Ugh. The Eagles kept themselves in this game with Atlanta, but bad mistakes across the board prevented them from winning: David Akers missed two long but makeable field goals; the Eagles were flagged for eight penalties, but a full three of them were called on Tra Thomas for lining up too far behind the line of scrimmage, a problem he's had before that should have been corrected before the season, if not after the first time he did it tonight; two boneheaded turnovers by Donovan McNabb.
I wouldn't really have been upset about the loss, since the Eagles were competitive against a top team on the road, but two things pissed me off.
First, on the interception in the first quarter by DeAngelo Hall, when McNabb was hit while throwing a deep ball to Terrell Owens, he was clearly speared in the chest by Atlanta DT Chad Lavalais, which should have been a 15-yard penalty. But no flag was thrown and, despite the replays, John Madden didn't once mention that the hit was clearly illegal. McNabb turned out to be okay, but at first it was looking like it might be a serious injury.
Second, Hall's trash-talking to Owens after the final pass of the game fell short, sealing the game. Owens had a step on both the long throws to him, but the ball fell short because the offensive line didn't give McNabb enough time and allowed him to be crushed. Plus, Owens still caught seven passes for 112 yards. So, while Hall held his own, the trash talk was out of line. I'm starting to dislike this guy. He spiked an Eagles player's helmet after the fracas before the game, for which he should be fined, and he got ejected from a preseason game for punching a guy in the head. He's a punk.
As for the Eagles' mistakes, McNabb made some critical errors despite being accurate with the football for much of the night, delivered a C+ performance. First he lobbed a flair pass to Westbrook backwards, resulting in a fumble recovery for Atlanta, an inexcusably dumb play. Then he held onto the ball far too long on a three-step drop and got crushed by Patrick Kerney, whom McNabb ought to have seen coming, failing to protect the ball and losing a fumble.
Moreover, it appears McNabb's "I-am-a-pocket-quarterback" neuroticism is still intact. He didn't scramble once, even on the final drive of the game when he had a clear opening when he rolled to his left with just defensive tackle Rod Coleman to beat. All these factors contributed to a night of poor decision-making by McNabb.
Andy Reid -- my criticism of his aversion to running the ball holds. I just don't know what goes through his head. After running the ball for just 40 yards all night, Reid decides on the final series, with the Eagles at their own 30, down 14-10 with five minutes to go and only one timeout remaining, that now is the time to start running the ball. Westbrook ran it twice early in the drive.
Not being able to run the ball means having a predictable offense. As Madden pointed out, the Atlanta linebackers had no respect for McNabb's play fakes. On one replay, Madden showed their LBs turning and running away from the line of scrimmage even as McNabb faked to Westbrook. The Eagles couldn't run between the tackles, which is a problem. Westbrook is an all or nothing guy on the run. Either he gains nothing or even loses yardage or breaks one for 10, as opposed to grinding out 4 on every play. The ideal, of course, is the guy who gets 4 yards per carry and also has the ability to break it long. Perhaps Lamar Gordon should see more playing time. And perhaps Ryan Moats, who appears to be better at getting tough yards between the tackles than Westbrook, deserves some playing time as well.
On the other side of the ball, Warrick Dunn sliced through the middle of the Eagles D with ease. Trotter being out obviously hurt the Eagles there, but the real reason for the Eagles' porousness up the middle is the Eagles' philosophy of having talented but relatively light defensive tackles who rely more on quickness than brute force at the point of attack. Whether this strategy will result in a Super Bowl, I don't know.
Next week, however, relief comes to Philadephia in the form of the 49ers, who despite a good showing against the Rams will appear at Lincoln Financial Field as a fat and juicy wildebeast to the be taken down and feasted upon. After facing the maddeningly elusive Vick, the Eagles D will be a facing a very stationary target in Niners QB Tim Rattay, who may wind up taking a momunental beating. The Niners shouldn't be taken lightly, but the Eagles should rebound on Sunday and head into week three with renewed confidence.