What is the identity of the Eagles' offense? Is this an explosive offense that throws the football all over the field, using its speed? Or do the Eagles revolve around Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy? It's hard to know right now as the Eagles muddle through some serious offensive worries.
We've seen the offense through five games, which is a reasonable sample size and I still don't know enough to say how good it is. A late touchdown to take a 14-13 lead and once again put all the pressure on the defense for another week didn't work this time. Having virtually no margin for error caught up with the Eagles.
At 3-2, the Eagles blew a chance to beat a good team on the road and they have nobody to blame but themselves.
In the big picture, though, the question is this: What's going on with the offense? Where is it?
There were moments in Cleveland and against Baltimore when the offense looked dynamic, and of course the second half against the Giants was impressive in that the Eagles ran the football effectively and kept the ball away from New York's offense long enough to win the game.
On Sunday in Pittsburgh against the very beatable Steelers, the Eagles were as frustrating to watch as they've ever been. The first two offensive drives served notice that maybe the Eagles had the book on the Steelers, that they were going to have their way at Heinz Field. Mixing the run and the intermediate passing game, the Eagles moved from their 16-yard line to Pittsburgh's 43-yard line. On first and 10 from there, though, McCoy was stopped for no gain, Michael Vick was sacked at the line of scrimmage and then he threw incomplete to Jeremy Maclin.
The Eagles got the ball back at their 39-yard line on their second possession and Vick threw deep incomplete for tight end Brent Celek. McCoy stretched to the left sideline for 10 yards and then Vick scrambled up the gut for 9 yards, had the ball pop loose as he dived forward and hit the ground, but a review overturned the fumble call, saying correctly that Vick was touched while he was down.
So the drive continued. And it continued all the way down to the 3-yard line after a Vick completion to Maclin picked up a first down. The Eagles were in business, looking for a crucial first score against a team that just does not lose to NFC opponents at Heinz Field.
Vick took the snap from the shotgun, and then ran a quarterback draw. I liked the call. The formation was spread and there was a sliver of daylight. Vick carried to the 1-yard line, but lost the football when safety Ryan Clark jarred the ball loose. It squirted into the end zone and Pittsburgh recovered to end the threat.
A great opportunity was lost.
The next time the Eagles had the football, with the score still 0-0, Vick was hit by Lawrence Timmons as he tried to escape the pocket and again the ball came loose and again the Steelers recovered.
Now, the Eagles gave up no direct points from those turnovers, but they lost the momentum of the game and the score went from 0-0 to 10-0 Steelers in the second quarter and again put the Eagles in comeback mode for the second half … on the road … in Pittsburgh.
A strong first drive in the second half – aided by two personal fouls totaling 30 yards – put seven points on the board when Vick threw a screen pass to McCoy and he juked past a defender and scored from 15 yards out and the thought was that maybe, just maybe, the Eagles had some momentum going in the right direction.
A fourth-quarter drive covered 79 yards and produced a touchdown on a Vick pass to Brent Celek to give the Eagles a 14-13 lead, but the defense didn't hold on Pittsburgh's final drive and the thoughts of another one-point victory evaporated in the rainy, chilly air of Western Pennsylvania.
And then thoughts turned back to the offense and the lack of points and production. The Eagles played a defense minus, for most of the game, safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker LaMarr Woodley and missed cornerback Ike Taylor for a spell, and managed just 246 total net yards and 14 points. The Steelers blitzed Vick, as expected. They also took away McCoy's cutback running opportunities, holding him to 53 yards on 16 carries.
And the Eagles could only wonder what if …
What if they didn't turn the ball over three times, including the critical giveaway at the goal line?
What if the Eagles had gone up on the Steelers in the first quarter, taken a lead, and then dictated to Pittsburgh, rather than playing catch up the entire second half?
The coaching staff is trying everything. The no-huddle approach is part of the plan every week. Vick is moving in the pocket. He's got the green light to run. The offensive balance is there, for the most part.
But the Eagles aren't sustaining drives and they're aren't making explosive gainis and they aren't scoring enough points. Seventeen points against Cleveland. Twenty-four against Baltimore. Six in Arizona, 19 against the Giants and now just 14 in Pittsburgh and the Eagles are 3-2, kicking themselves over a missed opportunity to get to 4-1 and stay alone atop the NFC East.
And until the offense is fixed -- meaning minimize the turnovers, have more explosive plays and score more points -- it's going to be that kind of heart-stopping 2012 season.