Inside Slant, Matchups, Quotes, Injuries, Etc

The Eagles have thrown the ball 254 times in their first six games and have run it a league-low 102. While coach Andy Reid has taken a lot of heat from the media and radio talk shows for his unbalanced offense, this isn't a case of Reid trying to prove you can win a Super Bowl with strictly a passing game.

The main reason the Eagles are throwing so much is because they've been playing catch-up a lot this season. In their first six games, the Eagles have been outscored in the first quarter, 48-14. All 14 of those points came in their Week 2 win over hapless San Francisco. In their other five games, they've been shut out in the first period.

This is in start contrast to last season when the Eagles finished first in the NFC in first-quarter scoring (100 points) and first in the league in first-quarter point differential (plus-46). In the last three seasons, the Eagles have outscored their opponents, 267-158 in the first quarter.

Reid's typical M.O. in past years has been to come out throwing and then rely more on the run in the second half once his team has a comfortable lead.

"You want to start fast," Reid said. "You want to put yourself in a position where you can score and put the other team back on its heels. That's an area we need to do better at."

Much better. In their first six games last year, the Eagles scored nine times on their first and/or second possession of the games. This year, they've scored just once on their first two possessions. Six of those 12 possessions have been three-and-outs. A seventh resulted in an interception.

There have been three main reasons for their slow starts: a) quarterback Donovan McNabb; b) poor execution and penalties by the rest of the offense; and c) unfavorable field position caused by an unproductive return game.

McNabb, who has been playing with a sports hernia since Week 1, has been erratic, particularly early in games. He's completed just 12 of 30 passes for 159 yards on the first two possessions of the game.

Last week against San Diego, wide receiver Greg Lewis sabotaged the Eagles' first possession when he was flagged for an illegal block in the back that negated a 6-yard run by Brian Westbrook. A week earlier against Dallas, McNabb was sacked for a 9-yard loss on the Eagles' first possession. In their Week 1 loss to Atlanta, left tackle Tra Thomas was flagged for an illegal formation penalty on the Eagles' first possession. On the second possession, left guard Artis Hicks was called for a false start and, two plays later, an illegal formation penalty.

The poor play of the Eagles' return teams, also have affected the Eagles' early lack of offensive productivity. In the first six games last year, 9 of 12 of their first two possessions started at the 27 or better. This year, that number has dropped to five.

"We need to do a better job of blocking on kick returns, and the returners have to hit it up in there, be a little more aggressive."

SERIES HISTORY: 10th meeting. Eagles lead the series 6-3. The two teams haven't faced each other since October 4, 1998 in Denver. The Broncos won that game easily, 41-16.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Eagles were awarded PK Jose Cortez on waivers Tuesday, a day after he was released by the Dallas Cowboys after missing a 29-yard field goal in their three-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Cortez will replace Todd France Sunday against Dallas. But he likely will remain on the roster after that even though David Akers is expected to return next week after missing 4 games with a torn hamstring. The Eagles acquired Cortez mainly because he's better on kickoffs than France. Fearful of Akers reinjuring his hamstring, the Eagles only will use him on field goals and PATs initially.

--Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb made two major mental mistakes Sunday that cost the Eagles two scoring chances and almost the game against the Chargers. In the first half, he took a 13-yard sack near the right sideline instead of throwing the ball away that took the Eagles out of field goal position. Then, with 12 seconds left in the first half and the Eagles out of timeouts, he threw the ball to tight end L.J. Smith at the 10-yard line instead of into the end zone. Time ran out before the Eagles were able to stop the clock and try a field goal. As he typically does, coach Andy Reid blamed himself for calling a play that didn't have every receiver run a route into the end zone, even though McNabb should have known better than to throw it to Smith.

--After giving up a combined 311 rushing yards to the Chiefs and Cowboys in their previous two games, the Eagles defense held Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson to a career-low 7 yards on 17 carries in Sunday's 20-17 Eagles win. "We went into the game with a chip on our shoulder," free safety Brian Dawkins said. "We were hearing how much we can't stop the run and how this game was going to be no different than any other as far as him running for 200-plus yards probably against us. You get tired of hearing that. You get tired of hearing what you can't do. We went out and showed what we could (do)."

--The Eagles had just one rushing first down against the Chargers and none in their previous game against the Cowboys. They've got a total of 20 rushing first downs in six games.

--WR Terrell Owens has 12 catches in the last two games, but averaged just 8.5 yards per catch on those 12 receptions.

--Donovan McNabb insists his sports hernia injury isn't preventing him from throwing the deep ball. "A lot of teams have been trying to eliminate the big play for us," he said. "If it's deeper passes, if it's me getting out of the pocket trying to throw a deeper pass, whatever it may be. So that's why you see some (shorter) routes that are 10 or 15 yards."

BY THE NUMBERS: The Eagles and Chargers combined for just 45 rushing yards Sunday. That's the third fewest in a game in NFL history and the fewest in 62 years.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We need to balance it up a little more. We are a little too heavy with the passing." - Eagles coach Andy Reid, whose team has thrown the ball 268 times this season and run it just 102.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Eagles claimed PK Jose Cortez off waivers Tuesday from Dallas and released PK Todd France. France had made six of his seven field goal attempts while subbing for injured David Akers. But the Eagles feel Cortez has a stronger leg on kickoffs. The Eagles are hoping to get Akers back either this week or next week. When he does return, Cortez likely will remain on the roster and handle kickoffs to reduce the risk of re-injury to Akers. With the Cowboys, Cortez had five touchbacks and got eight of his last nine kickoffs with them inside the 5-yard line. PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--PK David Akers is listed as out for Sunday's game with his torn hamstring. Andy Reid had indicated earlier in the week that there was a possibility he might return this week.

--PK Jose Cortez, who was claimed off waivers from Dallas on Tuesday, will handle all of the kicking Sunday against Dallas, and may remain on the roster to handle kickoffs even after David Akers returns.

--LB Jason Short probably will miss his second straight game with a high ankle sprain. He's listed as doubtful.

--WR Terrell Owens injured his shoulder last week against San Diego, but practiced Wednesday and is listed as probable for Sunday.

--TE Stephen Spach, who saw his most extensive playing time Sunday as a blocking tight end, is nursing a sprained ankle, but practiced Wednesday and will play Sunday.

GAME PLAN: Even though Andy Reid said his team needs to run the ball a little more, don't look for a lot of running this week against the Broncos. The Eagles still will attack primarily through the air, with Donovan McNabb looking for his three main pass-catching weapons - wide receiver Terrell Owens, tight end L.J. Smith and running back Brian Westbrook. All three are on 90-catch paces.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Eagles WR Brian Westbrook vs. Broncos LBs. There are few safeties or linebackers in the league who can match up against Westbrook in the passing game. But all three of the Broncos LBs are fast and athletic.

Eagles LT Tra Thomas vs. Broncos RDE Trevor Pryce. Pryce is the one guy up front the Eagles must neutralize. While Denver will move him around, he'll spend most of the game opposite Pro Bowler Thomas.

INJURY IMPACT: PK David Akers may be back as early as next week. Even when he returns, the Eagles may keep Jose Cortez around to handle kickoffs. ... P Dirk Johnson continues to have soreness in his groin. He had surgery to repair a sports hernia this summer. Johnson has managed to kick with the discomfort. ... KR Ryan Moats, who suffered a concussion in Sunday's game, is listed as probable for this week. But it's uncertain whether he'll return kicks. He fumbled both of his attempts last week.

War Nest Top Stories