Eagles coach Andy Reid never has made it a secret that he likes to throw the ball way more than he likes to run it. Over the last four seasons, the Eagles have thrown the ball 56.1 percent of the time. Last year, during their 13-3 march to the Super Bowl, that percentage shot up to 59.2.
But they've got to strike a little bit better offensive balance than they did against the Patriots and the Falcons, if for no other reason than to keep their five-time Pro Bowl quarterback, Donovan McNabb, from getting killed.
The Falcons' top defensive priority Monday night was to pressure McNabb and hit him as often as possible. It didn't take them long to do some damage. On the Eagles' second offensive series, defensive tackle Chad Lavalais launched himself at McNabb on a first-and-20 play and hit the quarterback in the chest with the crown of his helmet.
McNabb ended up throwing an interception on the play, but also suffered a bruised chest that dramatically affected the way he played the rest of the night. While he remained in the game, he hardly moved around at all. Had just one carry, seldom left the pocket and completed only 24 of 45 attempts while averaging just 5.7 yards per attempt.
By the time the Eagles' charter from Atlanta landed in Philadelphia at 5 a.m. Tuesday morning, the discomfort in McNabb's chest had turned to significant pain. He was examined by the club's medical staff and had an x-ray, MRI and CT scan, which found nothing torn or broken. But his status for Sunday's Week 2 home opener against the San Francisco 49ers is uncertain. He didn't practice Wednesday and is listed as questionable on the club's injury report.
"He's sore," said Reid, who emphasized that there was no structural damage to the sternum. "We'll see how it goes throughout the week (with regard to him playing Sunday)."
If the Eagles don't run the ball a little more, every team they face is going to tee off on McNabb. Their running backs ran the ball just 13 times against the Falcons even though it was a one-touchdown game most of the last three quarters.
Monday night, the Eagles didn't even bother to activate their No. 2 running back, rookie Ryan Moats, because he's still feeling his way with the offense. Brian Westbrook had 12 of their 13 rushing attempts. Lamar Gordon, who was recently claimed off waivers from Miami, had the other carry.
If McNabb plays Sunday, he'll likely wear a flak jacket to protect his chest. If he can't, it's not certain which of the Eagles' other two quarterbacks - Koy Detmer or Mike McMahon - would start. Detmer is officially the club's No. 2 quarterback. But that's primarily because he also is kicker David Akers' holder and needs to be activated every week.
But McMahon, the ex-Detroit Lion who was signed as a free agent in the off-season, clearly outplayed Detmer in the preseason. It's been assumed that if McNabb couldn't start, McMahon probably would replace him.
Both Detmer and McMahon took snaps with the first offensive unit Wednesday.
Asked why both took snaps, Reid said, "Because I decided to do that. I want to make sure both guys are ready to go. I feel good about both of them."
If you ask McNabb, the question is academic. Because he insists he will play Sunday.
"Nothing will stop me from getting back on that field," he said.
SERIES HISTORY: 26th meeting. The 49ers lead the series, 17-7-1. Eagles have lost four of the last five meetings. Their lone victory in that stretch came in November of '02 in a game in which McNabb suffered a broken ankle. Koy Detmer replaced him, also got hurt, and third-stringer A.J. Feeley carried the Eagles to a 38-17 win.
--Eagles middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter feels his pre-kickoff ejection from Monday night's 14-10 loss to the Atlanta Falcons wasn't fair. Trotter and Falcons cornerback Kevin Mathis both were tossed by referee Walt Coleman for allegedly throwing punches at each other at the end of pre-game warm-ups. But Trotter insists he didn't throw a punch.
"He's the one who threw a punch," the linebacker said. "When he did, I tried to grab his facemask and defend myself. But I didn't throw a punch. I guess he thought he did." Coleman looked at a television replay of the altercation before ejecting both of the players. "In a game of that magnitude, I was surprised they went way overboard with it," Trotter said. "If anything, maybe a flag should've been thrown. But nobody should've been ejected." Without Trotter, who was replaced by second-year player Mike Labinjo, the Eagles gave up 200 rushing yards to the Falcons.
--The Eagles have 10 rookies on their 53-man roster, but six of them were inactive for Monday night's game, including one of their second-round picks, linebacker Matt McCoy, and their third-round pick, running back Ryan Moats.
--For the first time in 24 weeks, the Eagles are not in first place in the NFC East. The division's other three teams all won Sunday. The Eagles had been in first place in the division since Week 11 of 2003. They've won four consecutive division titles.
--Right tackle Jon Runyan made his 145th straight start Monday night.
BY THE NUMBERS: In the Eagles' last two games - Monday's 14-10 loss to the Falcons and last February's three-point Super Bowl loss to the Patriots, the Eagles have attempted 96 passes and run the ball just 31 times.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I thought the effort was really good. There wasn't a problem with effort. There was a problem with mistakes, starting with myself. I need to put guys in the right position to be more effective on the offensive side of the ball." - Eagles coach Andy Reid on Monday's loss to Atlanta.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Rookie defensive tackle Mike Patterson played well in his NFL debut Monday night. He was in on six tackles. Eagles were most effective inside when he and Darwin Walker were in the game. Look for Patterson's snap count to increase, at the expense of Hollis Thomas and Sam Rayburn, though defensive chief Jim Johnson will continue to rotate all four.
--QB Donovan McNabb didn't practice Wednesday and is listed as questionable with a chest contusion.
--FS Brian Dawkins is receiving treatment for a sprained ankle, but he practiced Wednesday. He's listed as probable.
--P Dirk Johnson is listed as probable for the 49ers game. He still is recovering from hernia surgery, but had no problems punting in Week 1.
--RB Lamar Gordon had just one carry Monday night. He'll likely get a few more touches this week now that he's had another week to get familiar with the Eagles' offense.
--QB Mike McMahon, who is listed as the club's No. 3 quarterback behind injured Donovan McNabb and backup Koy Detmer, split first-unit reps with Detmer Wednesday. McNabb, nursing a chest bruise, didn't practice.
GAME PLAN: Sunday's opponent, the 49ers, plays a 3-4 defensive scheme, which the Eagles have historically had problems against. They particularly have had problems running against the 3-4. But they know they need to mix it up a little more than they did Monday night against the Falcons, when they threw 45 passes and ran the ball just 14 times. Defensively, they will blitz quarterback Tim Rattay early and often in an attempt to create turnovers.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Eagles MLB Jeremiah Trotter vs. 49ers RB Kevan Barlow. Trotter is the key to the Eagles' run defense. Without him in the game Monday night, the Falcons rushed for 200 yards. Barlow is an explosive, slashing runner with good size.
Eagles RB Brian Westbrook vs. 49ers SS Tony Parrish. Eagles like to get Westbrook matched up in passing game against a LB or S. Parrish would be the most optimal matchup for the 49ers.
Eagles RT Jon Runyan vs. 49ers OLB Julian Peterson. Peterson has good speed and will be coming off the corner in the 49ers' new 3-4 scheme. Runyan has been known to have problems with really good speed rushers.
INJURY IMPACT: If Donovan McNabb (chest bruise) can't play Sunday, coach Andy Reid will have to make a decision between backup Koy Detmer and No. 3 man Mike McMahon.