around last summer before finally settling on a starting five? This isn't any different. In the background, way, way in the background, is Jason Peters. He's recovering from his Achilles tendon surgeries. I saw him running on the field prior to Thursday's game. In Peters' mind, there is still a chance he will play in 2012. Peters hasn't been placed on Injured Reserve for a reason. And until that happens, the possibility, however remote, exists that Peters could maybe, possibly, make it back at some point this season
On the purely positive side for the offense, the Eagles saw a lot they liked against Pittsburgh. The receiving corps looked great. Damaris Johnson could very well have a place, a niche, in the offense and certainly on special teams. The running backs looked as good in the game as they have in training camp. The team showed some depth along the offensive line, which was a question mark entering training camp.
Beyond that, Mornhinweg raved -- absolutely gushed -- about the performance of Clay Harbor throughout the summer, perhaps setting the stage for some two-tight end sets and tight end movement that we haven't seen before. Harbor's emergence, along with the play of Celek, would give the Eagles two very athletic tight ends to create matchup problems for the defense.
It's a matter, then, of your perspective. If you are looking for instant gratification, you aren't likely to find it in an Eagles preseason game. If you are a coach who has been in this role many times in the past, you understand where the offense in the process, and where and when the peak performances must begin.