Eagles Mid-Week Wrap

Practice notes and team news heading into week three of the 2003 NFL season.

With their usually-stingy defense devastated by injuries, the Eagles need Donovan McNabb and the offense to steer them through troubled waters.
   But two games into the season, the offense has its own problems. The Eagles were shut out in a season-opening 17-0 loss to Tampa Bay and managed just 10 points Sunday in a 31-10 loss to New England.
   McNabb, their three-time Pro Bowl quarterback, has never looked worse. He has completed just 45.1 percent of his passes in the first two games and has a league-worst 41.4 quarterback rating.
   Their running game, aside from McNabb scrambles, has gone virtually ignored by coach Andy Reid in the first two games. Eagles running backs have carried the ball a total of 21 times in the season's first eight quarters.
   Their offensive line, which includes three Pro Bowlers and is considered one of the best units in the league, has given up 10 sacks, including seven in the loss to the Patriots.
   "We need to coach better and play better," Reid said in the understatement of the young season. "We've got to get that -7 turnover ratio up. You can't have five fumbles in a game and expect to win, especially when two of them end up as scores."
   McNabb had two of those five fumbles against the Patriots to go with two interceptions. The Patriots turned his second-quarter fumble into a touchdown. Later in the same quarter, Eagles punt returner Brian Westbrook muffed a punt that was recovered by the Patriots. That mistake too led to a touchdown.
   McNabb has strung together two of the worst performances of his career. When he has struggled in the past, the Eagles defense usually saved the day. But with Pro Bowl free safety Brian Dawkins and Pro Bowl cornerback Bobby Taylor both out indefinitely with foot injuries, things have changed.
   McNabb completed just 18 of 46 passes Sunday against a New England secondary that got lit up the week before by Drew Bledsoe and the Buffalo Bills. But Reid insists that McNabb isn't the reason the Eagles' offense is struggling.
   "The first thing people want to do is point the finger at Donovan," he said. "But a lot goes into a quarterback's performance that is overlooked. That's everything from the play-calling to the offensive line to the receivers to the running backs. They all have a part of that.
   "Are there things he can go back and work on? Absolutely. But it has to be understood that it's not all Donovan. That's not where the focus should be put on. I know it comes with the territory a little bit. But (the blame) needs to be spread around."
   Reid has come under fire for his play-calling in the first two games. His three running backs - Duce Staley, Correll Buckhalter and Brian Westbrook - ran the ball just 10 times against the Bucs in Week 1. Last week against the Patriots, they had only 11 carries.
   Buckhalter, who averaged 4.5 yards per carry as a rookie two years ago before missing all of last season with a torn ACL, is healthy again. Yet he's touched the ball just twice in the first two games. One of those touches was a 21-yard catch-and-run against the Patriots.
   "That's negligence on my part," Reid said. "I've got to do a better job of getting Correll the ball. He's done a good job when he's had an opportunity."
   --Correll Buckhalter, arguably the Eagles' best running back, has touched the ball just two times in the first two games. Head coach Andy Reid admitted earlier this week that he needs to get the ball in Buckhalter's hands more. The Eagles' three running backs have a total of 21 carries in the club's first two games. That's just 10 more than quarterback Donovan McNabb.
   --DT Frank Ferrara was signed Tuesday to replace injured Paul Grasmanis, who is out for the season with a torn Achilles. Ferrara will spend the bye week cramming with the coaches and is expected to get some snaps in next week's game against the Bills. He'll back up starters Corey Simon and Hollis Thomas. Darwin Walker, who normally is the club's starting right tackle, is expected to start again at left end.
   --DT Hollis Thomas will make his second start at right tackle next week when the Eagles play Buffalo. The club's regular starting right tackle, Darwin Walker, has been moved to left end because of all the injuries at end.
   --RB Correll Buckhalter has just two touches in the Eagles' first two games, but coach Andy Reid says that will change next week against Buffalo. Look for the Eagles to emphasize the ground game to help out struggling quarterback Donovan McNabb, and look for Buckhalter to get at least 10 carries.
   --CB Lito Sheppard will make his second straight start next week in place of injured Bobby Taylor. Sheppard struggled last week against the Patriots. It won't get any easier against the Bills, who are expected to pick on him.

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