Gaining insight into the Eagles' thinking is like trying to find gold doubloons on the beach. Even with that spiffy metal detector, you're more likely to discover an old soda can.
So when Marty Mornhinweg was talking about Donovan McNabb yesterday, the name that immediately came to mind was Jevon Kearse. The Eagles' offensive coordinator was explaining McNabb's leap from wobbly to wonderful in the span of six days.
"We all knew that he would play very well at some point, whether it was the first game, the third game, the fifth game, the eighth game or next year," Mornhinweg said. "So it's a credit to him, through all his hard work and diligence, that he played well this early."
Mornhinweg revealed quite a bit about the Eagles brain trust's view of McNabb's return from a serious knee injury. If the Eagles think Week 3 is "this early," that means they were prepared for it to take longer for McNabb to get comfortable. And that also means the plan was to let him play through the rough patch.
No one is suggesting Andy Reid willingly lost those first two games. Reid no doubt believed he could manage around his quarterback's limitations. The punt-return debacle in Green Bay and some misguided play-calling against Washington turned winnable games into losses.
The point is that, until proven wrong, the Eagles still believe McNabb is their best chance to win. And they were prepared to wait through "the fifth game, the eighth game or next year" for McNabb to regain his form.
It helped, by the way, that Reid and Mornhinweg adjusted their blocking schemes against Detroit to account for McNabb's condition. The Eagles kept tight ends and backs in for additional pass protection much more than they normally do.
Mornhinweg said the strategy was based on the opponent.
The Lions, he said, "had a pretty good fire-zone [blitz] package themselves. We did some specific things for that. Every game is different. The protection is a week-by-week situation. We did what we thought would be the best for that particular game, and this week we'll do what we think will be the best for this particular game."
But you also have to do what's best for a particular quarterback. Asking McNabb to compensate for breakdowns in minimal five-man pass protection - when his knee wasn't right - just didn't make sense.
Most of all, Mornhinweg's acknowledgment that McNabb played well in Week 3 is also a rare admission that the coaches know he didn't play particularly well in Weeks 1 and 2.
Here's where Kearse comes in.
It is all too easy to criticize the once-feared pass rusher and call for Juqua Thomas to replace him in the starting lineup. It's even easy to suggest that the Eagles release Kearse, who has never quite lived up to the expectations that come with an eight-year, $66 million contract.
But if you apply the same logic to Kearse as Morhinweg did to McNabb, a slightly different picture emerges. The Eagles aren't mindlessly locked into propping up a big-money mistake in their starting lineup. They still are holding out hope that Kearse can become at least a semblance of the player he used to be.
The Eagles are hardly the first team to overpay someone with a history of getting to the quarterback.
Watching Kearse closely in Sunday's game, it was apparent that he was being single-teamed on almost every down by right tackle George Foster. Kearse got some pressure. His presence surely led to Foster's three penalties. Once again, though, Kearse was invisible on the stat sheet.
"I'm sure he wanted to have a couple of sacks," defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. "I can see on the film that the pressure's there at times, the technique is good. He'll break out of it. I have confidence in him."
A little more than a year ago, Kearse continued a strong start with 21/2 sacks of Giants quarterback Eli Manning. In that game, Kearse blew out his knee. He had surgery and missed the rest of the season.
So it follows that the Eagles will give him a similar chance to play his way back. If anything, the demands of Kearse's position make it even harder.
"I think he's going to have some good games and some average games," Johnson said. "Hopefully, he doesn't have a real bad game. . . . I think any player coming off of an injury, it's tough. All you can ask is that the guy keeps working hard and giving effort, and that's what he is doing."
It's not as if Kearse is killing the Eagles. They lead the NFL with 14 sacks. Giving Kearse the same chance as McNabb to play his way back might just make sense after all.
What's that you say? Explain Darren Howard?
We'll get back to you on that one.
Sunday at 8:15 p.m. (NBC10)
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